Blueprint for school overhaul unveiled


Teachers' pay would be tied to performance, private charter schools could take over ineffective public schools and principals would gain power under a Clark County School District re­organization blueprint unveiled Thursday by Superintendent Dwight Jones.

The new superintendent's plan emphasizes high standards and efficiency so more resources can be directed to the classroom.

"The aim is to achieve a more laserlike focus on student performance," Jones told School Board members.

School Board President Carolyn Edwards praised Jones for his boldness.

"I applaud you for striking out from the shoreline and heading for the open seas," Edwards told Jones, who took charge of the district in December after serving as the Colorado education commissioner.

Many of Jones' proposals echo education reforms favored by business groups and promoted by Gov. Brian Sandoval and Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of public schools in Washington, D.C., whose advocacy group, "Students First," has called for ending seniority protections for teachers.

Rhee appeared with Sandoval at the governor's State of the State address in January.

Jones' plan calls for rewarding teachers based on performance rather than longevity in the system or earning advanced degrees. The plan describes redirecting money from the current teachers' salary schedule to an incentive-based system.

Jones said he wants to create "pathways to excellence."

For instance, the teaching staff at a school might get extra pay if their school meets an academic goal. A teacher might be paid "royalties" for posting an innovative lesson plan online.

Every time a teacher used the lesson plan, "the teacher (who wrote the lesson plan) would be rewarded," Jones said. "You'll get a check because excellence should be rewarded."

Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, which represents district teachers, noted that many of Jones' proposals would "require union action."

"I know a lot of our teachers would be very opposed" to replacing the salary schedule, Murillo said. "It's a traditional way of paying teachers so it's fair and equitable."

Murillo said he would have to speak with Jones about the proposals. Formal talks on a new labor agreement have not begun because the union and the district are waiting for lawmakers to pass a state budget, he said.

Jones said he is taking advantage of the economic crisis to look for innovation within the district, which is budgeting for a funding shortfall of $407 million in 2011-12. That figure may change as the state funding outlook changes.

The superintendent plans to cut one level of bureaucracy by eliminating area superintendents, who would be assigned to other positions.

Instead of the district's current system of maintaining four geographic regions, schools will be grouped in clusters called "performance zones." Principals would receive more independence if their schools show gains in student achievement.

The regional superintendents and their service areas had been in place for about a decade. School Board member Chris Garvey wondered where parents would go if they had a complaint about a school.

Jones and Deputy Superintendent Pedro Martinez said there would still be ombudsmen and structures of support.

Each zone will have an academic manager and a principal who is considered a mentor to the other principals.

There would be 12 to 20 performance zones. Each zone would have 20 to 30 schools based on a high school's feeder pattern.

Schools could leave their particular zone for the "autonomous zone" if they prove successful and demonstrate that they don't need oversight.

Under this system, "principals will have a lot more autonomy, but part of it is that principals will be expected to produce results," Jones said. "It's no blank check. Ultimately, results matter most."

If a zone is considered low performing, fewer schools will be included in the zone. These schools will have more oversight and access to more resources, such as the opportunity to hire new talent or tap professional development funds.

If these schools fail to improve over a period of time, Jones said there would be consequences, such as reorganization or having a private charter school take over.

But Jones also thinks that schools and teachers will be treated more fairly under the new Student Growth Model, which will be introduced in August.

The growth model takes into account where students begin academically and shows how much progress they make over time. Schools serving dis­advantaged populations might show more gains than affluent schools.

Jones' plan is considered a "blueprint," and many of the details are still unclear.

Because the School Board received the plan for the first time Thursday, its members took no action on the proposal, which they plan to bring back for more discussion.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

 

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