Thursday, July 21, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Like many Clark County residents, I have been closely following the work of the committee considering plans to reorganize the Clark County School District. I believe the plan that committee has recommended will ultimately have a positive impact on the district and its students.
I was initially skeptical about the intent of the last-minute legislation kick-starting this process, particularly given that the bill was jammed through in the last half-hour of the 2015 legislative session with no time allotted for debate. By all appearances, this looked like an attempt by a small group of legislators to slice up the school district along socioeconomic lines, entirely to the benefit of wealthier neighborhoods.
However, a thoughtful group of legislators, district officials, educators and outside experts took control of this process. Rather than arbitrarily break up the district, the plan they produced calls for autonomous, site-based decision making.
This model will empower individual school principals with more localized decision-making authority over the schools they work in every day. It encourages teachers, parents and administrators to work together to identify needs within their schools, and it makes schools more responsive to parents by reducing the bureaucracy that individual school administrators have to navigate to respond to parents’ concerns.
In 2007, along with then-state Sen. Steven Horsford and others, I was proud to sponsor legislation to pilot the empowerment school model in Nevada.
Working with our Republican colleagues, we unanimously passed a bipartisan plan that opened the first four empowerment schools in Clark County that fall.
Over the course of several academic years, empowerment schools showed positive results, including significant increases in student performance relative to schools that were not in the program. For example, empowerment schools saw a 10 percent increase in the number of students proficient in math. Further, student attendance rates exceeded the school district average, and surveys showed higher overall parent satisfaction.
While it’s impossible to entirely attribute a school’s improved performance to just one factor, it was clear that empowerment schools had a significant positive impact on the students they served.
Under the new Clark County School District reorganization plan, this model will now be applied district-wide.
As a former principal, I fully support giving our principals more authority to make budget, curriculum and staffing decisions they believe are in the best interest of the students they interact with every day. But increased authority comes with increased responsibility. We will have to hold principals more directly accountable for the educational outcomes in their schools.
We should also be clear-eyed about what this model can and cannot accomplish. While we can expect to see improvements in student performance, the empowerment model will not solve all of the problems that plague our school district.
We must continue to focus on providing critical services and resources for our low-income students, students with special needs and English-language learners. Our statewide funding formula remains inadequate in several important respects. And we have not fully overcome the teacher shortage that leaves many classrooms either overcrowded or relying on full-time substitute teachers.
Reorganizing is an important opportunity to thoughtfully restructure the district in a way that will make a measurable difference in the lives of our children. I look forward to continuing to build on these improvements.
Joyce Woodhouse is a Democratic state senator representing District 5 in Henderson. She is also a former first-grade teacher, elementary school principal and director of the Clark County School District’s School-Community Partnership Program.