Las Vegas Sun

January 29, 2015

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Q+A: Dwight Jones:

Superintendent: ‘I am here to implement and see through reform’

School District boss answers questions submitted by Sun readers


Justin M. Bowen

Dwight Jones, the Clark County School Superintendent, is photographed in his office Thursday, January 20, 2011.

Sun editorial

Read 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.

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Previous Discussion: 8 comments so far…

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  1. From what I see and experience, the district has been making attempts to inform parents (in English & Spanish) of the new Common Core Standards by periodically releasing the expectations for each trimester period of what their child should be mastering. It remains to be seen, how many parents actually read these pages and support their child/ren towards achievement of standards. Is the district measuring this for effectiveness?

    The greatest problem for at-risk schools that are lower performing, is having to do with support from the home. The majority of at-risk students struggle with LANGUAGE. Why? you ask. The parents in their home are typically non- or limited- English speaking, reading, and writing individuals. How can a child improve reading when the English language illiterate parent/guardian sitting there with that child, hasn't a clue of what that child is orally reading to them? How can a child have their assignments checked over when parents are unable to read or write in the English language. Many such parents simply disengage themselves from their child/ren's academic support because of their inability to help because of LANGUAGE illiteracy.

    Our school districts and LAWMAKERS owe it to the students to develop the means to support the child's first teacher---the PARENT!

    We witness in the news, how the lack of parent support and involvement is a detriment to our society and economy through increased crimes and low paying jobs and low employment rates. As responsible citizens, we must effectively hold accountable parents with children in our schools. Anything short of that is simply doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results: insanity.

    Lawmakers must put ENforcement teeth in the yearly signed PARENT/TEACHER/STUDENT INVOLVEMENT ACCORD document. When this happens, we will see a TRUE "turning around" of schools. We can continue to throw money and resources at educators and schools and continue to get nearly the same results, or we can hold the adults in charge of their children at home to do their part, at a pittance of the cost.

    This Q & A with Superintendent Jones was well groomed and vetted and certainly generic in response nature. Not exactly the nuts and bolts answers readers were hoping for. People want REAL answers, however candid they may be. Our schools are hemorrhaging to death. We(the whole community involved with educating our children) deserve to be a part of this conversation and the answers. This article continues to demostrate the lack of inclusion of stakeholders (the missing piece for success).

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. The educational woes in this country will be solved when three things happen.

    1. Teachers teach
    2. Students learn
    3. Parents parent

    Right now teachers babysit, some kids come to school to learn, and the majority of parents (especially the at risk category) are no-wheres to be found.

  3. Continuing:
    FREE and appropriate education includes the school facility, infrastructure, qualified teachers, support staff, administration, basic school supplies as texts, reference library, technology applications and hardware, that supports the learner via the learning environment as a delivery tool of education. In some USA states, districts have placed the burden of student school supplies upon the parent/families of those students.

    Perhaps we need to place school supply responsibility onto the student's parents/guardians as well. Provide grants for those who are economically disadvantaged (as with school uniform programs). For too long, people have taken for granted FREE education to mean EVERYTHING, and that simply is not the case.

    The FREE ride is over. The State of Nevada, and our local schools cannot afford to take on the parental/guardian responsibility of properly caring for ALL their child's needs. Parents have charities, churches, benevolent organizations, and welfare to turn to in their need.

    Schools should NOT be in the business of taking on parental/guardian responsibility. And it has. And it COSTS us! Perhaps when individuals find that being a parent/guardian means being fully responsible for the care, safety, security, welfare, and wellbeing of their child, then our society will be back on track.

    This FREE ride mentality has been the demise of our state. From cradle to grave. Time to OWN our own responsibility, live it, model it, for the good of our future generations.

    Blessings and Peace,

  4. Get rid of the existing union and progress might be made.

    But since that is impossible, it might be better to have a union for JUST teachers and have admin staff belong to another. At least that way some of the internal conflicts of interest would be removed.

  5. Libra's comments reflect how challenging it can be with a third of the classroom having students with issues: behavioral, no reading glasses, medical problems, remedial knowledge base, truancy, etc., who have the tendancy to disrupt the learning environment for the entire class or grade level with endless dramas.

    The sad thing is that the PARENTS of such children have long checked out of these innocent children's lives, and the school system is extremely limited with options for dealing with such.

    That is why the PARENT/TEACHER/STUDENT INVOLVEMENT ACCORD needs to have enforcement teeth. Millions of taxpayer dollars are spent in Nevada having this document yearly administrated, but it only acknowledges what expectations are, it has ZERO consequences. This must be addressed if we are to "turn around" underperforming schools!

    Blessings and Peace,

  6. The greatest indicator of student success is the socio-economic status of their parents. Until the casinos support an educated work force and are willing to pay their employees a living wage, pay a higher portion of their (excessive) earnings in taxes, and are willing to partner with schools the education system in Nevada will not get better. Besides, with wages declining, health benefits being withdrawn, retirement not a guarantee where do you expect to find these math, science and English teachers of the future who are the pivot upon which Dwight places his success?

  7. boftx...there are four unions/associations representing employees of CCSD; Education Association [Teachers], Association of Administrators [Admin and Professional/Technical staff], Education Support [Secretaries, maintenance, etc.] and Police.

    I'm a long time union guy [Lumber Production and Industrial, Machinists'] Got my apprentice card in 63 and Journeyman in 68. I cannot understand how or why administrators have a union. Professional and Technical, sure, just like we have at Boeing for engineers. But administrators who evaluate, hire, fire, etc. In effect Jones only sees what is filtered through administrators who are represented by their own union with its own agenda....self=preservation and increased influence.

    Bob Realist.....I have to agree, my feeling is that Jones gains some chops for make the attempt here but then moves on to more stability in a better district leaving chaos behind.

  8. To my fellow bloggers;
    The article pertains to the educational concerns, question and answers. My comment goes along with this as I believe that the role of the School Police also affects the education of our children. I have seen the evolution of the School Police in Clark County emerge from basically school monitors subservient to School Principals to their present category 2 peace officer status, but still subservient to School Principals. This subservient status is part of what is holding the School Police back to achieving the status and respect that they want. Unfortunately that was part of the deal when they hired on as a School Police Officer for the Clark County School District. Being a full fledged police officer category 1 Peace Officer since 1974 to the present, I have had plenty of encounters with school police that have come across (major crimes) while on duty, that they neither have the training, expertise, experience or the resources to adequately handle that type of major criminal case. What happens is that the case is immediately handed off and the School Police Officer quietly excuse themselves from the situation and continues on with their specific job assignment away from that incident. It is almost a damned if you do or damned if you don't situation, as now the handling agency is praying that the case has not been previously contaminated by their involvement. If the CCSDPD, unsuspectingly, gets involved in incidents outside their jurisdiction then so be it, but only on an emergency preliminary investigative basis. But, if they intentionally want to involve themselves in police actions and Law Enforcement duties outside their jurisdiction, they could possibly compromise an undercover operation in progress from another agency. The reason I say this is because it has happened more than once before and can be very destructive and dangerous for everyone. If they would like to expand their involvement in Law Enforcement then they need to apply to the proper jurisdictional police agency for that to happen. Personally, I would not have the patience nor the tolerance to do the job of a School Police Officer or for that matter a Corrections Officer or Constable, so I take my hat off to them for what they are suppose to actually and specifically do. Just an old cop reflecting,

    Gordon Martines