New Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones faces district's budget challenges


New Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones is getting accustomed to Las Vegas and its schools with weekly visits to campuses.

It's 8 a.m. March 16, and Jones is at Gene Ward Elementary School, 1555 E. Hacienda Ave., meeting with p rincipal Phyllis Morgan and assistant p rincipal Shaun Cochran-Hall.

They're discussing the challenges facing the school and its at-risk students. A major hurdle is meeting achievement standards on proficiency exams, when many students aren't fluent in English and four out of five students are on free or reduced lunch programs.

Morgan offers to introduce Jones to the school's teacher of the year, Angela Foucher, whose class is taking the exams.

"No, no, no," says Jones. "Absolutely not. I don't want to do anything to disrupt the class."

They leave the principal's office and walk the hallways.

Jones stops at a bulletin board full of student work.

He likes the writing on the wall.

Student work should be displayed in schools, he says. If work from the beginning and end of the year is posted, parents can see their child's progress.

"It doesn't cost anything, and it doesn't take much time," says Jones. "But it really says a lot about what you're serious about."

He meets a grandmother who volunteers time at Ward, which he is happy to see.

"Grandmas in the schools in inner-city Baltimore is one of the things that helped most with discipline because the kids still respect those grandmothers," he says.

Jones was the operational vice president for Edison Schools and opened three reconstituted, all-minority schools in Baltimore.

Jones served as Commissioner of Education for Colorado before moving to Nevada.

He has come far since taking his first job as an elementary school teacher in Junction City, Kan.

Former Wichita Public School District Superintendent Larry Vaughn remembers the first time he met Jones in 1989.

Vaughn was holding meetings with each principal in his school district, "and here comes this young principal from an elementary school," said Vaughn, "and he was enthusiastic, he was vibrant, he was just everything I was looking for.

"As soon as the meeting was over," said Vaughn, "I called a colleague and said, 'I just met with a man who's going to be a great player for us. He's going to do a lot of good things in education.'

"Those predictions turned out to be pretty good."

Jones rose quickly to become principal at every school level, then assistant superintendent.

Walking through the 39-year-old building at Ward, Jones asks to meet the custodian.

He thanks him for keeping the school looking great. He introduces himself to everyone he passes along the tour and talks with them.

In a first-grade classroom, he asks a boy what he's drawing.

"Superheroes," the boy says.

"Which superhero would I be?" Jones asks.

" 'Ben 10,' " the boys says.

Jones is pleased with the boy's choice.

"Ben 10," an animated TV series about a 10-year-old boy who morphs into alien creatures and defends Earth against bad aliens, is one of his son's favorites.

Jones' wife and 8-year-old son are still in Colorado but plan to join him this summer. His oldest son is a freshman at Kansas State University, and his daughter is a senior at Columbia College in Chicago.

Jones is not easing into his new role. He's three months in, and he's preparing a budget with between $250 million and $400 million in reductions.

He's incredibly optimistic, though. He doesn't complain or trash talk the politicians in Carson City.

He believes the school district will survive and achievement will rise.

When his son enrolls in third grade this August, it will be at a public school.

At Ward, Morgan says she's positioned to lose her teacher of the year because of budgetary issues and her lack of seniority.

Under union rules, Ward's best teacher is the first to go.

She says it's "shameful," but she won't have a choice.

In Jones' office a framed Life magazine photo of John and Robert Kennedy conferring in a hotel room hangs above his desk.

It's one of his favorite photos, and Jones' colleagues framed it as a gift before he left Colorado.

"I'm a Kennedy fan," says Jones. "That was a pretty tough time, and they had to make some really tough decisions.

"It just gives me the courage to say, 'You've got to hang in there.' "

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

 

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