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October 30, 2014

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School officials, parents lament Dwight Jones’ exit, fear a ‘loss of momentum’

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Paul Takahashi

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones answers questions today from media about his resignation, which he announced via email Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Jones reiterated that he was leaving to take care of his ailing mother. School board member Deanna Wright is at right.

Dwight Jones Visits Schools

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones shares an idea with Principal Amber Brookins at Jacobson Elementary School on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. Jones said he hopes to take formal, one-hour tours at more than 50 schools by the end of the school year. Launch slideshow »

Las Vegans were shocked by Superintendent Dwight Jones' sudden decision to leave the Clark County School District by the end of this month.

On Wednesday, Jones told a teary-eyed School Board that he is resigning from the nation's fifth-largest school district to care for his ailing mother in Dallas.

The former education commissioner of Colorado told the board he plans to move back to Denver. Jones said his wife will return to work as a public schoolteacher so that he could trade weeklong shifts with his sister to care for his mother.

"I have to make a decision that's best for my family," Jones said. "Right now, my mother needs my full attention."

School Board members said they were saddened to see Jones leave the district halfway into his four-year contract. After giving him a standing ovation, School Board members took turns thanking Jones for his brief but transformational service to the district.

"You have really made a mark on us," said School Board member Chris Garvey, addressing Jones. "Godspeed and the best to you and your family."

"We've gotten to know the man very well," School Board President Carolyn Edwards said after the meeting. "We care deeply about him so I am sad for his situation."

These sentiments were echoed by prominent Nevadans across the state, from Gov. Brian Sandoval and state Superintendent Jim Guthrie to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. All wished him well, but some raised concerns about a potential vacuum of leadership created in Jones' wake.

This is a "huge loss for our community," said Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman.

School Board member Deanna Wright shed tears when she recalled traveling to Denver during the district's most recent superintendent search and meeting Jones for the first time.

"I remember sitting there and hearing him speak, and feeling in my core that this man can make a difference and turn this ship," Wright said, with tears streaming down her face. "I feel like we've lost somebody who was really meant to guide us through this really tough time. I'm concerned that we may have a loss of momentum in the district."

•••

Minority student advocates were perhaps the most disappointed by the resignation of the minority-majority district's second black superintendent.

While Jones was unable to significantly close the district's large achievement gap between white and minority students, Jones had begun to address longstanding inequities in the district, notably its high expulsion rate of black students.

On Wednesday, Jones called upon the School Board to approve 10 recommendations that try to mitigate the overrepresentation of minority students in school expulsions, suspensions and behavioral school referrals. Jones insisted the board continue this work in his absence.

"Had he not been here, this issue wouldn't have come up," said Frank Hawkins, president of the Las Vegas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "I appreciate what he's done for our community. It's up to us now to continue his legacy."

UNLV law professor Sylvia Lazos, who has advocated for the needs of 54,000 English-language learner students in Clark County, said she was disappointed to hear Jones would be leaving the district in the middle of a legislative session where upwards of $14 million in state funding for English-language learners are being considered.

"We have accomplished a lot in two years, and we need to build on that and keep the momentum moving," Lazos said. "We wish our friend, Dwight Jones, the best."

•••

After two years of bitter contract disputes, many teachers felt antagonized by Jones, who took on the teachers union in a way no other superintendent had before.

That could explain why teachers had a mixed reaction to Jones' resignation, said Clark County Education Association President Ruben Murillo. Some were happy, others were sad, the union leader said.

For many teachers, Jones' tenure saw an unprecedented number of union protests over working conditions and pay. Ultimately, this may have driven a record number of teachers to leave the district last year.

This clash in educational philosophies, coupled with the tumultuous contract negotiations, spilled out into other arenas.

The School District refused to increase funding for the cash-strapped Teachers Health Trust and waged a not-so-subtle campaign against high salaries for union leaders, despite its own high salaries for administrators.

The union refused to sign off on the School District's federal Race to the Top grant application — which would have brought $40 million to Las Vegas classrooms — until Gov. Brian Sandoval stepped in to mediate a compromise.

Despite their differences, Murillo maintained the district and union shared a common mission: to increase student achievement.

"We've had a tenuous relationship at best," Murillo said. "But we both had in our hearts what was best for our students and staff. We had the same goals, but different avenues (to reach them)."

Even though they were staunch adversaries, Jones and the union found some common ground in even the most controversial of topics for teachers: a new state evaluation system for educators. Union officials worked closely with district and state education leaders to begin implementing this new system.

The jury is still out on the evaluation system and Jones' other reform efforts, Murillo said. Only time will tell if they worked, he said.

"Jones challenged the district to do things in a different way," Murillo said of Jones' legacy. "He definitely put the focus on the student."

•••

Parents of the district's 311,000 students were shocked and dismayed to see Jones leave so suddenly.

"I'm saddened by that. I think he's been doing a great job so far," said Amanda Barnum, who has two children at Frias Elementary School. "(The School Board) went through such a process to bring him here. Change is always scary."

Becky Nielson, the mother of a Silverado High School senior, praised Jones for trying to keep budget cuts as far away from students as possible. After years of stagnation, Jones brought some forward momentum to the district, she said.

"This is more than one person," Nielson said. "The (School) Board, staff and teachers are strong. I hope we can continue the reforms and build upon the momentum."

Anna Slighting, who has four children in district elementary and middle schools, said she liked how Jones worked well with the School Board to enact changes to the system.

"I think he did some good and I was optimistic (for his reforms)," Slighting said. "But I am disappointed he is stepping down. I feel let down.

"We weren't ready to see him go," the mother continued. "I wish he would have stuck around to see his ideas through."

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  1. Sad? That's funny. Relief is more like it. Jones won't be missed.

    I hope the school board doesn't waste any money looking for a superintendent as they have in the past. We have people who are passionate and qualified right here in this district. This is the chance to get rid of all the highly paid consultants and administrators who do nothing except demoralize teachers.

  2. Teachers are jumping up and down with joy that he is leaving. He destroyed this district. Parents should be jumping up and down, too.

  3. momentum?

    What momentum?

    It look like to me that the only momentum that I could see that he and his pal where trying their best make a joke out any school scoring system.

  4. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Eggs were broken, but no omelets were made.

    Any idiot can break an egg.

  5. Jones was the only superintendent to try something different in recent LV history, and I think the fruits of his efforts are still yet to come forward. I hope the next superintendent cares as much and puts in as much of more effort.

    For any naysayers, please....apply to the CCSD school district pronto!!! We need a good candidate to come forward immediately! >.<

  6. Aside from the fact that government schools have deliberately fulfilled the over-century-old purpose of dumbing down their students so that they can become docile world citizens of the New world Order, Mr. Dwight Jones has demonstrated that he is an untrustworthy person by breaking his contract.

    It will be interesting to find out what new, untrustworthy person will replace him as a Superintendent of the corrupt and leftist Clark County School District.

  7. Oh yeah, parents are just overcome with grief at Jones' departure.

    ...if those parents are the ones who moved here as some of his overpaid "consultants". I bet his $90,000 per year secretary is beside herself in agony, too.