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August 21, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

Continue the good work CCSD chief started

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Thank you, Dwight Jones.

By now, everyone in Las Vegas has heard that Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones has resigned. He will leave in a few weeks.

Jones’ departure from Las Vegas is happening far faster than his arrival just a couple of years ago. Bringing him here took a methodical and painstaking search for the very best Clark County could attract. With all of our challenges, shortcomings and drawbacks, it was a job that many thought was impossible.

A candidate considering the job found a community unwilling to spend one more dime to educate our children; a political structure that bought into and fanned the fears of an electorate afraid to lead the nation in education; a status quo among the unions and administrators, and a community content to let the other guy do the work, even if that work didn’t get done.

And, yet, the search committee found Jones, and he found the challenge for which he had been looking.

It seemed like a perfect fit.

And for the past two years, Jones has hit his head against every brick wall the status quo could throw on the path toward educating the next generation.

No one said it would be easy, and it hasn’t been. It’s very hard to fight for change. Too many people are invested in the way things are — for a variety of reasons, most of which have something to do with money — and they were all arrayed against Jones’ singular purpose of making the Clark County School District work.

The really good news? As frustrating as it has been for Jones and his team of professionals, the past two years have seen tremendous progress. The politicians who like to say “no” because “no” gets them elected and re-elected are learning to say “yes” to Jones. The teachers couldn’t wait to say “yes,” even when their unions thought “no” was a better answer, because teachers just want to teach. Jones knew that teachers also need respect, and they were getting far too little of it from parents and taxpayers. He has started to fix that.

And the taxpayers? Slowly but surely, the progress the School District was making toward a far better and more successful future was being noticed. And when the public realizes that quality education creates a better quality of life and more good-paying jobs in the future, things start to change.

And that is where we have found ourselves just two years since Jones took on this challenge. And, now, he has a much greater challenge. It is said that life is what happens to us while we are making other plans. Well, life has happened to Jones.

While he was planning to make the Clark County School District one of the best in the country, real life jumped up and bit him. That same love and commitment he has for the future of the children in the greater Clark County family has called him to focus on his own family. The choice was no choice at all. And so he must go.

But, we have a choice.

In choosing his successor, we can continue moving forward along the difficult but far more rewarding path that Jones has blazed for us, or we can choose the easier path, the one with little resistance and, of course, minimal to no upside.

We can choose to be the petty people we had become — worrying about how much we had to pay a top professional game-changing superintendent or about all the feathers he would have to ruffle in getting the difficult job done — or we can follow the better angels in education and do whatever is necessary to give the next generation of students the very best education possible, whatever the community or personal costs.

We are already hearing education leaders like CCSD Trustee Carolyn Edwards and others talking about national searches; that’s a good sign. We will also hear from others, the naysayers who almost always bet against Las Vegas, who will say not very good is good enough.

That will be our choice. Jones did what very few people could do in just two years. He challenged the status quo and was on his way to making this school district the envy of the nation instead of just another asterisk denoting failure. We need to continue his work and the work of so many other educators who signed up for the ride.

Now is the time to look forward, not back. Now is the time to find the very best person for the job of fixing what is still broken and leading Clark County students to a place of promise and success. Now is the time for saying “yes.”

And now is also the time for this entire community to wish the man who gave us so much in such a short time the very best as he tackles a personal challenge that we all face at one time or another. And, finally, now is the time to end this column the same way it began. From a grateful community:

Thank you, Dwight Jones.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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  1. Mr. Jones was and is in a precarious place. Making a decision to put family first over your job [perhaps in Jones' case his passion] is difficult but must always be done. Always. I enjoyed his letter of farewell. I am sorry like Mr. Greenspun and others to see him leave so soon especially under the circumstances. Now is a good time to reassess. Should we break the Clark County School District into two or more to enhance and quicken it's reform? Now should be the time to do so.

    CarmineD

  2. However, this Superintendent's salary and benefits that nearly totaled 400,000 a year,

    BChap:

    CCSD is the 5 largest school district in the country. His salary and benefits are competitive with the others because they are market driven. If they weren't [market driven] CCSD would never get a competent qualified Super. Mr. Jones can't help his mother's illness but he sure can be there for her in her need. If it were you or I, or anybody else, we would too. He deserves to be paid for the years he served, no loss no breach of contract. Most positions allow family leave for such emergencies, and CCSD is probably no exception. Mr. Jones was correct to say that the Super of CCSD requires a full-time completely devoted person. Family leave flies in the face of that belief. Especially for an aging ill mother who may have a long term debilitating illness/disease and health care needs. Jones made the right choice. I applaud him for doing so. It should not be held against him in any way, shape or form. I trust the County leaders will m ake the correct decision in their meeting on Thursday.

    On a personal note, I have to wonder if the Pope's decision to retire had any impact or bearing on the Super's decision to resign. If a Pope can give a two week notice without impugnity, surely a Super with the reasons he has can too.

    CarmineD

  3. Didn't you hear BChap. 2000 new teachers for CCSD. I'm ecstatic how about you?

    Judge Judy, since you invoked her, would make concessions for breaking contracts under extenuating circumstances. The key is the Board's action. It can decide mutually with the Super that the reasons provided by him meet those circumstances. I think the Super's reasons do and the Board will agree. We'll find out Thursday.

    CarmineD

  4. One thing that has surprised me is the fairly subdued reaction to Dwight Jones' resignation. For a potentially inflammatory issue there have been limited on-line comments in the various media and limited reaction in both major dailies. reaction from the usual suspects has been polite along the "best of luck" theme while ordinary folk [if online comments truly represent "ordinary" folk] has been somewhat harsher with a healthy dose of suspicion. While I understand Mr. Greenspun's approving commentary I believe that it is misplaced. The Sun has a great deal invested in CCSD education and has worked hard to explain the District and its programs to readers. Unfortunately those stories have been routinely flattering, failing to delve into the challenges facing the District, failing to analyze program successes and failures and trotting out the usual "reformer" nostrums.

    Dwight Jones was a desperation hire, the last man standing. He did not have a stellar resume from Colorado and he was light on the skills and experience necessary to achieve success at CCSD. His biggest flaw, in my opinion, is that he did not have the management skills to understand the scope of the challenges at CCSD. He did focus attention on student achievement and put in place strategies to boost that. Those strategies, though, either cost a lot of money [turnaround schools] or were short-term and unsustainable [last minute grads, remedial, home visits]. Much of what Mr. Jones put in place will not be maintained as the resources are not available on a long-term basis.

    Cynic that I am I believe that Mr. Jones saw the writing on the wall and had the intelligence and good manners to avoid a drawn out community controversy over his policies and possible contract renewal. I suspect that in six months or so he will be back in the business as either a turnaround consultant or a superintendent in a more amenable district.

    It will be more difficult for the Sun and its editors and reporters. Your credibility has suffered with your lack of critical reporting on the District and your failure to adequately analyze and critique a mediocre public institution which is one of the largest economic and cultural artifacts in Clark County. Your support of education is laudatory but your reluctance to be as thorough in your criticism as you are in you praise represents a failure in journalistic integrity.

  5. There appears to be a disconnect between leaders and the powers-that-be.

    While the board, the governor, the mayor, even Reid, and now you, Mr. Greenspun, all think that Jones was doing a 'super' job in CCSD, many do not agree. Why is it, that MANY others, not only teachers, but the public as well, believe he did not? Are there any secrets that has been kept from the 99% that made their presumptions wrong?

    When money was plenty, CCSD was in a buying frenzy. We had books and materials that were brand new that were cast aside in favor of new ones. Audio 'enhancements' in classrooms were installed that are now sitting idle. Telephones were installed in classrooms when intercoms are already in place and all teachers had cell phones. We were just getting to learn 'palm pilots'' when they were cast aside for Ipads. There were 'substitute-in-residence' just in case a teacher gets sick. There were books and materials that we didn't even know what to do with because there were so much of them and we did not even order them. There were hundreds of 'professional development' many of which were a rehash of ideas many teachers already knew and these classes were delivered with the same boring lectures and power points. There were positions created all to 'facilitate' learning or 'intervene' for student achievement, and did nothing but. Support staff positions were created in every department with assistants and assistants to assistants.

    Then he initiated an assessment model that the state does not recognize and have to be shelved because it is now outdated. Then he hired administrators and consultants left and right, while cutting teacher positions and their salaries. There are 'turn around' schools which turned every which way but around. Now almost every middle school student, thousands of them have ipads and they do nothing but play games on them. Those who do any kind of learning at all on them already did on their own at home with computers.

    I have not even touched teacher evaluation, funding and his other so called initiatives.

    This to me is a failure in communiction between leaders and followers. The hallmark of a leader is how effectively he can 'paint a compelling picture' of where he wants to go, how to get there, and why it is necessary. Jones failed in that regard. It is very difficult to understand because as the saying goes, 'actions speak louder than words.'

    AND, THAT IS WHY OUR COUNTRY IS NOW IN DISARRAY. Leaders speak in a language only they can understand.

  6. communication

  7. Superintendent Dwight D. Jones saw the handwriting on the walls: NEVADA Lawmakers continue to NOT adequately and consistently FUND its infrastructure, which includes EDUCATION!

    All those innovative, revolutionary changes that CCSD Superintendent Jones put in place, NEED TO BE SUSTAINABLY FUNDED. That is IT. This 77th Nevada State Legislative Session made it clear that they will continue to travel that time established, well worn rut of bowing down to those who REFUSE to pay their fair share, the MINING industry.

    As Superintendent Jones, I had also made that same decision to "be there" for my parents in their greatest time of need before they passed. That is a decision and road many of us cross in life, and speaks for our character.

    One thing is for sure, funding for education MUST BE SUSTAINABLE, and NOT the constantly "robbing Peter to pay Paul," nor off the backs of educational teachers and support staff. Many employees simply cannot afford to pay to work, as it has become. Leaving the State of Nevada, has become the new career option. Lawmakers and the School Boards throughout this state, must come to terms with their alliances and political drivers, who are driving talented human resources and college graduates OUT of Nevada.

    All those wonderful programs to put education here in Clark County "on track" for success require sustained funding, and it has NO promise, at the present, of ever happening now. What can employees expect in the coming months? More of what the "decision makers" put before us. Good luck to all, including Superintendent Jones.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  8. Hi Pat,

    Thanks for your comment. However, if you look at our education coverage as a whole, I believe we have been very fair and objective in our reporting.

    We have written stories of improvement in the district -- notably in the "turnaround schools" -- which can be supported by published data and numerous testimonies by principals, teachers, parents and students. (We too have questioned whether these gains will last after the federal funding runs out, and mentioned that concern throughout our series.)

    At the same, we have also published stories that readers may find "critical" of the administration.

    In fact, the day Superintendent Dwight Jones announced his resignation, the Sun published a story about Hispanic leaders questioning a district proposal to cut translation services for one of its most at-risk student populations. You can read that story here: http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2013/mar...

    The Sun has also published stories that raised questions about the district's school ranking system, showed mixed results for the district's "Reclaim Your Future" initiative and called out the district for failing to release preliminary graduation rate data for its "turnaround schools."

    We have written stories of studies that found Nevada has the lowest graduation rate in the nation. Other stories focused on School Board concerns about pricey contracts for district consultants, and an accusation of favoritism involving a potential Human Resources hire.

    When EdisonLearning Inc.'s contract was renewed this past summer, the Sun published a story that looked at the company's lackluster results over the past decade and reported that Jones is a former Edison VP. The Sun has also published a parent complaint alleging the district failed to protect students from bullying, and a report that found black students were three times more likely to be expelled than other students.

    When we conducted an analysis of the district's school ranking system, we found and reported that the majority of top-performing schools could be found in Las Vegas' most affluent neighborhoods, an inequity that has yet to be solved.

    Throughout our coverage, the Sun has always strived to be fair in our reporting, giving voice to both sides of challenging issues. We have quoted district leaders and leaders of the teachers and support staff unions. We have covered teacher protests, and have written stories of educators who have taken second jobs to make ends meet, those who were worried about pink slips last year and those who have taken out loans to pay for higher degrees that are no longer being recognized by the district.

    Please visit http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/educatio... to read our education coverage. As always, please don't hesitate to contact us with any comments and story ideas. My email address is [email protected].

    Thanks,
    Paul

  9. If you actually talk with the people who are implementing these "reforms", the teachers, the vast majority are excited to see Jones leave. His biggest accomplishment was the School Performance Framework, which is now being tossed. He destroyed a previously amicable relationship with the teachers, causing double the amount of turnover last year. He spent freely on a communications department, monies that could have been spent in the classroom. He added another layer of bureaucracy to the district ("performance zones"), took light bulbs out of classrooms to save money (because, you know, children don't need adequate light), threatened the layoff of thousands of teachers (only to have every one of those contracts being renewed)... these are reforms?

    Superintendent Jones didn't spend any time in the classroom teaching. He was in over his head the moment he got here. Why are these things you are proud of, Mr. Greenspun?

    The CCSD is playing a game of darts, only with a blindfold on. They're throwing things out to see what sticks, regardless of who or what they hit in the process. That's not reform, that's desperation.

  10. Paul....thank you for the response, you have laid out a decent case and provided a reasonable rationale. I have, though, the luxury of being significantly more biased. I don't claim to have all the answers. I have only ten years or so teaching experience....four in CCSD at the high school level, two in Head Start and four more in working adult vocational ed, the latter while employed in the automotive trades. I do have a lot of management and supervisory experience and I know when I work for and with bad managers. CCSD, unfortunately, has, overall, poor management principles and practices and those got worse when Dwight Jones came aboard. If you look at some of my comments on education they do emphasize management issues.

    An enterprise the size of CCSD, regardless of its status as a public or private enterprise, is subject to inertia, reluctance to adapt, fear of change, etc....all described in any collegiate level management studies. The education "reform" movement proposes significant changes in governance, structure, outcomes, rewards and consequences. Virtually all is directed at teaching and little at management. CCSD has the additional challenge of a management cadre which grew quickly with minimal common goals and objectives within a protective union framework. Dwight Jones could have had the best intentions but had limited ability to imprint his own style on the bureaucracy. Consider that Jones is attempting to get teachers to buy in to his challenge while at the same time his press office is denigrating CCEA on-air and in print. Teachers may grumble about CCEA but that is our business not CCSD's. The Sun gave precious little in its critique of how the District is managed.

    CCSD has immense challenges, many of which you and your editors have identified, examined and reported. What you have yet to do is to take a dispassionate look at management of the enterprise.

    Thanks for the opportunity to engage in reasoned argument. I subscribe to a dozen or so national and regional media outlets and must compliment the Sun on the having one of the better interactive reader comment formats.

  11. Mr. Chapline,

    I apologize for the confusion about your comments. They actually were not removed, but the column was accidentally reposted and the comments from the first version were not moved over to the correct page. I've moved all the comments from the old column onto this page, so your original comments now appear here just as you wrote them.

    Thank you for reading the Sun and for your patience with our minor technical glitch over the weekend.

    Kyle