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Superintendent announces plan to boost student achievement

Blueprint outlines broad reforms, will hold educators more accountable


Paul Takahashi

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones explains his new report “A Look Ahead” to reporters during a break from the Clark County School Board meeting on Thursday, May 26, 2011. The 36-page report outlines broad new reforms as well as specific benchmarks for the school district moving forward.

Thu, May 26, 2011 (9:58 p.m.)

Schools plan

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KSNV coverage of Clark County schools superintendent plan to improve student achievement, May 26, 2011.

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones unveiled a blueprint for improving student achievement by providing more resources to low-performing schools and holding educators more accountable.

The 36-page plan outlines broad reforms, such as re-structuring school zones and establishing a new teacher evaluation system, and specifies goals and benchmarks for the district.

“I’m excited to finally get it out the door because we’ve been wanting to get a blueprint and I’ve been talking about it all over the city,” Jones said at Thursday’s School Board meeting. “We need to change. Our results are not what we want. I think this is the first step to realize good results.”

The report advocates for a fundamental shift in thinking about the School District’s objective from merely improving graduation rates to preparing students so they are “ready by exit,” which means being able to succeed in post-graduation opportunities without the need for remediation.

Jones’ blueprint is modeled after the Nevada Growth Model of Achievement, which emphasizes growth — whether students are progressing over time — rather than proficiency, or merely passing a standard.

“The growth model is going to allow folks in a very transparent way to really be able to gauge how their schools are doing and compare it to other schools, not only across Clark County but across the state,” Jones said.

As part of the growth model, schools must meet specific objectives by June 2016, Jones said.

• The graduation rate will reach 75 percent. It is now 68 percent.

• College remediation rates will decline yearly.

• Gaps between different ethnic and racial groups in annual academic achievement will narrow by half.

• The percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher on Advanced Placement exams will increase yearly at each high school.

• The percentage of students admitted and succeeding at postsecondary institutions will increase yearly.

• On-level literacy assessment rates at grades 1, 3 and 5 will reach 80 percent.

• Eighth-grade proficiency in algebra will reach 80 percent.

Jones reiterated his support for the School District’s empowerment school model, a program that increases per-pupil funding and allows principals greater autonomy in exchange for more accountability.

There are 30 empowerment schools in the 350-school district. Jones said he hopes expand the program.

Jones also advocated restructuring four area service centers into a dozen or more “performance zones” with an average of 20 to 30 schools.

Lower-performing schools would be grouped together in sets of 20 or 22 schools. The schools would receive certain benefits, such as having the first opportunity to hire new talent or tap into professional development funds.

They would, however, be held more accountable with more oversight and less autonomy, Jones said.

“We’re going to take resources and realign them according to need, but your license to operate is not going to be forever,” Jones said. “That’s another pretty dramatic departure for this district. You cannot be in a school that fails for years after years after years.”

High-performing schools, meanwhile, will be grouped into zones of 26 to 28 schools with less oversight and more autonomy, Jones said.

“If you can, through getting results, get in a zone to where you are free to operate and make better decisions about people, time and resources, then folks will spend their dollars better,” Jones said. “There are too many directives that come out of central office that say you have to do this, you have to purchase this. We ought to say, start making those decisions at the building level.”

Jones’ plan also calls for greater utilization of technology to help students and teachers.

The School District might consider online courses for students. These courses would personalize learning for students, said Jones, who pointed to California’s Rocketship Schools, where a quarter of classes are taught online.

“Technology is the wave of the future,” he said. “It’s time for Clark County to get on that wave.”

Teachers could also benefit from an existing repository of online resources, Jones said.

Under the blueprint, the district will establish a “Teacher’s Wikipedia” or an “Educator’s YouTube” consisting of an online database of curricula and teaching videos from high-performing educators to be shared among all teachers.

Initial reaction from school board members and teachers was largely positive. The School Board is expected to discuss the blueprint in depth during its next meeting on June 7.

School Board President Carolyn Edwards said she was “100 percent” behind the superintendent.

“This is the beginning of the work that needs to be done,” she said.

Although Jones insisted many of the reforms could be achieved with existing resources, the plan comes one week after the School Board approved a tentative budget for fiscal 2012 that would bridge a $407 million shortfall by laying off at least 5 percent of the workforce.

“There has to be conversations with unions when it comes to these kinds of innovations,” Clark County Education Association President Ruben Murillo said. “Some of these we’re going to work with (Jones) to implement. Others, we’re going to have to have serious conversations, because of the ramifications on our teachers in terms of salary and benefits.”

Overcoming the budget cuts — $794.5 million since the 2008-2009 academic year — to implement the plan will be difficult, Jones said.

“People would say, ‘He must have his head in the sand,’ if I didn’t say it was a challenge,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re failing far too many kids in this School District. We’ve got to come up with a better way to get better results, so the plan has to go forward.”

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Discussion: 15 comments so far…

  1. Yes, we need reforms. But even more, we need a budget process that *fully* funds basic needs such as books, paper, pencils, etc. Only after those items have been taken care of should they look at what they need for paychecks. Even more importantly, take care of teachers before administrators.

    We can't afford to pay more for staff when our children don't have books!

  2. The reforms are needed but they don't go far enough. We need to make sure we keep good teachers and loose the rest. Too bad teachers union already said no to this. Lots of good teachers will be lost. I don't think funding is the issue.

    Hope this guy knows any attempt to change the status quoe will be fought by his own union to the bitter end.

  3. Our schools reflect our society.

    Until you fix the society, you will not fix the schools.

    The level of economic inequality in the US is approaching the "banana republics" of Central and South America.

    Nobody wants to say that kids who are sick a lot don't do well in school -- that homeless kids, hungry kids don't do well in school. Kids in homes with domestic violence, kids on the road with parents struggling to survive --- the list goes on.

    I am tired of hearing about holding teachers responsible for all of America's ills. It has become a cliche, and both Democrats and Republicans spout this rhetoric all the time.

  4. At the risk of being fired and called disrespectful, at this point in the game I don't think 38,000 CCSD employees really want to read a 36-page paper that is more like a master thesis than an action plan. Many people really do not care about 'explanations' why things have to be done this way and that way and why.

    At this point of the game, all we want to hear is: Schools are failing. The governor is cutting the school budget, what are you going to do about it? When possibly 5,000 jobs or more are being cut, employees are not going to be impressed with a "36-page of what I want to do." Just do it and show us how you are going to do it. For example:

    There are too many administrators and assistants with salaries over $100,000 with assistants to assistants, secretaries to the assistants, and doing $35,000 worth of effort. I am cutting half of those positions.

    There are too many people in various departments that are not doing anything for students and are doing even less for education. I am going to abolish those departments.

    There are far too many positions who don't do anything but tell teachers what to do in classrooms. I will tell them to back off and cut their positions.

    There are too many administrators who are idiots, who play favorites, and make teachers' lives a living hell so they will transfer to other schools while they keep their pet 'turkeys.' I will get rid of them.

    We are buying things to make people not directly connected to teaching have fancy offices and equipment while school teachers have to buy their own paper and markers. I will put a stop to it.

    There are far too many administrators with offices like the Taj Majal while 30 students cram in a classroom made for 20. I will downsize those offices.

    Well Sir Jones, those are only examples of what the public wants to hear - not some fancy words - yours and those you quote - to tell us what you intend to do - what you call a blueprint - which will take money and time to implement. We are losing many excellent teachers who just can't stand working hard and being insulted with pay and benefit cuts and not an assurance of a steady job.

    When you have "cleaned the house" which has been really messy all these years, invite us in and maybe we will be more inclined to applaud your efforts in writing a "paper." To me, that is all it is, a piece of paper.

  5. @tank...I have posted this before. I keep a drawer full of supplies for kids. Kids that don't have pencils, kids that don't have lead for their pencils, kids that don't have erasers, kids that don't have paper, kids that don't have binders. Then there are the kids that don't get breakfast. Yes...I have food for them too. Then there is the kid that loses their lunch money, or their non-refundable ticket to the dance. You know what? They are kids. These are tough times. I care about kids, and I get that. I help out however I can. What I don't understand is how we became the enemy? I went into teaching because my parents were both educators with advanced degrees (like so many of us, which I guess does not correlate to student performance, as some would say). I have wanted to be a teacher ever since I was a child. I had great teachers, especially in math, that inspired me---thank you, Mr. Ciochetto.

    ...so to reinforce your ending paragraph...do what is best for kids...but please remember that most teachers are doing that very same thing. We ARE taking money out of our own pockets to help out kids and families...I do it because I want my students to be prepared to learn. They can't learn properly on an empty stomach or without materials.

    As for what goes on at home, I can only do so much...this is beyond my control. If emergencies arise, accomodations can be made, of course. There are many good parents out there. On the other hand, my dad has a theory. I agree and disagree with it.

    He believes that the decline of education began when the double income family arose. (Obviously my bone of contention.) His point, however, is that he noticed parents doing an "about face."

    Do any of you remember when there was no "my side" of the story? If the teacher called home, you were in trouble, and that was it? Now that both parents are often working, (again, many of us make this work, but here is where I agree with him) they sometimes tend to "make up" for "not being there" by backing their children up in situations that don't necessarily merit it. As teachers, we all have seen this.

    Things change as times change. That is what teaching is all about. (This is why my dad and I have agreed to disagree. We are a double income family, but we raise our kids and get the job done--they perform well in school and have no disciplinary problems.) However....Nevada is in a time of crisis...sit back everyone...think about all of us and what we are doing and re-evaluate how things can be done.

    Teachers really do care about your kids. Most of us have kids in CCSD on principle alone. We are invested. We are not asking for more money....we are asking for you to keep the money at LEAST as it was. PLEASE DON'T CUT IT.

  6. "The 36-page plan outlines broad reforms, such as re-structuring school zones, establishing a new teacher evaluation system, and specific goals and benchmarks for the district." Let's start with the last one:
    Specific goals and benchmarks: What can be more specific than teaching the children the 3Rs? We just now have the Common Core State Standards because as we're told, the Nevada State Standards were not "deep" enough. Really? All these years? The Core Standards are what GOOD teachers already do! What we need are GOOD teachers -- not making 'fancy' something that some teachers cannot even implement efficiently. Giving them something else will not make them GOOD!
    New teacher evaluation system. We have one! Administrators need to use it for its purpose. Administrators lollygag - evaluate poorly those who do not 'agree' with them and evaluate excellently their "turkeys." Change the evaluation system instead of doing something with BAD administrators?
    Re-structuring school zones. Good apples in one basket, not-so-good in another, and bad ones in another. Really! The bad apples will continue to rot. The not-so-good will eventually rot, and the good ones will serve their purpose. How would the rezoning change this natural process? Why not ask: Why are the apples rotting? Why are the administrators in the current zones letting those apples rot? What is causing the apples to rot? Get rid of bacteria or prevent the growth of bacteria so the apples won't rot!

    What fools we are. We keep choosing leadership who don't see what's in front of them. Did you hear about a bill to hire a Director for over $100,000 salary to make parents act like parents? Really? Schools and parents are partners. Allow schools to have the resources to make that partnership stronger! Another bureaucracy! Oy Vay. Beam me up Scotty!

  7. What is needed is a plan to hold students and parents more responsible for the education they receive. What is needed is a plan to make grades meaningful and not a joke by backing teachers as they set the standards for achievement in a classroom, not the administrators, parents or individual students. What has happened in so many schools is that "the minimum becomes the maximum" expectation when it comes to grading. The politically correct climate governing the education of children in this district for the past decades has lowered the value and meaning of letter grades to the point that we now have dozens of Valedictorians and Salutetorians each graduation season. An "A" grade today is in many cases the equivalent of a "C" grade in the decades preceeding the 1960's. Every student is above average and potential college material while common sense (lacking in the CCSD) dictates this is statistically impossible. Final course grades at the secondary level should be determined only by actual achievement on state mandated competency exams; it should be very similar to that required for AP courses; whatever a student scores on the final exam is the grade that is recorded for college entrance. Every secondary school core subject course should thus be graded, with other courses,i.e. P.E., Health, Art, shop classes,etc,merely receiving satisfactory or unsatisfactory achievement ratings.