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August 29, 2014

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The Turnaround:

Hancock principal a forceful presence in classrooms

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Leila Navidi

Principal Jerre Moore talks to staff members via walkie-talkie at Hancock Elementary School in Las Vegas Thursday, August 25, 2011.

Hancock Elementary School

Kindergarten teacher Paula Berry takes a lunch break during training at Elizondo Elementary School in North Las Vegas on Tuesday, August 23, 2011. Launch slideshow »

The Turnaround: Hancock Elementary School

KSNV reports that the turnaround to improve student achievement at Hancock Elementary School already is under way, Sept. 2, 2011.

Related column

Even before the school year began, Principal Jerre Moore knew she had made friends — and critics — at the academically troubled Hancock Elementary School.

“She’s very nice, very polite. She just loves kids to death,” said Sidney Wursch, a precocious third-grader who remembered Moore from last year.

But Sidney’s great-grandfather, Lee Beatty, has a different memory of last year, when Moore arrived and began imposing get-tough changes at the school — including rewriting teachers’ lesson plans and dropping in during classes and taking over if she thought the teacher was missing the mark.

“It became chaotic. It didn’t seem like everybody was on the same page,” said Beatty, who is the child’s custodial parent.

Among Moore’s reforms: tougher grading standards that triggered complaints from parents who saw their A- and B-level children getting C’s and D’s.

Moore found that the Hancock staff was inflating student grades, possibly to placate parents and students. Moore recalibrated the students’ grades to reflect the C’s and D’s that they were getting on objective diagnostic tests. Teacher grades reflected the new reality, but confused parents blamed Moore for the declines.

“The kids did fine with the changes,” Moore said. “It was some of the parents. You went from chaos to structure.”

Indeed, Hancock had lacked structure and consistency; Moore was its fourth principal in a decade. She was recruited from Bendorf Elementary School in the western valley a year ago, and brought 38 years of classroom and administrative experience to Hancock.

Few Hancock parents knew of the standardized test results until Moore shared them a year ago in a series of meetings. “They didn’t understand,” she said. “They asked, ‘Why weren’t we told about the data before?’ ” She could not answer that question.

But during her first year as principal, Hancock’s standardized reading and math scores improved by 15 and 16 percent.

•••

Hancock is one of the Clark County School District’s five new turnaround schools, a designation created by the U.S. Education Department and embraced by district officials for poorly performing schools. They are eligible for a series of federal grants and a range of intensive training programs.

Among the reform strategies embraced by the School District: Replace principals at the targeted schools with new leaders who cannot keep more than half of the existing staff. Moore was allowed to stay at Hancock, however, because she had been there only the prior year.

Moore knew her staff and retained just four of the school’s 32 teachers. The others were transferred. Moore then recruited teachers for Hancock. This would be a fresh start.

The native Texan is married to a former Air Force fighter pilot who flies for Southwest Airlines. Jerre (pronounced JA-ree) and Bill Moore claim Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a lifelong friend, and she possesses a confident, aggressive attitude that would do the Republican presidential candidate proud.

The 63-year-old grandmother routinely works 16-hour days, immerses herself in the latest educational research and has become a School District leader in the embrace of the latest reading and writing initiatives.

Moore routinely reviews students’ classroom writing and spends late nights eyeing the classroom plans of her teachers. On visiting teachers’ classrooms and taking over if she believes a teacher is failing to properly reach students, Moore says: “I don’t have a week to write it up and share my thoughts with a teacher. I want to show them what I want so the expectations are clear.”

Her management style is not for everyone, particularly teachers who like the independence of working in classrooms with doors that separate them from the eyes and ears of their co-workers and administrators. The teachers who balked at what they viewed as Moore’s micromanagement were transferred. (The School District and the teachers union won’t identify those teachers, or where they are this year, citing privacy policies.)

The new staff, such as fifth-grade teacher Gregory Kramer, seem on board with Moore. “Jerre, she’s tough,” he said. “At first her energy’s intimidating, but it brings you up to another level.”

•••

Moore and her counterparts at the School District’s four other turnaround schools — Chaparral, Mojave and Western high schools and Elizondo Elementary School — spent a week this summer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Management. They spent 16-hour days in classes, hearing lectures and discussing a multitude of nationwide school reform efforts. The sessions, funded by a federal grant, required each principal to produce a 90-day action plan to reverse the fortunes of his or her school.

The competitive Moore proudly shows hers to a visitor, noting that she was the first of the Clark County five to complete her plan. It called for building repairs — which have been completed — and using a classroom near the entrance to serve as a center that will provide Hancock parents with basic English classes and training in a variety of life skills.

The 90-day plan also called for an intensive public relations effort to gain the trust and commitment of Hancock parents. “The Hispanic parents do not get involved in the school activities (but) totally trust the school to educate their children,” she wrote. The solution: Develop a welcoming culture.

Moore also wants her teachers to “shake every parent’s hand and thank them for getting their child to school on time or thank them for ensuring that they make sure their child has prepared their homework.”

•••

Beatty has grown more comfortable with Moore’s managerial style. “Things got better and better and better,” he said of the academic progression last year. “Mrs. Moore cared about the students.”

The spotlight remains on Moore and her staff. As she considers the often overheated communitywide and national debate about the state of public schools and the efforts of all involved, Moore expresses her sense of confidence.

“You’ve got to hire people who are relentless in what they do, people who are always prepared. We’re under a microscope, which is OK. If you’re doing your job and you’re effective, you’re going to get it.”

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  1. It sounds like she has a plan and the gumption to get it done. Good Luck to her and her students.

    From the article: "...and using a classroom near the entrance to serve as a center that will provide Hancock parents with basic English classes and training in a variety of life skills."

    Excellent.

  2. This principal is not well liked among teachers due to her micro-management style. Most teachers transfer out as soon as possible. I know this for a fact, this was the case at her former school (Bendorf). Who needs to work under a dictator?
    I doubt that students actually learn any critical teaching skills, they probably do learn "how to test" and thats about it. And I doubt being a "lifelong" friend of Rick Perry is anything to brag about....he got "C's" and "D's" while attending Texas A&M.

  3. NN, your second paragraph says it all. You are just another political extremist that puts politics above the national good. Both on the left and right.

    The school was failing. The government sent her to the latest and greatest conference in Virginia for ideas. You can't correct bad performance without a little micromanagement.

    The union probably sent out a memo to try to oust her.

  4. Yes the school was failing...but whose fault is that?? The parents and the students.
    Yes there are bad teachers (just like there are bad doctors, attorneys, home builders etc...every profession has them). Teachers have a student for approximately 7 hours a day (i'm being generous here, closer to 6 hous) for 5 days a week. Yet people expect miracles. Sorry but most of the responsiblity rests with the parents who have them the majority of time.
    Sorry, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink....
    And no I'm not a teacher (even though I did get a teaching credential back in 91'...didn't care for the profession so never pursued it past the credential/student teaching phase), but I do have first hand experience for what they do.

  5. I hope that the article makes the principal seem like more of a micro-manager than she actually is. While some micro-management is occasionally necessary, it is not a good or effective management style in the long term.

    Effective management should lead by example and empower teachers and students. It should generally encourage, not intimidate. I think the article may have played up the intimidation factor. I would imagine that Ms. Moore encourages her teachers and helps them develop their skills without some of the hostility that the article may have implied.

    To the Sun Staff - I have enjoyed the articles about principals, but how about a few from the perspective of teachers and students? I would love to read an article about effective teachers, as well as some articles from students and their families about teachers and admins who are less than stellar and how they could improve.

  6. VegasHope: We completely agree, except we're planning on more than just a few stories from the perspective of teachers, students and the students' families.
    :)

    The bulk of this series will be from the very perspectives you've suggested. Plus, we'll have lots of other great involvement from those at these turnaround schools that we're still working through the details.

    There also will be lots of the other types of the stories you have suggested. When the Las Vegas Sun has done a project of this scale in the past, we've typically dedicated one writer to the project. But for this project, our plans are to dedicate two writers for the entire year.

    We hope you'll continue to share your ideas and thoughts with us!
    Thanks!
    rob

  7. I worked at this school last year and it was a nightmare. Jerre Moore acted as a dictator. Nothing was good enough for her and no idea was welcomed unless she came up with it.

    I feel sorry for the teachers at that school this year. The four teachers that were retained at that school were the only ones willing to go back (and only one of them remains in a k-5 classroom). Everyone else voluntarily transferred. The article makes it sound like she had them removed. Either way, I am thankful to be out of that school.

    I feel even more sorry for the students. They are expected to learn only reading, writing and math. Science and social studies were not considered important subjects. No "fluff" was allowed (and anything that was not a worksheet was considered "fluff".) Jerre Moore's ideas about teaching are archaic. She takes information from research and twists things around to fit her needs. She claims there is technology in the classroom because she forces teachers to use SmartBoards for every lesson. Well the only time a kid got their hands on a computer was for testing. It was so ridiculous.

    As far as her claim about test scores increasing, even she stated in a meeting that you could not compare last years students to this years students because they were a completely different population due to the transiency. Did she mention to you that the school still did not make AYP?

    And the claim that grades were inflated grades; if a students grades did not match their standardized test scores, teachers were told to change them. They had to match. It was sickening. TESTING is not the only way to measure students growth. Sure some teachers may have inflated grades but that was not everyone.

    Like in every profession, there are good and bad teachers. Why not try to coach struggling teachers instead of making them feel incompetent and incapable of doing their job.

    Shame on you Las Vegas Sun for not getting the perspective of one of the teachers. They would not have been hard to find had you put in a little bit of effort.