Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Editor’s note: For August, Brian Greenspun has invited some members of the community to talk about the issues important to them. Today’s column is by Pat Skorkowsky, who was named the 14th superintendent of the country’s fifth-largest school district by a unanimous vote of the School Board in May 2013.
A friend of mine who owns a technology company recently told me, “In my line of business, if you’re doing something the same way you did it six months ago, you’re doing it wrong.”
I don’t know if change is happening that rapidly in education, but sometimes it sure feels like it.
The Clark County School District enters this school year with many exciting initiatives focused on increasing student success, including:
• An $8 million investment in professional development of teachers and administrators to ensure teachers can better design effective instruction based on new state standards.
• A new student information system called Infinite Campus that will give parents “real-time” information on their students such as attendance, grades, the status of homework assignments, etc. The Infinite Campus parent portal will launch Sept. 30. More information can be found at ccsd.net/infinitecampus.
• An expansion of the new “Zoom School” model. We will now have 16 Zoom elementary schools in areas with large numbers of English language learners. We have seen initial success with this model and hope the Legislature will expand it in the 2015 session to better serve our population of students striving to be proficient in English.
• An expansion of our magnet school offerings, which will serve an additional 3,500 students with magnet or “Select School” programs. Currently, we have only about 5,000 seats for the 16,600 students who apply for magnet and career and technical education programs. This expansion will serve more students and help redistribute student populations in overcrowded areas.
• The unveiling this fall of new policies and procedures suggested through my internal task force on bullying. Student safety must always be our top priority, and we are working cooperatively with the community to expand creative and effective programs to prevent bullying and better handle it when it happens.
• An emphasis on value and return on investment. I have pledged to the community that I will invest more money in programs that are working and eliminate programs that do not produce results. A team of business executives and district leaders is now developing a model I believe could be used around the nation to measure the value or return on investment we earn from the programs and departments in our district.
• A visualization tool that will allow school leaders and teachers to know which individual students are “on track” to graduate – and which ones need interventions to help.
As Nevada applies new state standards for math and English, we are transforming the way we teach to include more analytical thinking and problem solving. The Nevada Academic Content Standards are based on the Common Core Curriculum and create high expectations for our students.
If we change the standards we teach in the classroom, we also have to change the tests we use to measure student knowledge. The state is selecting a new standardized test for all students, and state leaders have revised the requirements students must attain to graduate with a high school diploma with a new emphasis on end-of-course exams instead of a culminating exam.
Our state has adopted a new teacher and administrative evaluation system to ensure these changes are applied successfully. We are in the process of phasing in new evaluations for teachers and administrators over the next few years that will give more constructive feedback to our educators to ensure every teacher in every classroom is of the highest quality.
How will we track our progress on these reforms? As part of our school district’s action plan, called “The Pledge of Achievement,” the Board of School Trustees will hold me accountable for six success indicators on a new district scorecard. They will make up most of my evaluation. You can monitor our results online. We will:
• Increase third-grade reading proficiency
• Reduce achievement gaps between student groups
• Increase graduation rates
• Increase parent participation in schools
• Increase the number of students who report they are safe and happy at school
• Increase participation in Advanced Placement and Career and Technical Education programs
We are making major changes in an enormous system, and we cannot do it alone. We unveiled the Pledge of Achievement in April and asked community members to “take the pledge” to support our district’s efforts.
If you haven’t already taken the pledge, I hope you will at pledgeofachievement.com. You can tell us what type of information you are interested in learning about the school district, and we will provide you regular updates on our progress and let you know when we need help.
I look forward to an exciting new school year and changes that will benefit every student who walks in the door. It won’t always be easy, as we face challenges such as a national teacher shortage and, throughout Clark County, a growing student enrollment with no funds to build new schools. Still, I know we are moving a big needle in the right direction with a focus on “every student in every classroom.”
Change for our students, families, employees and community is inevitable as we move forward to transform the nation’s fifth-largest school district. The changes we are putting in place will bring our school system into the 21st century and ensure increases in achievement, student safety and parent engagement.
Together, we will make a difference for our community.
Pat Skorkowsky is superintendent of the Clark County School District.