Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2017

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Superintendent pick says to teachers: Don’t fear me

Dwight Jones

Dwight Jones

Sun Coverage

Dwight Jones, who has been offered the job of school superintendent, said the teachers union in the Clark County School District has nothing to fear from a tough teacher-effectiveness law passed recently in Jones’ home state.

The School Board voted 6-1 Wednesday to offer the $270,000-a-year job to Jones, the commissioner of education in Colorado. The other finalist was Michael Hinojosa, school superintendent in Dallas.

Jones, 48, said in a telephone interview that any “new ideas” in Clark County would evolve in collaboration with teachers and others.

“The teachers union has nothing to worry about,” Jones said, “because they ought to be excited I’m coming. I am such a huge supporter of teachers.”

In May, over the opposition of the teachers union, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill, backed by Jones, that made it easier to fire poorly performing teachers.

The law grants teachers a form of tenure, the lifting of probation, only after three years of being judged “highly effective.”

A teacher granted limited tenure might lose it if judged “ineffective” after two years.

The measure of effectiveness is still being worked out but will be based, in part, on students’ testing data and what the statute terms student academic “growth.”

“Getting a definition of educator effectiveness is the first thing,” Jones said. Whatever the new effectiveness benchmark, it won’t take effect in Colorado until 2014.

Evaluating teachers has been a hot national topic for years, but Colorado is unusual in having a law passed and soon to be implemented. In Carson City, lawmakers in both parties are discussing teacher tenure and effectiveness.

Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, which represents most of the district’s 18,000 teachers, said, “Colorado is Colorado and Nevada is Nevada.”

He said, “I want to make sure whatever school reform is passed that it is done in a fair and equitable way.” The Colorado law “sounds like a work in progress.” Murillo said he had not studied the law and could not comment on it directly. He noted, however, that the probationary period for a Clark County teacher is two years, rather than three as in Colorado.

Jones made it clear in the interview that he wants the superintendent job. He said that he will meet with the Colorado board of education next week to work out a transition plan and that lawyers still need to negotiate an employment agreement.

But, he said, it is his intention to arrive in Clark County “sooner rather than later.”

Walt Rulffes, the current superintendent who is retiring, has agreed to stay until January but is willing to leave earlier.

The transition may be bumpy. The Legislature meets in February. Lawmakers face what the state budget director estimates as up to a $3 billion deficit in a two-year budget of more than $6.5 billion.

And Jones won’t be the only new player in budget talks: Nevada will have a new governor, and many term-limited legislators will have been replaced.

Jones said the School District’s budget is “going to be right up there at the top of my priorities” when he arrives.

He noted that in Colorado, he worked with a new governor and new state legislators when he was relatively new. Jones has been education commissioner since 2007.

The Nevada deficit looms large. “I am certainly worried about the big gigantic hole in the budget,” he said. He was not more specific. Jones also alluded to the fractious politics of Clark County. “I am quite honored to serve,” he said, but “I am aware there are some folks we still have to win over.”

Some of that fractiousness was on display Wednesday night. A few supporters of Jim Rogers attended the meeting where School Board members picked their new superintendent. Rogers, a former higher education system chancellor, had offered to work as superintendent for free.

Rogers has a reputation for abrasiveness and wasn’t a finalist. One School Board member, Deanna Wright, was angry. Following public comment on the finalists, she said she was “offended” that some speakers had questioned her integrity by saying there had been backroom deals to ensure the selection of Jones.

“This community is afraid of change,” she declared.

A gasp was heard, a chorus of boos seemed close. But nothing else happened. IQ’s were not questioned. Protesters were not ejected, as happened at a recent meeting.

Barely 90 minutes after they began deliberations, the normally loquacious board members voted to offer the job to Jones.

The single dissenter in the 6-1 vote was Linda Young, who said her constituents were divided and that she thought the selection process was too speedy.

Young said, however, if Jones “comes here, he will have my full support.”

Three finalists were announced Sept. 16, following weeks of a search firm sifting through dozens of candidates. James Browder, a Florida school superintendent, dropped out to take another job.

In picking Jones, the School Board chose an educator with experience working with other state education commissioners and the federal government.

But he has not run a school district since 2007, when he was leader at Fountain-Fort Carson in Colorado. Clark County has 310,000 students, or more than 40 times the number in Jones’ former district, which has 7,500.

Jones’ former district is near the Fort Carson military base and has an $84 million annual budget. As state commissioner, however, Jones works with 178 school districts, educating 830,000 students. He supervises an annual budget of $5 billion, but much of that is controlled and spent locally.

Clark County has a budget of $2.2 billion. In Colorado, Jones makes $224,000 a year.

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