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August 30, 2014

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Superintendent announces plan to raise graduation rate, test scores

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Photo courtesy Michele Nelson/CCSD

Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky delivers his “State of the District” address at Del Sol High School, Monday, April 21, 2014.

Updated Monday, April 21, 2014 | 5:30 p.m.

The Pledge

See Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky’s plan for CCSD at pledgeofachievement.com.

Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky called on the Las Vegas community to support his efforts to improve Clark County schools during his inaugural “State of the District” address today.

Ushered onto the stage by a student marching band and cheerleaders, Skorkowsky unveiled his “Pledge of Achievement,” a broad plan to improve the graduation rate and test scores.

Skorkowsky said he plans to ensure that every dollar the district spends will improve student achievement, develop educators and engage the community. He called on political and business leaders, educators, residents, parents and students to pledge their support for his reform efforts online and on social media.

“If you’re expecting me to do it all by myself, you’re going to be disappointed,” Skorkowsky told about 400 people gathered at Del Sol High School. “We can’t do it by ourselves. It’s going to take all of us to do this together.”

The Clark County School District — the nation’s fifth-largest — has seen some improvements in recent years, but still faces many challenges, Skorkowsky said.

Clark County’s graduation rate and scores on national tests have been improving — faster than the national average in some metrics. However, the School District is at the bottom of many national education rankings, and still contends with enrollment growth and the lingering effects from the Great Recession.

To raise student achievement amid these challenges, Skorkowsky developed a plan of action with input from Las Vegans. Since the 26-year veteran teacher and administrator became superintendent a little less than a year ago, Skorkowsky has held 33 public-input meetings, hearing ideas for solutions from more than 3,000 people.

“This has to be a community plan,” Skorkowsky said. “We’re all in this together for every one of our students in the classroom. No one will leave today not knowing what to expect (from us), or wondering what they can do to help.”

Skorkowsky is employing the advice of a couple of prominent business executives in Las Vegas. The CEOs, whose identities haven’t been disclosed, are helping the superintendent figure out how the district can better spend its limited resources. Clark County spends about $8,000 per student, which is among the lowest per-pupil spending figures nationally.

For the past several months, Skorkowsky has scrutinized the district’s $2 billion general fund budget, eliminating programs that didn’t demonstrate enough “return on investment.” Earlier this year, Skorkowsky severed more than $7 million in contracts with for-profit education companies Catapult Learning and Ombudsman.

Skorkowsky vowed to “look inward” before asking for more state funding. Every department and program’s budget will be re-evaluated annually to ensure it is delivering adequate bang for the buck for taxpayers, he said. Funding will only go to programs that are federally mandated or are proven to be effective in boosting student achievement, he said.

“I promise you that when we ask for money, we will outline the identified need, how it would be utilized and what deliverables you can expect,” he said.

Skorkowsky said he wants to be clear about what the public can expect from his administration, so he outlined four "strategic imperatives" — or broad goals — for the district:

• Raising student achievement

• Engaging community and parent partners

• Supporting and training educators

• Being transparent and accountable to the public

To those ends, Skorkowsky plans to revamp professional development for teachers, develop a “parent university” to encourage community engagement and align the district’s grading policies to more rigorous academic standards.

Skorkowsky hopes to invest in early childhood education — pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten — to boost literacy. Students who can’t read by third grade are less likely to graduate and more likely to end up incarcerated, he said. About a third of Clark County third-graders weren’t proficient in reading last year.

“We know students need to be successful by the end of third grade,” Skorkowsky said. “That’s when they transition from learning to read to reading to learn.”

Skorkowsky’s vision for the School District was applauded by legislators and business leaders, who gave the new superintendent a standing ovation.

However, his plan lacks specific benchmarks for test scores and graduation rates. In the next several months, Skorkowsky said he will release detailed targets for student achievement and launch a “data dashboard” so the public can monitor the district’s progress toward his academic goals.

Skorkowsky’s evaluation each December will be tied to how well he delivers on those goals, he said.

“This is our pledge to you,” Skorkowsky said. “This is what you can expect from us, and what we expect of you. Our drive toward achievement will begin today.”

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