Las Vegas Sun

July 22, 2017

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Long-range plan to improve schools demands wide support

In the drumbeat to improve the quality of our public education, there is great temptation to identify quick fixes, because we so much want speedy improvement.

But in fact, there aren’t any fast solutions when the problems are far more complex and deep-seated. And that is the challenge confronting educators across the country and especially in the Clark County School District. Elevating student achievement requires thoughtful approaches and some risk-taking for those in the education business who dare look outside the box.

So we tip our hat to the organization Nevada Succeeds, made up of civic and business leaders of all stripes, and the business-recruiting organization Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance. Both have a passionate stake in the future of Nevada, which comes down to the success of our education system. Our children, our schools and the success of our state are intertwined now more than ever as we groom the workforce for an increasingly diversified economy. Nevada needs to produce workers schooled either in the trades or technology, and those foundations are laid early.

Nevada Succeeds and the LVGEA pitched in to strengthen our schools. They drilled deep by creating a working group of some 60 people who spent five months examining our schools’ shortcomings from 30,000 feet. Co-chairing the group — to make the point loud and clear that fixing education is a job that everyone needs to commit to — were Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, a Republican, and former Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat.

“The challenges facing public education cannot be overcome by teachers and principals alone,” they wrote in a cover letter containing the group’s recommendations. “This is not a Department of Education problem, or the Legislature’s problem, or business leaders’ problem, or one that can be placed on the shoulders of parents and community stakeholders. This is a Nevada problem and one that will require every person and organization to contribute to solving it over a number of years.”

While there are a troubling number of specific issues facing our educators, the working group smartly addressed systemic problems. The solutions won’t necessarily trigger immediate results but will certainly offer enduring ones.

Their recommendations – vetted and prioritized by focus groups of principals, teachers and parents — were released May 17 and immediately embraced by legislative leaders. Highlights include:

• Creating meaningful career options for teachers so they won’t burn out after a few years. As they grow professionally, educators could work flexible hours, share their jobs, mentor others and take on greater responsibilities. Increased compensation would be triggered by career successes versus solely on years of service.

• Identifying the best school principals through more meaningful evaluations, holding them more accountable and granting greater management autonomy — perhaps including the hiring and firing of campus teachers — to those with proven leadership skills.

• Motivating parents and other residents to engage in their local schools and stir high expectations for staff and students alike. Schools should staff front offices with bilingual speakers and take into account parents’ work schedules when setting conference times with teachers.

• Expanding an existing program in which experienced teachers offer peer support to new colleagues when they feel most stressed.

• Focusing on recruiting college students into the teaching profession to teach classes in the STEM curriculum — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Nevada is pummeled with insults because of disappointing academic achievement, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. But experts nationwide applaud us for being among the most aggressive states in looking for solutions.

To echo Hutchison’s words in embracing the recommendations, this is a time for Nevadans to lock arms, come together and get this done. And we would add that any legislator, school board member or candidate who won’t support these goals is sabotaging our children and our state.

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