Clark County School District leaders have removed three principals at underperforming middle schools participating in a new “innovative schools” pilot program after they failed to improve academic performance.
The move on the heels of the latest state “star ratings” from 2018-19 came as those three schools and five others were embarking on a three-year effort to improve ratings to at least three stars. The innovative schools initiative offers teachers recruited to the high-poverty, high-needs schools an annual $10,000 bonus and an extra $5,000 based on improved student outcomes.
The decision to remove the principals was based on 2018-19 data, even though the new innovation pilot only began in the current school year.
Most of the schools are beginning the program on a strong foot — four of the eight have improved their star ratings from one to two for the 2018-19 school year. Some principals also say the incentive money has helped them attract teachers to the schools. Vacancy data as of July 31 showed just 14 open positions among the eight schools.
But three schools — Brinley, Sedway and West Prep Middle School, a K-12 school — stayed at one-star under principals that had been there for multiple years, prompting the district to remove them.
“The students were really relying on us to make sure that we were providing the highest quality of leadership every day,” Deputy Superintendent Diane Gullett said in explaining the decision.
At least two of the three have transferred to principal positions at other schools — Goolsby Elementary and Lawrence Junior High.
While the district searches for new leaders at those schools, Gullett said, regional leadership staff will provide day-to-day support.
Although Monaco also stayed at one star, Gullett said the district did not remove that leader because he had only been at the school for one year.
The move was criticized by Trustee Linda Young, whose District C includes the three schools whose principals were removed.
Young said in a board meeting last week that the move disrupted school staff, who were under the impression they would be given more time to turn the schools around.
Staff chosen by the principals to teach at those schools were “ready to go” this school year, Young said. Now, with their leaders gone, morale is down.
“Now we’ve got a whole staff in turmoil for another four weeks or five weeks … students having to move around, and everybody kind of in upheaval,” she said, noting there should have been more input from the community.
But Gullett said in an interview that the district couldn’t delay.
“Every day counts, so we quite frankly don’t have time — especially in our most fragile schools — to wait,” she said.
Principals at the underperforming middle schools were given incentives similar to those dangled before teachers under the new program, including a $12,500 bonus plus other rewards for improvement, as well as freedom to selectively staff their schools. Under that agreement approved in March, they are also eligible for additional bonuses if the star rating improves to at least three stars.
Some of the schools that saw improvement in the 2018-19 school year were previously part of the Turnaround Zone, a program that offered support for underperforming schools but was eliminated by Superintendent Jesus Jara.
New principals were often appointed for those schools and given power to remove staff they did not believe could do the intensive work needed to improve a struggling school.
When Mack entered turnaround in 2018-19, Principal Roxanne James removed 15 staff. Under the innovation program, another eight were removed and 12 more departed or retired.
“The innovation structure allowed us to have maybe teachers who wouldn’t have looked at us twice (before),” she said.
Now James expects to be fully staffed by January, a much more stable setting than the students previously had with three to five long-term substitute teachers on the faculty.
Johnston Middle School Principal Lou Markouzis was also able to do strategic staffing when the school entered the Turnaround Zone last school year. This year, he said, the innovative pilot has allowed him to both retain and recruit the teachers he wants.
“I’d like to think that the plan here in this building was in place prior to the innovative model,” Markouzis said. “…But this innovative model I know most certainly has allowed me to kind of maintain the staff that I have.”
Meanwhile, district leaders are searching for principals to lead one-star elementary schools. In a memo to staff earlier this month, the district asked interested principals to submit a proposal to improve student achievement at these “transformative schools,” which have not yet been identified.
The district has not specified any monetary or other benefits for those principals that sign up to lead those schools, other than the freedom to hire staff and implement innovative practices to benefit the school, according to Gullett and the memo.