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COMMENTARY: Too many obstacles hinder education advancement in Southern Nevada

More than 100 days have passed since my final board meeting as the superintendent of the Clark County School District. This time has given me the opportunity to reflect on the state of education in Nevada.

It’s crucial for families to understand the obstacles our school system faces in serving our children. I was brought on board in 2018 with a clear mission: to elevate the educational experiences and outcomes for our students. I was hopeful, encouraged and up for the challenge. Despite efforts by me and the team, however, we encountered significant resistance from various groups that hindered our progress.

Many interested parties — including the teachers union, administrators union, some community leaders, local elected officials and some members of the School Board — often prioritized personal interests over the necessary reforms that could have propelled our students forward. This resistance has contributed to the persistent challenges in student outcomes, keeping Nevada behind in national educational rankings.

In my previous roles in Massachusetts and Florida, I was part of high-functioning teams that implemented successful reforms and improved the lives of students. I came to Nevada hoping to replicate those successes. Here, the potential for improvement is vast due to the state’s size and the capabilities of our students, and we were poised to capitalize on this limitless potential.

The core issue does not involve the structure of our school district or the process of selecting a superintendent. The real challenge lies in the lack of a unified, unwavering commitment to student success at all levels of leadership, both state and local, and how the system is manipulated by special interests.

We need to look to other successful models such as the District of Columbia, Tennessee, Texas, Massachusetts and the Florida A+ Plan, which former Gov. Brian Sandoval considered for inspiration. Unfortunately, political obstacles — particularly from figures financially backed by the Clark County Education Association, such as Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro — have stifled similar initiatives here. It’s critical to understand that, while teachers unions play a vital role, their focus must be aligned with clearly articulated student achievement and accountability, not merely their own interests.

Examples from other states show us that with a dedicated commitment to reform, it’s possible to leap from the lower echelons to top national rankings within a decade. These states prioritized early literacy, empowered parental choice and implemented stringent accountability measures for student progression and graduation, alongside substantial funding.

To achieve similar results, we must enforce a rigorous accountability framework for teachers, administrators and students, while expanding parental choice and offering financial incentives for educators. Gov. Joe Lombardo’s recent historic funding for education is a significant step forward, but it must be accompanied by a firm commitment to these proven principles.

Each and every student in Clark County, including our own children, deserve educational choices just as much as others across the country do. It has been a successful model for increasing engagement, raising graduation rates and developing a healthy workforce. Let’s not allow power struggles overshadow our duty to them. We must rally behind initiatives that place the success of our children first and elect leaders who will support these efforts in partnership with Gov. Lombardo.

Together, we can transform our educational landscape and ensure our children’s future is bright.

Jesus F. Jara is the former superintendent of the Clark County School District.

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