Las Vegas Sun

October 14, 2019

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Uncertainty looms for gutted Clark County school deans

Education Town Hall At UNLV

Steve Marcus

Cristal Boisseau, a dean at Shadow Ridge High School, speaks during an education town hall at UNLV’s Greenspun Hall, Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

When Clark County Schools Superintendent Jesus Jara announced last week the decision to eliminate school deans in order to cut costs, he assured that none would be out of a job: All 170 deans — plus some affected assistant principals — would be offered teacher placements somewhere in Clark County for the 2019-2020 school year.

With the first day of school less than two months away, deans are still waiting to hear at what school they might be placed, what their salary might be and what grade they could be teaching. All deans will likely face a pay cut if they become a teacher, as average starting salaries and benefits for teachers are about $20,000 less than average pay for deans.

In addition to those uncertainties, deans are grappling with an alarming question in light of the elimination of their positions: Who is going to pick up the slack when they’re gone?

“I would like to know the plan,” said Tracy Pacheco, a dean at Von Tobel Middle School in North Las Vegas. “I think every parent would like to know the plan. You can’t develop it in August.”

At middle and high schools in the district, deans oversee a range of administrative and supportive tasks, including disciplining students, resolving conflicts and bullying, supporting teachers and staff, and organizing extracurricular activities, field trips, dances and more.

The district is scrapping the positions to make up for a projected budget shortfall of $33 million over the next two years. District officials have emphasized that the last-minute move was the best of several unfortunate cost-cutting options, such as cutting back on athletics, magnet schools or transportation services, or denying teachers a promised pay raise — which would likely prompt a teacher strike in August.

Officials say this will have the least disruptive impact on students out of those options. But the deans are stressing that their role is, at its core, about working with and helping individual students.

“Everything that involves students, involves us,” said Pacheco, who has been a dean at Von Tobel for the past four years and an educator at Clark County schools for 18 years. “We’re student life, and I think a lot of kids will tell you that. They see us everywhere.”

At Von Tobel, some of Pacheco’s everyday tasks include monitoring students as they arrive at school, during lunch and in the hallways, and planning and organizing social events, field trips, clubs and sports. That’s on top of one of deans’ most central roles: Ensuring that schools are safe and secure for all.

Rosanna Johnson, a dean at a Henderson high school, said she often works with students struggling with depression or behavioral problems and with their families. She is also involved in teacher hiring and evaluation.

Despite the inconvenience of not knowing exactly what her role and salary will be next year, Johnson said her biggest concern is the impact that eliminating deans could have on her school and on the administrators still there.

“It’s not a me thing. I don’t take it personally at all. I know everything works out,” said Johnson, who has worked at CCSD for five years and as a dean for two. “But I’m really, really fearful for the safety and security of our students and our staff and our building.”

Having invested years in the school district, neither Pacheco nor Johnson plans to resign, even though they will likely be taking a pay cut next year.

For many deans, however, the anticipated demotion will hit hard. Cristal Boisseau, a dean at Shadow Ridge High School in North Las Vegas, said the news has taken a toll on her physically and emotionally, as well as on her children.

“Life still has to go on,” Boisseau said. “Your kids are still needing and the bills are going to come in.”

Not knowing at what school they will be placed is also causing stress for Boisseau and other deans.

“I feel like I’m being pushed out of a school that I dedicated a lot of years of my life to,” said a Henderson middle school dean, who asked to remain anonymous. “I’ve had former students reach out to me, and they’re upset that I might not be there anymore.”

The district is working to find “proper placement” for all deans in classroom roles, said Mauricio Marin, public information specialist for CCSD. But it is unclear how long that process will take or how placements will be determined.

In the meantime, deans are being told to contact Joyce Herreria, director of Licensed Contracting Services, to find out what salary they will be assigned, Marin said. Deans’ last paycheck as administrators will be delivered on July 25.

In addition to the deans themselves, parents and teachers have raised alarm about the district’s decision to eliminate the administrative positions. For Brad Evans, ELL facilitator and instructional coach at Valley High School, the biggest concern is that the district hasn’t made clear what support structures will replace the deans.

“I’m open, and I think other solutions could work for managing discipline, but I’m waiting to see what the direction is from the district,” Evans said.

CCSD received additional funds from the state this past legislative session to specifically address school safety, which Marin said could help principals as they adjust to the loss of their deans. The district also plans to reveal a new, comprehensive safety plan “at a later date,” Marin wrote in an email.

Despite her disappointment in the district’s decision, Johnson is eager and hopeful to see what that plan could bring.

“There’s a plan someplace. And I’m just going to wait and trust on that plan, and see what happens,” Johnson said.