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EDITORIAL: Jara right to seek new principals for failing schools

If you’re a principal of a failing school, Clark County School Superintendent Jesus Jara could be coming for your job. It’s about time.

The recent star ratings revealed many success stories in the school district. That’s great news. But the rankings also showed that around 15 percent of schools are still at a one-star level. They will continue to fail students unless something changes.

Mr. Jara wants to start the change at the top, according to a recent district memo. He’s seeking proposals from current principals willing to take on the challenge of improving one-star elementary schools. Principals have to apply and share their vision for the school, which can include unique education models. Mr. Jara will have those principals report to him and hire some of their own staff members.

It’s a good idea and long overdue.

It will be interesting to see how many current principals are interested. Mr. Jara wants principals to take on a harder job without an increase in pay. The main reward would be the satisfaction of helping young students in need and working with the increased autonomy principals should already have under the district reorganization plan. Undoubtedly, there’d be more interest if Mr. Jara could offer pay incentives to lure talented administrators to underperforming campuses. That’s standard practice in the private sector, but collective bargaining limits the district.

This is a significant problem. Think about it from the perspective of a high-performing principal or teacher. The students at a five-star school typically come from families with higher incomes, which is associated with higher student achievement. The students are better behaved. The school is likely closer to where you live. Your fellow employees have generally chosen to teach at that school.

Compare that to the average one-star school. Its students likely come from a lower socioeconomic background. The children have more behavioral problems. They’re more likely to move schools mid-year, as their parents are more transient. Perhaps the school is farther away from your home and not in a great neighborhood. Staff turnover is high, with many long-term substitutes. You’ll work twice as hard to achieve half the results.

Both jobs pay the same. Which do you pick?

It’s natural for the best principals and teachers to gravitate to the schools where their jobs are easier when there’s no pay premium for taking on a more difficult task. It’s commendable that Mr. Jara wants to move his best talent to the district’s lowest-performing schools. It’d be better if collective bargaining didn’t limit his ability to incentivize those employees to go where they’re needed most.

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