Justin M. Bowen
Sunday, March 11, 2012 | 3 a.m.
Sun editorialRead the Sun's editorial on the new school ranking system "A five-star system."
We recently asked you what you would ask Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones if you could. You sent us your thoughts, and we took some of your questions and asked Jones to respond. Here is the result:
Most superintendents don’t stick around long. Will you be here to see all these changes through? What if something you implement doesn’t work? Are you willing to change it? — J.S.
I want this community to know I am here to implement and see through reform in our district. I am committed to the parents, community, teachers, leaders and, most of all, our students. Of course, at the end of the day, I report to the Board of Trustees, and I am grateful for their support of our reform vision. It is going to take some time to realize this vision. The good news is these are not new ideas. We are implementing reforms that have worked in other states. Nevada’s kids are just as able, if not more poised, to rise to the challenge of increased academic vigor.
Be specific: How will you improve these schools ranked three stars and below? How will you remedy class size and resource disparities? How will you help teachers help ELL (English language learner) students better? — J.N.
It’s important to note that three-star schools are meeting academic standards — just not exceeding them. The School Performance Framework gives specific results to principals so they can work with their staff to make changes and focus resources that will improve student achievement and earn that fourth or fifth star.
I also believe we will see significant improvement in our one- and two-star schools. We will provide priority access to support related to best practices, and training and coaching, including in literacy and math skills. Our academic managers — who are experienced educators — will devote much of their time in these classrooms and schools to offer help. We also will encourage our five-star schools to reach out to their one- and two-star counterparts and share what’s working for them.
Should some aspects of the CCSD be broken up into smaller districts, keeping only those that truly benefit from economy of scale in the larger unit? — J.B.
It’s true that we have the fifth-largest district in the country, with a unique population of urban and rural students, and a majority-minority district. That’s why I reorganized our district into 13 performance zones. Each is led by an academic manager who spends a majority of his or her time in schools, working with principals and teachers on best practices and ensuring resources are directed where we need them. This new structure provides a more personal approach to our large district, recognizing our very diverse needs while ensuring each school is on track with our reform efforts.
If you had 20 minutes to discuss education with a large group of people, would it be more important to talk to students, teachers or parents? — T.G.
Our top priority has to be our students. Everything we do must be focused on increasing student achievement so our students are “ready by exit.” Of course, we cannot do this without the hard work of our valued teachers and support every day from our community and parents. Each week, I visit at least one school and take time to visit with students, teachers, school leaders and staff. It is the most valuable time of my week.
What do you think of charter schools? — M.J.
I support parent choice, and charter schools are a good option for many students and parents. Charter schools are not a panacea, though. I support charter schools that are highly effective and create an environment that fosters student enrichment. They should be held to the same accountability standards as our traditional schools.
Does the district have plans as in New York, where public school buildings are given to corporate-owned charter schools? — C.K.
We are not currently looking at this option.
What is being done to eliminate wasteful programs and whole departments that do little to nothing to enhance teaching? — C.C.
To date, I haven’t found a department that doesn’t support or educate our students, but all departments know I will hold them accountable for results. We must be accountable to the taxpayers and spend every dollar with an eye on return on investment. When I arrived at the CCSD, I ordered a full review of our budget. We have had to make cuts throughout the district, but we work closely with schools to find ways to be more efficient and effective.
I also understand we all must share the burden of budget cuts. We cut 20 percent of our central office budget, which is unheard of nationally. We continue to look closely at our programs to monitor for results. We are making every effort to spend taxpayer funds on programs that improve student achievement.
Why is tenure still a part of a 21st century school district? — L.R.
I’m open to all constructive and thoughtful viewpoints about the merits or cons of teacher tenure. But I want to emphasize that we value our hardworking and dedicated teachers, and there should be a system in place that protects and rewards those who excel.