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EDITORIAL: Plenty to do before new superintendent is hired

Even if Superman were named the next Clark County School District superintendent, he couldn’t succeed until the board fixed its broken policies.

The Board of Trustees is looking for a new permanent superintendent. It has started the process to secure a firm to begin a national search. The goal is to have its new hire start by Nov. 1.

Who the board selects is undoubtedly important. The superintendent will run a multibillion-dollar organization. He or she will lead tens of thousands of employees. The new hire will instantly become one of the most important and high-profile leaders in Clark County. And the taxpayers will expect results. Student achievement levels in the district have remained mortifyingly low for decades.

But while the board searches for the right leader, it should also do some internal housekeeping and reconsider policies that will hinder its new superintendent.

One obvious place to start is the district’s failed grading policy. Former Superintendent Jesus Jara successfully pushed the board to dumb down the district’s standards. That included implementing a 50 percent minimum grade on all assignments — including those never completed. Teachers couldn’t penalize students for late work or even plagiarism. As he left office, Mr. Jara admitted that the policy led to kids “playing the game” to avoid work. Minor revisions didn’t fix these major problems. The board should revamp Policy 5121, ensuring grades reflect what students know and giving teachers more leverage to make students complete homework in a timely manner.

Another problem is the district’s focus on reducing suspension and expulsions regardless of how students behave. That has led to increased violence and less safe classrooms, contributing to the ongoing teacher shortage. Trustees should make it clear that they demand a safe and respectful learning environment for staff and students. If that requires suspensions and expulsions, they should be used without concern for demographic factors such as race or ethnicity.

One effort the board should continue to pursue is a decertification of the Clark County Education Association. The teachers union violated its pledge not to strike by staging sickouts last fall during contract negotiations. If decertification is successful, that would give the new superintendent much more authority over policy and finances.

Board members shouldn’t fool themselves into believing that hiring the right person will solve all the district’s problems. They should take the next six months to reform what they can, creating an environment that allows the new superintendent to succeed.

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