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Don’t let district shuffle hurt minority kids

For the past 10 months, I served as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee established under Assembly Bill 394 to study and make recommendations regarding the reorganization of the Clark County School District. My role was to represent the Latin Chamber of Commerce of Nevada.

From my perspective, the main contribution made by the committee was to canvass the community to assess how residents throughout Clark County felt about the district. This was done through a series of excellent online and in-person surveys and public forums undertaken by community groups and local governments.

Among the most important things we learned was that minority groups, particularly Latinos and African-Americans, felt the existing system was failing them and that their schools were substandard when compared to newer schools in more affluent areas attended by predominantly white students.

A bipartisan panel of 12 state lawmakers on Sept. 9 approved the regulations to implement the reorganization beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. Essentially, that gives the school district almost one year to train central administrators and principals for the start of the next school year.

Understandably, I have serious reservations as to whether this can be accomplished in the time allotted. I am even more pessimistic that this will be accomplished knowing that these are the same administrators, principals and teachers who have operated the under-performing system now in place.

My greatest concern for the new system, however, is how minority students will be served. Most of the schools serving minority communities are in need of replacement. Will there be money to do that?

In addition, academic success in those schools has historically been subpar as evidenced by longstanding and embarrassingly low academic achievement, low English language acquisition, low graduation rates and high dropout rates. This poor record cannot be sugar coated given the fact that the school district has ranked for many years at the low end of almost all national performance standards.

It is hard for me to accept, therefore, that under this new system — which is based on the premise of implementing a new empowerment model giving schools more control over budgets, instruction and staffing decisions — historically low performing schools will magically become exemplary schools of high academic achievement. Logic alone tells me that this is not very likely.

What I do believe will happen is that the schools in the more affluent areas of the district will continue to do fine and that some of them will likely excel beyond where they are today. In contrast, it is my belief that most of the schools in low-income areas will continue to perform poorly as a result of longstanding problems such as not being able to attract good teachers, having too many long-term substitutes, and not having enough parental and community support.

Nevertheless, in spite of my misgivings, I mean it when I say that I hope that all of my assumptions will be proven wrong and that all 350 schools in the district will become high performing. This, of course, would be a tremendous gift for African-American and Latino students and their parents, who like all Americans, want only the best for their children.

Thomas Rodriguez spent 23 years with the Clark County School District and served as executive manager for diversity and affirmative action programs.

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