What our community can expect from Clark County schools

Last week I gave my first State of the District address as Clark County superintendent. We unveiled our new action plan for the district, called the “Pledge of Achievement.”

We started this work about a year ago, when I first interviewed to become superintendent. We began with strategic imperatives and a vision set out by our School Board. We incorporated ideas from hundreds of hours of input from more than 3,000 people in 33 public meetings. Just as this is “our” school district, we want the community to see this as “our” vision for the future.

The Pledge of Achievement has one focus: the success of every student in every classroom. Our budget and our resources will go to achievement in the classrooms, which will lead to achievement in our community, which will lead to a better future for all of us.

Many members of the community have told me they are skeptical that the nation’s fifth-largest school district can make a major turnaround. In the past few years of reform, though, we have already started to see slow but steady progress.

Our graduation rate continues to increase, we rank higher than the national average in closing the achievement gaps, and we are consistently improving in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” We have committed teachers, administrators and support staff in our schools who are making a difference for students.

Our challenges are clear. Our proficiency and graduation rate still lag compared with other states. Our student population is increasing and we do not have a bond to pay for new schools. Our free and reduced lunch population — the number of children who come from low-income households — increased by 12 percent in one year.

So how do we do this? I encourage you to read our full plan at pledgeofachievement.com. Here is what we will do this coming year:

Program-based budgeting: Members of the business community have committed to join us and review EVERY budget expenditure to align to our action plan. The only items that are guaranteed to continue are mandates by the federal and state governments.

— Re-envisioning professional development: We must increase financial support for professional development for teachers and administrators. We must place the best and brightest employee in every position.

— English language acquisition for all students: National experts are helping us with a strategic plan not only for our students for whom English is a second language, but also for our students who struggle with academic English in the classroom.

— Investing in parent/community engagement and customer service: Our community must be engaged and parents must feel welcome in our schools.

— Early literacy emphasis: Students must be proficient at the end of third grade, when we transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

— Assessment and grading reform: We must balance our assessments to increase instruction time and transform our grading practices to reflect the changing academic environment with new standards and assessments.

— Value/return on investment: We will tie achievement to money that is spent on programs, practices and schools. We will discontinue programs that do not increase student achievement.

This is the Pledge of Achievement our district is taking. This is a first step and a broad outline of what our community can expect from our schools. In the coming months, we will post specific targets and detailed measures for student achievement and other measures of our work together as a school district and community.

We need the community to take a pledge, too, which you can do at pledgeofachievement.com. Join us in talking about the plan on social media and among your contacts, holding us accountable to the plan and supporting us when you can.

We must do this as a community with unity and a sense of purpose — a recognition that we are all in this together, and we all have a stake in the outcome.

Pat Skorkowsky is superintendent of the Clark County School District.