Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara has set more than two dozen goals related to student achievement. Last year, the district met one of them.
Not great, especially when the Board of Trustees is about to give Jara his first formal evaluation.
Earlier this year, Jara and the board put out a five-year plan, called Focus: 2024. It established 29 academic performance goals. For instance, 46.6 percent of third graders read at grade-level in the 2017-18 school year. By 2023, the district’s goal is to increase that number to 58.7 percent. To track the district’s progress, Jara set yearly benchmarks. At the end of the 2018-19 school year, the goal was to hit 49.3 percent for third-grading reading proficiency.
Unfortunately, just 46.7 percent of third graders were proficient in reading at the end of the past school year.
This example is representative of student performance last year. There was slight improvement but far below the district’s goal. The biggest success was boosting 11th grade reading proficiency from 44.5 percent to 46.2 percent. But that was still below the 2018-19 goal of 48.5 percent.
The only academic goal the district met last year was increasing enrollment in dual-credit classrooms.
These statistics are important in measuring the success of the district and of Jara himself. On Thursday, the school board is going to do just that by conducting its first evaluation of the superintendent.
It’s not just the academic numbers that look bad for Jara. The evaluation rubric used by the board has 19 measurements, including achievement, operations and financial management. Last year, the district met the annual progress required in six of the 19 categories.
Jara’s biggest accomplishment is the district’s increased graduation rate. The four-year graduation rate went from 83.2 percent to 85.8 percent in 2018-19. But without the high school proficiency exam to measure actual achievement, a higher graduation rate could simply mean that more students showed up, not that learning increased.
The numbers suggest Jara has done a terrible job, but he has two factors in his favor.
First, he deserves credit for setting measurable and ambitious goals. That’s the first sign of a good leader, even if his organization falls dramatically short of reaching them.
Second, it’s hard to hold Jara responsible for the district’s poor performance when collective bargaining ties his hands to such a large extent. It’s difficult to fire ineffective teachers and principals. District unions have de facto control over much of the budget.
Jara did make one major mistake, though. Instead of standing up to the Clark County Education Association over the summer when it threatened an illegal strike, he capitulated.
The numbers clearly show the district continues to fail. It’s hard to tell how much blame Jara deserves, however, when he has such little authority over personnel and finances.