Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2014

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Superintendent candidates differ on views of empowerment schools

Dwight Jones

Dwight Jones

Michael Hinojosa

Michael Hinojosa

Two candidates vying to become Clark County’s next schools superintendent differed on their opinions of empowerment schools — one backing the county’s model and the other saying only schools that prove themselves should get more free rein.

Principals at Clark County’s empowerment schools are given more say over staffing and budgets, and the schools have a private-sector partner.

But Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, said he has a different view of empowerment.

“We believe that you have to earn empowerment in the model that we have,” said Hinojosa, who, along with candidate Dwight Jones, the Colorado commissioner of education, met with reporters on Wednesday.

After meeting with parents, students and other stakeholders Wednesday, the two candidates will be interviewed by the Board of Trustees on Thursday morning. The board is expected to select a new superintendent at its Oct. 15 meeting.

Discussing empowerment schools, Hinojosa said that in Dallas, nearly 30 percent of the students are mobile, moving from school to school, so it’s not fair to the students if things are taught and done differently at different schools.

Instead, the focus is on measuring students’ achievements and then giving more freedoms if students are succeeding, he said.

“If you’re doing real well, you get empowerment, you get left alone, you get to be creative,” Hinojosa said. “If you’re not doing well, you’re going to get a whole lot of love from us. You’re not going to get many options.”

Jones, however, said he liked the county’s empowerment model.

“Clark County has a lot of really good things going for it. Having had the opportunity to do an analysis, I tell you, the empowerment schools is a step in the right direction. The career and technical academies — really fantastic,” he said.

In fact, Colorado passed a law to allow schools there to do something similar to the empowerment model here, Jones said. Members of the Colorado Board of Education came to Las Vegas to visit the technical schools and have been pushing to start a similar program there, he said.

Both candidates said they need to learn more about the schools here before they would make any changes.

Hinojosa said things used “to move the needle in Dallas” may or may not work in Clark County.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I’ve got to listen and find out.”

Hinojosa said he would take time to work with teachers, parents and the community to figure out what will work here.

“I do my share of listening and hopefully by modeling that, hopefully our executive staff and our principals would follow the same processes,” he said.

Jones said he focuses on being visible in the community, going to school events and talking to people.

“There’s no substitute for, certainly, formal opportunities for the community to engage with you, but that informal opportunity really makes a difference,” he said.

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