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CCSD board considers ban on racially discriminatory mascots

The Clark County School Board took an initial step Thursday night toward considering a ban on racially discriminatory school mascots.

The board voted 6-1 to approve a notice of intent to revise an existing policy about school mascots and “other school identifiers.” Trustee Katie Williams, who attended the meeting by phone, voted “no.”

After a brief presentation by staff and no discussion among trustees, Williams said as she was voting that she doesn’t disagree with portions of the changes. But she said she believes it’s a slippery slope and thinks the community will have a bigger issue with it.

Trustees are scheduled to consider approving the policy during a March 24 meeting.

The Clark County School District is required to take action as a result of a bill passed by state legislators.

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed Assembly Bill 88 — which requires school districts to have a policy that prohibits schools from using mascots or other identifiers that are racially discriminatory — into law in 2021.

Under the proposed district policy, school mascots — as well as other identifiers such as a team name or logo — must “not be racially discriminatory or contain racially discriminatory language or imagery,” according to the draft policy changes.

That includes identifiers associated with “the Confederate States of America or a federally recognized Indian tribe.” The exception: If the School Board gets permission from the governing body of a tribe.

Parent Anna Binder said during a public comment period she’s thankful for the work put into the policy changes.

She said she knows there will be some backlash from the community as the district moves toward implementation, but noted she believes it’s the right thing to do.

Goals for superintendent

Trustees also voted 6-1 to approve three goals for Superintendent Jesus Jara this year under the district’s Focus: 2024 strategic plan in preparation for an evaluation slated for December. Trustee Danielle Ford opposed the motion.

Jara thanked the board, saying a lot of work was done on the goals during a board work session this month.

The goals are what the board has prioritized for this year for purposes of evaluation, Jara said, but noted goals identified under the district’s strategic plan will continue.

“This just brings us focus for the year, for this year,” he said.

In late October, the School Board decided in a split vote to terminate Jara’s contract “for convenience,” meaning it didn’t need to provide a reason. But a few weeks later in November, it reversed its decision and the superintendent announced in December he planned to stay on the job.

One of the goals for Jara is to increase proficiency for all student groups by 7 percentage points in reading by third grade and by 5 percentage points in math for sixth through eighth grades this school year.

“The long-term goal of the Clark County School District is for all students to be proficient in reading and mathematics,” online meeting materials state.

Another goal: “Decrease the over-representation of the Black/African American student group in student suspensions and discretionary expulsions by 5 percentage points from 2021 to 2022.”

It’s been something the district has been working on with restorative practices, Jara said, noting a school justice partnership was created more than three years ago after he arrived as superintendent.

At a School Board meeting in March, trustees will see data showing gains and successes in providing wraparound services for students in eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline, he said.

Something the district needs to think about is the need to communicate to the community about restorative practices, Jara said.

It’s not an effort to hide or not hold children accountable, he said, noting it’s about providing support systems. The district doesn’t tolerate conduct where employees or students are hurt, he added.

The superintendent also has a goal to hire 1,655 classroom teachers — a 25 percent increase compared to the most recent three-year average — before Nov. 1.

The district has had “a recruitment and retention challenge” for many years, Jara said, adding the last time the district opened fully staffed was in 1994.

Board President Irene Cepeda said the board did a lot of work on goal setting during the work session this month. She said she appreciates the board’s commitment to focus on the three goals, noting she thinks they balance academic and culture pieces.

Ford said the work session included training by the Nevada Association of School Boards. The school board was brought six possible areas by the superintendent and his staff that could be priorities, and chose three, she said.

Ford said she wants the board to fairly and effectively evaluate the superintendent, but doesn’t believe the goals reflect what trustees learned from facilitators during the work session.

Trustee Evelyn Garcia Morales said she was excited to see the goals come back to the board, which has a responsibility to provide a focus to the superintendent regarding his evaluation.

Trustee Lisa Guzman thanked district staff for its work on the goals.

With the third goal about teacher hiring, “I’m just wanting to understand because I believe we come back to school in August,” she said about the Nov. 1 target date.

Kellie Ballard, the district’s chief strategy officer, said the district is constantly hiring and that staff decided to pick a window of time as close to the superintendent’s evaluation discussion in the boardroom as possible.

Trustee Linda Cavazos asked how the number of vacancies in the district now compares with years past.

Jara said he didn’t have exact numbers, but there has been an increase this year in separations and vacancies. Last year, he said, there was “a stay” with not as many employees separating from the district.

Cavazos said there have been a number of inquiries from the School Board and community about the topic.

“Quite frankly, we’re bleeding teachers right now,” she said.

Cavazos said the three goals are excellent, but she wants to ensure the “people aspect” isn’t forgotten.

And, she said, she doesn’t want the retention aspect of hiring to be forgotten. “We can recruit a lot of teachers, but we need them to stay.”

Trustee Lola Brooks said the board needed to start the process of setting superintendent goals earlier — like around October — in order to work out the kinks, noting she hopes the process can start sooner next year.

She said it’s not perfect, but better than what the board did last year, “which was nothing.”

Summer acceleration agreements

Trustees also approved new agreements between the school district and three employee unions — Clark County Education Association, Education Support Employees Association and Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees — related to the district’s summer acceleration program.

Guzman, who’s assistant executive director of the Nevada State Education Association, abstained from voting.

The agreement allows for the school year to be extended by three weeks, from May 31 to June 17, with employees either receiving pay under their current contract or “additional straight or overtime pay,” according to online meeting materials. Administrators will receive a $400 daily stipend.

The estimated financial impact is approximately $66 million.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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