Las Vegas Sun

July 21, 2019

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Coffee events help new school superintendent get vital feedback

Jesse Jara

Camalot Todd

Clark County School District’s new superintendent, Jesus Jara talks with community members during one of his “Java with Jara” sessions at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018.

New Clark County Schools Superintendent Jesus Jara, in an attempt to become more familiar with how the district functions, is hosting “Java with Jara” discussions this month.

Jara, who started in June, has a lofty goal: To visit at least 100 schools and conduct at least 100 other meetings with members of the community by the end of September.

We sat in last week during an event in the northwest valley, where Jara addressed parents, principals, teachers, school support staff and students about his plans. Jara discussed equity and access for students, the budget and a central office focused on school achievement.

“When I say equity and access, I mean education for all kids no matter their ZIP code, no matter where they live, (or) who they are,” Jara said.

Here are some other highlights:

Reducing class sizes: Nevada has the largest average classroom size in the nation with 25 students per teacher, according to the National Education Association 2018 report. However, many teachers at the event said their class sizes are higher. Jara was understanding and said high numbers make teaching difficult because there are too many students for teachers to focus on the unique needs of each child. That could be everything from ensuring their basic needs like food or housing are met, or identifying learning disabilities, helping with behavioral problems or giving higher-performing students more challenging coursework. “I went to a fifth grade with 35 kids in the class — there’s a lot of issues there,” Jara said. “I agree class size is something that needs to be addressed — how? I don’t have the answers, but it is something we need to work on.”

More college, career and enrichment options: Attendees noted that not every student will attend college and may enter the workforce straight from high school, but they may not have the skills to enter well-paying and necessary jobs like welding or plumbing because those programs were cut during the recession. One parent voiced her desire to see more enrichment programs before and after school, so students had activities planned while parents are at work. Another educator asked for programming for kids who aren’t college bound, like making sure students have their health card when they graduate or make sure they’re certified for other jobs like entry-level jobs in IT. “The mindset has to change ... not everyone wants to go to college; there needs to be a pathway to the workforce,” Jara said. “Saying you’re not going to college isn’t a bad thing, but what’s your plan?”

Recruiting and retaining diverse leaders: The educators noted that having diverse leadership help their schools thrive because students can see themselves represented. Hispanics comprise 46.4 percent of the CCSD population; African-American at 14.1 percent; Asian at 6.4 percent. “We have 360 schools and we do have great leaders,” Jara said.