Friday, Jan. 6, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Five struggling schools embark on a journey to improve education
- Sun to track progress of 5 struggling schools
- Discussion: School District’s top officials sit down with the Sun
- Shifting demographics demand greater urgency in improving schools
- How community views education must change if schools are to be fixed
Less than a year ago, students at Chaparral High School gathered to protest changes implemented by new Superintendent Dwight Jones to improve student performance.
On Thursday, the mood outside the school was more celebratory, as members of the school’s band and cheerleaders formed a welcoming party for Jones as he prepared to deliver his State of the School District Address.
After a brief performance by the choir in the school’s auditorium, Jones took to the podium to tout the advances that have been made in the last year and to express optimism about the next year.
But he undercut his message of progress with a call for continued effort and involvement from staff, students and the community, as the district implements reforms to reverse sagging graduation rates and improve student education.
“I stand before you to provide a snapshot of our first year. ... Today we’re saying to the community, ‘Watch us grow,’” said Jones, who was hired as superintendent in November 2010.
Battling a cold, Jones’ voice was raspy and his speech was interrupted at times by school announcements made over the loudspeaker as he talked about changes the district has implemented.
New models better track student performance and progress toward graduation, allowing educators to intervene early if help is needed, he said.
Students are also being challenged by more rigorous coursework, as the district eliminates remedial classes and strengthens learning standards, he said.
“You have to ensure that students are on a path to graduate. ... You have to empower schools to make needed changes, and at the same time, we have to offer the right kinds of support,” he said. “All of this has to be done while raising the bar and expecting more from our students and staff. ... We can do more.”
The district has driven down central office administrative costs by 20 percent, he said, and enrollment in Virtual High School has increased by 37 percent.
Jones specifically targeted the district’s English language learner programs as an area that needs improvement.
“We need more efforts to address the needs of our English language learners,” he said. “English language acquisition is not just about our Hispanic youngsters; it’s about the many children in this school district who need language acquisition. Low-income kids in many cases have not been read to and do not have the necessary vocabulary skills to be successful and learn to read at an early age.”
Jones also acknowledged the contentious, ongoing teacher contract negotiations.
“I’ve been very disappointed that we have not been able so far to negotiate a contract with the teachers that satisfies both sides,” he said. “I pledge to work for a contract that shows our teachers how much we value their hard work.”
Outgoing School Board President Carolyn Edwards said when the board hired Jones, it wanted a superintendent who brought a sense of urgency to the district.
She praised Jones’ performance over the last year, emphasizing his success in building relationships with the broader community.
“He welcomes anybody to the room. He’s opening communication, and we’re becoming more and more transparent,” she said. “We are very proud of our superintendent.”