The new leader of the Clark County School District isn’t resting on his laurels, highlighting a range of issues in his first State of the Schools address that the district must tackle to become the most-improved district in the country.
Rather than touting the district’s rising graduation rate or other accomplishments, Superintendent Jesus Jara focused his address Friday on the harsh realities of the district and set a firm goal not to do things “the same old way.”
“We’ve lacked a coherent plan, support tools for teachers and educators that enable us to get from where we are to where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve lacked the trust to work together and focus on what’s important. It’s my job to change that, and I know that it can be done.”
He also mentioned the district’s struggles with chronic absenteeism, disproportionality in discipline — particularly among black students — and a substantial achievement gap between certain student subgroups.
“We have students in our schools that are missing opportunities today,” he said. “We have students in our schools that we, as the adults, need to find and identify their potential.”
The district has some plans to address the challenges, including a new School Justice Partnership that aims to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline.
Agreement with NSHE
And, in a new memorandum that the School Board approved on Thursday, the district is partnering with the Nevada System of Higher Education to reduce the rate of students who turn out to be unprepared for college-level courses.
That’s a critical goal, as more than 50 percent of Clark County graduates end up placed in remedial courses upon entering the state’s higher education system.
The new initiative also aims to boost access to dual-credit courses and strengthen workforce preparation.
But fixing the education funding formula remains the district’s main priority for the upcoming legislative session, which starts Feb. 4.
“We are funding our schools as if we were in 1967,” Jara said, referring to the year the formula was created. “Clark County looked a lot different. The kids are a lot different. Our education is a lot different. But we are expected to perform at a higher standard.”
The school district apparently will have support from the governor’s office for changing the formula.
Gov. Steve Sisolak, who campaigned heavily on supporting public education with support from teachers unions, said education is his priority.
“The work starts with our educators,” he said. “Our educators deserve the respect and resources that they deserve — and they’re not getting them now.”
Jara also announced a new, tentative recruitment program that will provide $10,000 in federal money to retain teachers in eight of the most-challenged schools, with a $5,000 bonus if students improve.
Report criticizes operations
The frank speech on the need for improvement comes after Jara reduced top administrative posts and commissioned a report to examine the operations of the district.
That report from the Council of the Great City Schools, presented on Thursday, found that the district is operating with outdated business practices, bloated staffing levels and lack of clear planning.
“The report wasn’t flattering,” Jara said. “However, I am committed to fixing the issues. I am committed to look and see … what we’re doing to drive money back into the classroom.”
Jara revealed some aspects of his five-year plan in his speech, which includes attaining an ambitious graduation rate of more than 90 percent. The district also hopes to have no one- or two-star schools.
“Our children do not have time to waste,” Jara said. “Our children have one time in school — and the adults need to get it right for our kids.”