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VICTOR JOECKS: Kerfuffle at Clark High School shows need for school choice

Turns out there are fireable offenses in the Clark County School District. Antonio Rael lost his job as principal of Clark High School for trying to help low-income and minority students.

On Tuesday, the district announced that it was removing Rael from the school. The week before, hordes of upset parents stormed a School Board meeting to complain about Rael, who became principal earlier this year.

Clark High School is a magnet school, which is like two schools in one. There’s a normal public school attended by zoned students. There are also magnet programs that other students can apply for if their grades are high enough. They offer special instruction in areas such as robotics, pre-medicine and finance.

Clark’s three magnet offerings have earned national recognition from Newsweek and Magnet Schools of America. Last year, it had the largest advanced placement program in the district. Its students have gone on to schools such as Princeton, Harvard and Yale. Getting into Clark High School’s magnet program is a ticket to a better education, a better college and a better future.

It makes sense that parents might be skeptical of changes that could jeopardize this program. Magnet parents hit Rael with a flurry of complaints, including his enforcement of the tardy rules. Others whined that the homecoming tickets said, “From your chest to your thighs, keep it in disguise,” a pithy summation of the district’s dress code, which is set by the School Board. District policy bans low-cut clothing and any clothes that show midriff.

It says plenty about today’s parents that they think a principal should lose his job for making kids go to class on time and enforcing the dress code.

The bigger concern seemed to be that magnet teachers were upset about some of Rael’s new policies, such as more frequent observations by administrators. Some teachers threated to leave the school, which spooked the magnet parents. They worried that an exodus would derail their children’s path to success. About this, their concern is understandable.

It’s less understandable why Rael would implement changes at what appears to be a successful school. But there’s the rub. The magnet program at Clark High School is a model of success. The zoned students are failing miserably.

“While nine out of 10 are deemed (College & Career Ready) in our magnet programs, less than two in 10 have this same ‘College & Career Ready’ designation from our zoned community,” Rael wrote in a letter this month.

Data from the Nevada Department of Education confirms this disparity. Magnet students make up around 25 percent of the school’s enrollment. Including magnet students, just 40.7 percent of Clark students are proficient in English. In math, it’s 31.8 percent.

Clark is primarily failing poor minority students. The median annual household income in the high school’s ZIP code is $33,700, which is 39 percent lower than in Clark County overall. Hispanic and African-American students make up 65.9 percent of the overall student body.

Rael wrote that he directed administrators to go into classrooms because research shows the “most critical role of administrators is instructional leadership.”

Rael’s actions are understandable, even if they felt abrupt or teachers didn’t like his style. For non-magnet students, Clark is a school in crisis.

Ironically, Superintendent Jesus Jara promoted Rael at Clark in February. What a message to send. If you help the smart kids succeed while poor, minority kids flounder, Jara will promote you. If you annoy the smart kids while trying to help poor, minority students, Jara will take your job.

This is why Nevada needs private school choice so desperately. When a school — such as Clark — fails poor, minority students, they need the financial ability to find a campus that will help them succeed.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 10 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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