New Clark County schools superintendent faces trust-building challenge

ORLANDO, Fla. — Establishing trust.

That, in two words, is the biggest challenge facing Jesus Jara when he arrives this week to become the Clark County School District superintendent.

There are obvious similarities between Las Vegas and Orlando, but the climates of the two tourist meccas’ school systems are not among them.

In Orlando, where Jara, 48, just concluded a six-year run as deputy superintendent, district officials, the school board and parents all seem to pull in the same direction to move the academic needle upward.

That’s hardly the case in Clark County, where trust among district officials, legislators, parents and trustees often seems nonexistent and divisions threaten to undermine modest progress in academic achievement.

Jara — who doesn’t mind whether you pronounce his last name with a J or an H — is aware of the challenge awaiting him when he clocks in Tuesday.

During a recent visit with the Las Vegas Review-Journal in his last weeks on the job in Florida, he said earning the trust of the entire community is critical to propelling the district forward.

But he also said he views what others see as mistrust a little differently, calling it a “passion” for students and education.

“The passion I can work with,” he said. “What we need to do is just channel it together to … work as one and collaborate together so we can then have a real clear focus on being the No. 1 district for kids.”

Operating transparently and having open dialogues are two ways Jara thinks Clark County can begin to build a culture around education that resembles Orlando’s.

Rebecca Garcia, a 39-year-old with three children attending Clark County schools, said it’s going to take a lot of showing up for Jara to restore her trust. But she acknowledges being impressed by his skills, experience and temperament in his interview with trustees.

“I think CCSD is at a juncture where we need a fresh perspective who is willing to leave the status quo, who isn’t part of the status quo and who can set a new direction for the district,” Garcia said.

Jesus Jara, Clark County School District superintendent

Jara says Clark County parents can get a good sense of the approach he will bring by looking at changes that have occurred in Orange County, Florida, in recent years, including voters entrusting the school district with more tax money through ballot initiatives.

Overall, Jara said, Orange County schools have found a good balance between school autonomy and central oversight.

He wants to implement a similar structure in the Clark County district, which is still wrestling with the Legislature-mandated reorganization.

Budget flexibility

To demonstrate the flexibility of the Orange County system and illustrate how it can adjust to different challenges, Jara took a reporter on a tour of five schools.

At Colonial High School, he discussed principal autonomy, using the school’s third-year principal, Jose Martinez, as an example.

The school, which serves up to 3,600 students, is similar to many Clark County high schools. It is 87 percent nonwhite. It’s a Title I school, and 71 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch under federal standards, an indicator of poverty.

It’s earns a consistent “C” on Florida’s five-tier rating scale.

But unlike most Clark County schools, every student has their own tablet.

Also, the principal has near-complete control over the budget, as long as the school meets the district’s criteria for academic achievement. That’s similar to what’s being done in Clark County, though at this point Orange County principals appear to have more spending flexibility. That required additional budgeting training for principals, Jara said.

At Colonial, for example, Martinez responded to parent and student feedback by cutting a couple coaching positions and using that money to cover fees for band and orchestra programs. There’s money available for dry-cleaning uniforms, for example.

A better example came from Colonial’s enrollment of roughly 200 Puerto Rican students who fled to Florida after Hurricanes Irma and Maria decimated their homeland.

“We knew right away we needed a system in place,” Jara recalled, sipping from a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee as he described how Martinez and his team jumped into action to prepare for the influx.

The solution included getting the school’s Latinos in Action club involved.

A spinoff of student government clubs, Latinos in Action operates in a handful of Orange County schools and focuses heavily on mentorship.

Because the system was already in place, Martinez said, it was easier to absorb the newcomers with only minimal disruption to other students.

School turnaround

While the district lets schools like Colonial make such calls, schools that aren’t cutting it academically have less autonomy.

Washington Shores Elementary School was a dilapidated facility nestled into an old, historically impoverished neighborhood.

Four years ago, the school received an “F” rating and a promise of support from the district. That included a spot in the school transformation office that Jara helped create and replacement of the old building.

Nate Stephens, the principal brought in to lead the transformation, grew up in the neighborhood and serves as the ultimate role model for the children.

“This is the exit from the neighborhood. This is personal for me,” he said.

Jara's journey
CLICK TO ENLARGE

Part of the transformation involved training teachers on how to talk to students using higher-level vocabulary to set an example, Stephens said. If you hold high expectations, he said, the students can and will meet them.

In the latest state ratings, the school climbed to a “C.”

During the tour of the school, students impressed Jara with their vocabularies. He sat with a kindergarten student who used the word “bacteria” in an essay on ice cream. A third-grade student talked about how physical activity teaches “collaboration.”

“It’s the same kids, the same community, learning at a higher level,” Jara said.

The transformation office is similar to Clark County’s turnaround initiatives but more advanced in some ways. For instance, it has a system to ease schools back to the mainstream once they reach an achievement standard. Over two to three years, the school is weaned off transformation office support, and budgetary control is returned to the principal.

That prevents what some Clark County schools with high-needs students are seeing now when certain state funding measures, like the Zoom and Victory programs, provide extra support only to vanish once student achievement improves.

That’s one reason Jara likes systems that focus on and reprioritize existing funds rather than relying on new money.

‘Master’ principals

Next on Jara’s list is Millennia Elementary School, which shares Principal Anne Lynaugh with nearby Millennia Gardens Elementary School, similar to Clark County’s “franchise principal” program.

The idea of both programs is to leverage experience and talent, but Jara said he worries about burnout. Both districts also have training programs aimed at nurturing up-and-coming administrative talent.

In Lynaugh’s schools, Jara shows a knack for connecting with students, easily slipping into and out of his native Spanish. Jara moved to Miami from Venezuela when he was 10.

“My parents had a vision of the American Dream, and I’m living it,” Jara said over a chicken sandwich and Diet Coke, one of three cans consumed during the daylong visit.

Like their Clark County counterparts, Orange County students speak a multitude of languages, which can sometimes pose a problem, said Lynaugh. But with technology in every classroom and the rise of programs like Google Translate, students who aren’t yet fluent in English are able to work independently.

Hands-on learning

Next up is Orange Technical College.

Don’t let the name deceive you. Students do not earn bachelor’s or associate degrees but can pursue a wide range of career certifications.

Funded by the state and run by districts, Florida’s technical colleges are similar to vocational schools. They are open to adults and high school students. Adults pay tuition and any required fees, while students generally pay only for supplies or instructional materials.

Five campuses in Orange County offer more than 40 programs, including cosmetology, mechanics, animation and welding. Students spend half their days at their zoned high school and half in their career or technical program.

Jara’s son, Alex — second-oldest of his three kids — is an alumnus, collecting a welding certificate two days before his high school graduation.

“This is hands-on learning,” the elder Jara said.

The schools defy the notion that vocational schools are somehow lesser. Through partnerships with high-profile companies and up-to-date programs, including modeling simulation design and production, it’s remarkable what they can accomplish, Jara said.

For example, combining a standard program like brick masonry with virtual reality technology keeps costs down by letting students practice in a simulation before actually laying bricks.

Closing achievement gaps

The last stop is Hunter’s Creek Middle School, which is consistently rated at the highest level by the state. Principal Amy McHale is about to get even more autonomy and flexibility as she tries to narrow the achievement gap between the school’s highest- and lowest-performing students.

But again, the district has a system for her to work within. She’s allowed to try innovative approaches, mostly involving technology, but must narrow the gap — a goal the Clark County schools also have been pursuing under outgoing Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky — within three years.

Her plans include moving students to two days of block scheduling next year to devote more time to math and “really focus on the gaps,” she said.

On to Clark County

Although Jara will be across the country by then, he promised to keep a close eye on Orlando and maintain a close relationship with Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins, whom he called the greatest school superintendent in the country.

That comment came at his last School Board meeting in late May, where he was showered with praise from trustees. He also had the chance to lay out some of his hopes for Clark County.

“I hope to become sister school districts to replicate the work of the talented administrators and phenomenal teachers in Orange County,” he said.

Time will tell if culture change can also be exported.

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
News
NSPCA Gets Kittens From LA
Man killed during road-rage incident
Las Vegas police are looking for two men involved in the shooting death of a man outside a 7-Eleven story at Bonanza Road and Maryland Parkway on Nov. 12, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like