Las Vegas Sun

August 19, 2019

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Where I Stand — Guest Column:

A way forward for our schools

In August, Brian Greenspun turns over his Where I Stand column to guest writers. Today’s columnist is Dwight Jones, Clark County schools superintendent.

Having been on the job as the superintendent of the Clark County School District for half a school year, I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on where we are and where we are going as a district and as a community.

I accepted my position here with a clear understanding of the School Board’s expectations. I had also learned everything I could about the School District, but knew that it would be important to get immersed, meet people, understand challenges and resources, and develop preliminary plans for accomplishment of our mission: the improvement of student achievement.

Two months ago I released my Phase I reform report. It outlined changes designed to ensure students are “ready by exit.” Whether life after high school involves the workforce or postsecondary education, graduation should prepare every student to succeed, without remediation.

The title of the Phase I report is “A Look Ahead.” Today I want to report on progress and offer a few highlights on more to come:

• On July 14, the School District unveiled a reorganization involving performance zones. Eliminating a layer of bureaucracy, this produces a flatter district that is more tightly focused on student needs. Fourteen performance zones replace the area service center structure. Each zone is comprised of feeder-aligned schools. A separate autonomous zone provides a refuge for schools that perform well. Schools that meet or exceed achievement targets will qualify for that and will enjoy greater autonomy. Schools qualifying for membership in the autonomous zone will be announced in September.

• In September, results from a comprehensive study of the School District will be made public. Conducted by Gibson Consulting Group, the study of district effectiveness and efficiency was proposed by me, approved by the School Board, and funded through private contributions. Findings will enable us to focus on ways to contain costs and improve our return on investment.

I have come to appreciate some great things about my new hometown. One is the quality of people who live and work here. I’ve met people who can get the job done: committed teachers, driven administrators, hardworking support staff, dedicated school police and a strong School Board.

I’ve also met remarkable parents. Parents are the most effective “program” for student success and dropout prevention. When parents are committed and engaged, from birth through graduation, the success rate of their child is nearly 100 percent!

I have come to realize that, for us to improve, certain things must happen. First, we must face some hard facts. The reality is too many youngsters are underserved in school. Achieving academic excellence for every child will mean exploring new ways of doing business. To deny this is to deny the problem.

What we need most is an unflinching commitment to success for every child. We need to define the success of adults in terms of the academic success of students. We need to rethink what it means to be an excellent school. It is not just one with high overall achievement; it is one in which all students are achieving high rates of growth while closing gaps that separate student subgroups.

The good news is the Clark County School District is headed in that direction with the rollout this month of school-level results from the Nevada Growth Model. These results will shine a light on schools that improve overall achievement while narrowing unwanted achievement gaps.

We need to stand together as a community when hard choices must be made. If a persistently struggling school fails to improve after an agreed-on period of time (e.g., three years), then we must reach for the reset button. The good news is we started doing that.

With federal funding, this year we are directing added resources toward a schools that have high needs and low performance. We know the clock is ticking. We expect improvement in short order.

The timing is good. Leadership by our elected officials in the last legislative session produced laws and needed reforms. The challenge is to translate these new changes in our schools. We must continue doing what works and stop doing things that fail to deliver results.

I am honored to be your superintendent. I embrace the challenge, and I welcome your support and partnership. The School District has the potential to be a first-class system. As a community, we need only to have the will to make it so. Here’s to a great 2011-12 school year!

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