Jones' Journal title
Contact Superintendent Dwight D. Jones
dwight.jones@ccsd.net | 702-799-5310
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Calling all parents! Take CCSD's parent survey today.

It’s that time again!

The Clark County School District’s annual Parent Survey is available today and we need your help. The survey is available here until May 21, 2013. Opportunities for parent feedback include important topics such as safety, academics and staff friendliness. The results will go to both the District and your child’s school as we continue the important work of preparing all of our children for graduation.

But that’s not all. Encourage your children to take the annual student survey as well. Until May 21, your students can click here and take the annual student survey and give their feedback on topics such as bullying, safety and education.

The parent and student surveys are part of Interim Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky’s goal of increasing parent and community involvement in schools, offering a unique opportunity for participants to share their school-related experiences and partner with the CCSD to improve education. Results from the surveys provide vital feedback to the District on areas in need of improvement and are part of ongoing outreach efforts that have helped transform CCSD from the fastest-growing to the fastest-improving school district in the nation.

Lisa Pitch
Coordinator, Department of Research
Assessment, Accountability, Research, and School Improvement


Monday, March 18, 2013

A new perspective on "Ready by Exit"

Occasionally we meet someone who helps us see the world with fresh eyes. 

A story that a Clark High School senior recently told made time stand still.  Speaking to a group of adults who gathered last Friday in a hot high school library, her words fell like rain.

“Returning to public high school from being home schooled, I fell behind and became credit deficient.  [With help from teachers] I was able to build a plan to not only get back on track but to graduate from school on time.  I took classes to make up for lost time.  It included night courses at Horizon High School and online credit retrieval classes . . . Little did I know our school offered mentoring programs and classes to help students who struggle with subjects.”

The words of this senior provided a glimpse of life that was far from easy.  The portrait she offered was one of missed opportunities and other demands that conspired to delay her progress.  Surprised when her principal took a personal interest in her situation, she learned about nontraditional ways that high schools today help young people succeed.  Like a window, she offered insight into the complicated lives of so many of our youth.

The meaning wasn’t lost on educators in the room.  Like a mirror, her story said as much about the commitment and dedication of teachers and principals as it did about the resilience of young people who greet hardship every day.  In the quiet words was resolve reborn.  The little voice carried a big message.  It seemed to say:

“Difficult doesn’t mean impossible.

“I belong there (crossing a stage).

“I did doubt, but now I know.  With help I can.  I will.  Graduation is for me too.

“I’m not there yet but now I know I have within me what I need to get there.

“I’m worth it.  I know because my teachers and principal are there for me.

“They don’t just believe in me.  They’re beside me in this.

Listening to her speak, I could not have been more inspired or more proud.  The stirring story of this single student made me think about the countless lives teachers touch every day.  In three months, a journey that takes students 13 years to complete will end for another crop of seniors in our District.  When that happens, a cycle repeats itself.  I pictured 20,000 new students entering 12th grade, each with a unique story.

Her personal testimony was more compelling than any statistics about our District’s rising test scores or graduation rates that are inching up.  Credit retrieval projects and initiatives such as “Reclaim Your Future” take tremendous energy and commitment, but they are improving the fortunes of many young lives in a dramatic and lasting way.  Today we know students succeed when they are known by name, not by number.  That idea came alive when this senior spoke to the assembly of adults last week.

A forthcoming book (by Michael Fullan and Rick DuFours) talks about how we, as educators, know if we are making headway.  While administrators try to align things, the authors argue, nothing is likely to improve until the talk among teachers and students changes.  Coherence is needed before improvement can occur.  Improvement in results only occurs if changes in curriculum, standards or programming are coupled with changes in how teachers and students go about the work.  When changes reach the level of teachers and students, only then is improvement likely to be seen.  What tells us that we’re headed in the right direction?  Stories like those of this senior, of persistence in the face of challenge, tell me we are headed in the right direction. 

Her words remind us all that despite our very best efforts, the agenda is unfinished as long as even one young person still struggles.

On March 5, 2013 I made the difficult decision to end my service with the District so I may tend to my ill mother. I leave knowing that while progress has been made, much work remains. 

I am so very grateful to the hard-working staff. I am proud of the teachers in our buildings. Thank you to our bus drivers, food servers, teacher assistants and everyone else on the front lines with our kids each and every day. These people are the lifeblood of CCSD. Without them, none of what we’ve accomplished would have been possible. Though our work is not done, they have been asked to do more with less and they’ve succeeded.

More kids are graduating, test scores are climbing, our students are thriving – even in the face of the worst economic downturn in recent history. That is because of the caring adults working in our buildings.

I am so grateful to each and every member of our CCSD family, but especially to Interim Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, who has stepped up to lead our district during this transition. Many of you have spoken in Pat’s favor in recent days, and I’d glad to see that you hold him in as high of regard as I do. He is a good man who will work hard for our students.

Thank you again – for everything you have done for the District, and for the support you have shown to me as I take this time to care for my mother.

Sincerely,
Dwight D. Jones


Monday, March 4, 2013

Year-round schools, growth and retention

Last week, we announced that three of our most overcrowded schools would be switching to a year-round schedule. While this brings about new challenges for the District, the families and the communities impacted by the decision, I want to talk about the facts behind this difficult choice and why I think it represents some positive changes.

Elections have consequences. The failure of Question 2 at the ballot box sent a clear message to the District that taxpayers want us to be more accountable with the funds we have before awarding us more money. What I wrote about the impact a loss would have on our schools last October was not hyperbole to get voters to see things our way, but the reality of what the cash-strapped District faces:

“I visited William V. Wright and Robert L. Forbuss Elementary Schools in the Southwest part of the valley. If you’re not familiar with these two schools, they’re both run by stellar administrators and staffed by outstanding teachers and support staff. The students are advancing academically and were a pleasure to be around.

“Both schools were built to house around 750 students. Today, both are bursting at the seams with nearly 1,200 students. To accommodate the growth, these schools have portables everywhere. Portable classrooms. Portable restrooms. Even a portable cafeteria. Students in Clark County deserve better.

“Conditions at Wright and Forbuss are simply not sustainable. The District will build two new schools to reduce overcrowding if Question 2 passes. If Question 2 does not pass, we’ve identified two possible solutions. First, we are considering busing students out of the area to other schools. The other option is to convert some campuses to year-round schools."

Converting those two campuses with the addition of Carolyn S. Reedom Elementary School was the least painful option in this case. I consider that a positive sign of what’s happening at each school. A massive rezoning effort would have prevented all three campuses from going to a year-round schedule but that idea was met with heavy opposition from parents who attended meetings to address overcrowding. They like their schools. That is a testament to the teachers, staff and administration. We wanted to honor those parents’ wishes and keep their children at the schools they thrive in and are used to.

Many staff and students have said to me that they didn't want to change anything because the schools are doing okay with the overcrowding. My first concern, though, is always student safety. Reedom could have more than 1,400 students in a year or two given current growth projections. That's too many elementary students for one nine-month campus.

The issue of growth will eventually have to be addressed district-wide. The Las Vegas valley is no longer experiencing the record-setting growth that we saw in the 90s and the early part of the new millennium, but we are still growing, and not just in the Southwest region.

I'm proud to say that the additional students we are seeing district-wide are not just a result of growth -- we're also seeing an increase in student retention in our middle and high schools. Over the past ten years, we have lost between 2,521 and 3,665 seniors between Count Day and February. This year, we have lost 2,012. That is still 2,012 too many -- but we are making progress in preventing our students from dropping out their senior year.

We look forward to continuing working with our community to address our District's growth and facility needs.

Best,
Dwight D. Jones
Superintendent of Schools


Monday, February 25, 2013

Budget cuts, expectations & the cost of a thank you

Education Awareness Day is today, February 25.  In recognition, many staff will wear buttons that say “MORE 4 schools.”  I am pleased that CCEA and CCSD support legislation to bring more funding to Southern Nevada.  I say that because of all the challenges we face, none is more important.

When we look around in public education we see change everywhere we turn.  Expectations are escalating.  Standards are increasing.  Tests are changing.  Accountability is growing.  Competition is mounting.  Funds are shrinking.  As a result, tensions rise. 

It is little consolation that this is happening across the country. 

Two weeks ago, the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Challenges for School Leadership was published.  This is the 29th year that the results of this national survey have been released.  Conducted in October and November 2012, it surveyed 1,000 teachers and 500 principals in the United States. 

Teacher results reveal that:

  • 56 percent said their budgets declined in the past year.
  • 39 percent were “very satisfied” with the job; this is down from 62 percent who were “very satisfied” in 2008.

Principal results reveal that:

  • 53 percent said their budgets declined in the past year.
  • 59 percent were “very satisfied” with their job (is down from 76 percent who were “very satisfied” in 2008).

It is no consolation that the American Psychological Association says that among employed adults:

  • 36 percent said they are stressed at work due to unrealistic expectations, heavy workload, low salary.

The Clark County School District is not immune to the pressure of economic downturn that has swept the country.  Yet, in some ways we bring strain upon ourselves.  For instance, emotions ratcheted up recently in response to public remarks made about some District reforms.

At moments like that, the question is, how do we respond?  How do we stay mindful of what matters most?

Though we can be tempted to lash out at each other, the challenge is to keep our passions in check and rise above the fray so we stay focused on what’s most important.  We have to be hard on the issues, but we need to be easy on each other. 

It makes sense to come together because if our efforts this year achieve anything, it must be to use the legislative session to garner more resources for public education in Southern Nevada. 

This brings me back to Education Awareness Day.  With that day upon us, we have to take the time to recognize the contributions we all make to this work, work that is so difficult that it is only done well if it is done together.  Let’s use Education Awareness Day to take a moment to do something that costs us nothing: Thank a fellow educator who has helped make this little corner of the world a bit better.  Let me do that here.

Thank you for all that you do every day on behalf of our young people.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rethinking discipline to increase academic achievement

Today’s Jones’ Journal is a guest post from Associate Superintendent Dr. Andre Denson

Since Superintendent Dwight D. Jones began his tenure with the District, we’ve all refocused our efforts to prepare every student so they are “Ready by Exit”.  That means ready to compete in college or career without remediation. Getting every student prepared for this task requires regular attendance.

After noticing that African American students make up just 12 percent of our student body but 43 percent of the students expelled, Superintendent Jones brought together a panel of educators, parents and community leaders to examine this trend and offer possible solutions.

Last week at the School Board meeting, the Superintendent’s Educational Opportunities Advisory Council (SEOAC) – on which I served as Co-Chair – presented our findings. As a former teacher, I know how important it is to maintain a non-disruptive classroom. As a former principal, I know our first priority is maintaining a peaceful and safe environment on our campuses. While our safety is our priority, our job is to educate students. We can’t do that if they’re not in school.

The rate of expulsion for African American students is disproportionately high. We must look at alternative methods of discipline that do not begin and end with kicking students out of school. With serious disciplinary infractions such as bringing weapons on campus, expulsions are of course the first and only option. For lesser discipline issues, however, administrators may need to look to additional methods that keep children in school in a learning environment. Supporting our schools and figuring out ways to keep students in them will be a delicate and difficult balance. But it’s a balancing act that requires immediate action if we are to meet Superintendent’s ambitious yet attainable goal of “Ready by Exit”. 

This was a collaborative process that brought together a diverse group of leaders from our community.  As the District continues to move on this pressing matter, we’ll keep the community updated. Our recommendations may be consolidated and refined as this dialog continues.

The SEOAC recommended the following ten action items for the District to address the current overrepresentation of students being expelled:

1. Improve Data Quality: Data collection related to suspension and expulsion will be consistent, reliable, standard (across schools), annually available to the public, will reflect the intent of SEOAC recommendations.

2. Reduce Over-Representation: Impose a moratorium on suspensions and expulsions except for the Big 5 offenses, at the Superintendent’s discretion as to terms, with a caveat that student-on-student assaults that result in injury now fall under the Big 5 heading.

3. Develop Cultural Competency: Mandatory professional development on cultural competency will be provided for all new teachers and administrators.

4. Extend Cultural Competency: At each school each year at least one professional development day will be devoted to cultural competency.

5. Gauge the Benefit of Professional Development: Implement an evaluation procedure to identify the impact of professional development that is intended to promote cultural competency.

6. Refine What We Mean by Cultural Competency: Articulate standards and expectations of professional responsibility related to cultural competency.

7. Provide Early Intervention: Restructure Title I to focus on early interventions with the most at-risk student population.

8. Enhance Early Literacy: Students in K-3 who are not-yet-proficient in literacy will receive appropriate interventions.

9. Provide Better, Earlier, and Different Alternatives to Suspension and Expulsion: During the moratorium period, investigate for possible implementation various models of tiered-intervention disciplinary systems that include parent notification policies, e.g., the Baltimore model.

10. Monitor progress and report (at least quarterly) on the implementation of these recommendations.

The District looks forward to working with principals, staff, and community stakeholders on how these recommendations can be implemented effectively and efficiently.
- Dr. Andre Denson


Friday, February 8, 2013

A few thoughts on the teacher contract arbitration decision

To the CCSD community,

I hope you will give me a few minutes to talk with you about yesterday's decision by an arbitrator regarding the contract negotiations with the teachers association.

The arbitrator ruled that the District's first priority should be to provide the best instruction possible to children, and that means lowering our large class sizes. Our efforts now are to start restoring some of the 1,000 licensed positions that were cut at the beginning of this school year. We know this is important to you, as well.

Many teachers who received a “step” increase or an increase in pay for obtaining additional education for the current school year will no longer receive those increases on their February 25 paycheck because of the severe budget cuts the District has sustained. The District did not ask the arbitrator to require teachers to repay the increases they have already received this year.

The result of this arbitration decision will vary widely. You can see more details below, but the range of impact varies from some teachers who will see an actual increase of $15 per pay period, to others who will see a decrease of up to $208 per pay period. Most will fall somewhere in the middle of that range.

There is no getting around the fact that this might be very painful for many of the families in our community.

Unfortunately, this is one stop in a long road of difficult decisions caused by the $550 million in cuts the District has been forced to make because our funding from the Legislature has decreased. To find out where those cuts were made, click here - http://ccsd.net/district/open-book/resources/pdf/budget-cuts.pdf

We have tried to keep the cuts out of the classroom, but the reality is that salary and benefits account for 89 percent of our budget. Major cuts to our funding will impact employees. You can see a breakdown of our budget here - http://ccsd.net/district/open-book/resources/swf/budget-comparison.swf

I completely agree with those who say we are underfunded. It is easy to feel undervalued when funding for education is as low as it is. The reason for this is the Legislature has not adequately funded education, especially in the past few years.

I am proud that our CCSD family has managed to do more with less over the past few years. Last year, we saw increases in student achievement on standardized tests in almost every grade level and subject. That is a credit to all employees.

We do more with less because we care about our kids, and we do not want to look one parent in the eye and say that we can not offer his or her child a quality education because of budget cuts.

We have rallied as a community. But eventually, less is just less.

Our state needs to have a serious conversation about how we fund – and value – our public education system.

Where do we go from here? I was in touch yesterday with the leadership of the Clark County Education Association. We plan to join with other employee associations to take our message to Carson City in the current legislative session.

I pledge to you that we will fight to increase education funding so we stop making cuts and start investing in our children -- and you. We will keep you posted on this conversation.

In the meantime, I offer a humble “thank you” for all you do for our children.

A BREAKDOWN ON THE ARBITRATOR’S DECISION:

(Note:  CCSD has  a total of 17,568 teachers)

TEACHERS WHO DID NOT RECEIVE AN AUTOMATIC STEP INCREASE OR EDUCATIONAL INCREMENT THIS YEAR

For the teachers who received neither a step increase or an educational increment, their pay will increase by $15 per pay period (or $30 per month) because the arbitrator ruled that ALL teachers no longer have to pay $15 per pay period toward the financially stable retired Teachers Health Trust.

TEACHERS WHO RECEIVED AUTOMATIC STEP INCREASES – 11,020 teachers, or 63 percent of our teachers

The increases the teachers automatically received at the beginning of the year will stop in the next pay period. The average increase was $63 per pay period ($126 per month). By subtracting the $15 per pay period that they will no longer be paying to the Retiree Health Trust, their pay would go down an average of $48 per pay period (or $96 per month).

TEACHERS WHO RECEIVED AUTOMATIC EDUCATIONAL INCREMENTS: 2,148 teachers, or 12 percent of our teachers

For the 12 percent of teachers who received an educational increment (and did NOT also receive a step), their pay will be reduced by an average of $160 per pay period (or $320 per month). By subtracting the $15 per pay period that they will no longer be paying to the Retiree Health Trust, their pay would go down $145 per pay period (or $290 per month).

TEACHERS WHO RECEIVED BOTH A STEP INCREASE AND AN EDUCATIONAL INCREMENT INCREASE:

For the teachers who received both a step increase and an educational increment, their pay could be reduced by an average of $223 ($63+$160) per pay period (or $446 per month). By subtracting the $15 per pay period that they will no longer be paying to the Retiree Health Trust, their pay could go down $208 per pay period (or $416 per month).

NOTE: These numbers are not mutually exclusive - meaning that some teachers received both a step increase and an educational increment.

Dwight D. Jones
Superintendent of Schools


Monday, February 4, 2013

The turnaround continues

Today, the District announced three new turnaround schools. I want to share the release the District put out today, which outlines some of the details of the three turnaround schools and what will happen in the coming weeks and months. We’re all in this together, and with community support, I am confident that we can bring lasting and transformative change to these schools.

Best,
Superintendent Dwight D. Jones

---

District announces three new turnaround schools
One elementary, two high schools selected

LAS VEGAS – To fast track academic achievement, improve school climate, increase graduation rates and give every child a quality education, the Clark County School District designated Cimarron-Memorial High School, Sunrise Mountain High School and Elizabeth Wilhelm Elementary School as the District’s newest turnaround schools.

Under the turnaround model, schools will get additional resources and opportunities for achievement that have been tested and been proven to be effective at a dozen schools in the nation’s fifth-largest school district. Each school will also have a fresh start with a new principal who will be charged with developing a school improvement plan, allowing current teachers to decide if they want to be a part of the exciting changes that await their school and, ultimately, assembling a team that is all-in for the transformation of the Turnaround Schools.

In addition to increased academic achievement, the District’s original turnaround schools have seen higher graduation rates, increased attendance, lower rates of disciplinary action being taken with students and a renewed sense of school pride and excitement.

Turnaround schools are schools that have traditionally under-performed and are in need of a renewed focus that puts an emphasis on helping students achieve and grow.

Each school was carefully selected for turnaround status after District officials reviewed each school’s two School Performance Framework rankings, graduation rate, student growth data and conducted in-person interviews on the campus. The schools will now be placed in the Turnaround Zone.

Superintendent Dwight D. Jones says it’s important for the community to understand that schools designated for turnaround are not being punished.
“We cannot leave these kids in a situation where their chances for success aren't the same as others in the District.”

At each of the original turnaround schools, Jones noted, community support played a big role in changing the academic culture and climate at each school.

“These will not be overnight changes,” Jones added. “This represents a long-term commitment to putting the needs of students at these schools first. It’s imperative that the community get behind our new turnaround schools. We need all hands on deck.”

Principals for the three schools will be named in the coming weeks. The District remains committed to informing the public of the forthcoming changes as the process moves forward.

The implementation of the turnaround model is consistent with the model for academic achievement outlined by the District in “A Look Ahead, Phase II: Progress Made and the Next Mile.” The report is available on the Clark County School District’s website.
 


Monday, January 28, 2013

A great teacher in EVERY classroom

Pat Skorkowsky, our deputy superintendent, has an excellent philosophy regarding his approach to education.  If you’ve ever received an email from Pat, I’m sure you know what’s coming next. In his signature is the phrase, “Every student in every classroom, without exceptions, without excuses!”

In order to ensure that we reach every student in every classroom, we have to give them great teachers year after year, class after class, until the day they cross the graduation stage.  That is why our duty is to give teachers the attention they deserve and the support they need to excel in the classroom.

Improving teacher evaluations has become a priority for the entire state of Nevada.  Last year, the state created the Teachers and Leaders Council to agree on ways we can better evaluate and support our teachers.  The council has studied the successes and pitfalls of other teacher evaluation systems nationwide and listened to feedback from educators doing the hard work in our schools every day, including teachers and principals from Clark County.

We are training and supporting principals so that they have the knowledge and skill to give teachers quality feedback on their performance and to help them continuously improve.  The pilot will be a useful dress rehearsal that provides teachers with valuable feedback on their lessons while giving the District an opportunity to hear what’s working and what can be improved.  That way, we can refine the system before rolling it out to all of our schools.

Improving evaluations is just one way we will make sure our schools have great teachers and great leaders. Our District must become smarter about how we recruit and develop teachers over time, and how we retain and extend the reach of our best teachers. This process will put us one step closer to ensuring all of our graduates are ready for college and/or careers.  In Clark County, our students will succeed only to the extent that our teachers and leaders succeed.

School Board Meeting Updates

In an effort to keep the community informed, I’ll be using this space to update you all on the happenings at the school board meetings.  Since everyone cannot make it to the meetings, please feel free to share these with your social networks.

The District will announce new turnaround schools next week.  All of our original turnaround schools – Western High School, Mojave High School, Chaparral High School, and others – have made tremendous academic and climate gains.  I am confident that the success we’ve seen with our original group will be repeated.  We cannot and we will not allow any of our students to fall through the cracks.  I hope the communities surrounding the turnaround schools will give us their full support as we bring transformative and sustainable change to more of our students.

Finally, the Board of School Trustees announced that our local PBS station is the highest-rated PBS station in the country.  Congratulations are in order to all of our PBS employees and a big thank you to our community for their continued support of PBS.

We’ll continue to update Jones’ Journal with happenings at school board meetings.

Best,
Superintendent Dwight D. Jones


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

CCSDs Open Book is recognized by U.S. Dept. of Education

In our effort to make the Clark County School District (CCSD) more transparent and accountable, last week we unveiled the “Open Book” portal on our website. Through the Open Book portal, the public can access the current budget and see how CCSD allocates its resources. The site features a Departmental Analysis Tool and a Budget Comparison Tool so the public can access the inner workings of the District and see how we allocate scarce resources.

We have also taken it a step further and provided a link for members of the community to submit an email with their ideas for cost savings. I would encourage you to submit your ideas, as well. While our state has made some progress in terms of an economic recovery, the budget prospects for fiscal years 2013-14 are still a long way from the almost $600 million that has been cut during the past five years, so we need to make every dollar count.

Feedback is an important tool in making the District more efficient and transparent. The initial feedback we have received from the likes of Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and U.S. Senator Harry Reid has been very supportive. Our Open Book portal has been recognized throughout the community and by the official U.S. Department of Education blog.

In his January 17 blog, Joe Barison from the U.S. Department of Education highlights our Open Book portal and provides the link to the site so other school districts can see how we continue to work with our community. I hope you will take some time to visit the site and provide your feedback through the guest portal feature.

 


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

State of the District: A story of progress, promise

The following is an excerpt from today's State of the District address:

When I arrived, graduation rates for the district as well as for the state of Nevada told a grim story. Let’s be honest. We were at the bottom. We were part of a club to which no one wants to belong.

Since then, we’ve gained ground in our efforts to increase student achievement in the Clark County School District. Our legs are tired. Some of us are a little out of breath. When we started, we knew we had a long way to go. Let’s take a minute to recognize the distance we have traveled.

We started this effort as a team two years ago, knowing we’d have some tough work ahead. In “A Look Ahead,” Phase I, we laid out our plan for the task of turning things around for our 311,000 students, in the nation’s fifth-largest school system. We knew it would be a challenge and it is. We struggled with fallout from the worst economy we’ve seen since The Great Depression.

Clark County educators have had to endure unprecedented cuts to critical personnel, including the loss of support staff and 1,000 licensed positions. While the economy isn’t what we’d like it to be, not one of us – no teacher, principal or counselor – is willing to look a parent in the eye and say, “We’re going to shortchange your child because we don’t have enough funding.”

Budgets and funding and formulas – those are all adult problems. The Clark County schools are focused on the students. And it’s unacceptable to any of us to suggest that students are going to get a second-rate education just because funding is tight. Our CCSD family has rallied, and even as we’ve cut more than $600 million dollars from our budget over the last five years, we have passed some of the early mile markers on that marathon.

We’ve done the heavy lifting to start building the system outlined in “A Look Ahead.” We’ve built the School Performance Framework star system, as promised, so that all parents and taxpayers now gets an honest look at how their school is doing. In addition, we’ve also released a fully transparent budget website that allows taxpayers to see exactly where their money is going. I invite you to look at “Open Book” when you have a moment.

It isn’t just parents who believe the star rating system is a step toward more transparency and better accountability. Fully 90 percent of teachers we interviewed in focus groups this past year said that a star rating system built on the Nevada growth model was a better approach to accountability than the former system (Adequate Yearly Progress).

Scores from the state assessment are up in nearly every subject and grade. 72 schools achieved a 5-Star distinction and 77 percent of our schools – 254 of 328 – earned at least 3 stars. Each of the five turnaround schools targeted for radical change in 2010 has seen improvement (some now earn 4-star ratings), and we added four additional schools this school year.

The culture in Clark County School District is shifting. You can hear it in the aisles at the grocery store. You can hear it in the chatter on the soccer field sidelines. The conversation is shifting from “can’t” to “can” to “must” to “will.” It isn’t just teachers and principals who are saying that. It is parents, students and business people.

Across this valley and throughout the District, the conviction is growing that this challenge can be met.

It is happening because of the combination of faith and doubt. We need equal measures of both. We are sustained by our faith that this can be done. Doubt keeps us honest about where we stand. We have made strides, important ones, but not nearly enough to complete this marathon.

Two years here have taught me one thing: I am absolutely convinced we can shift from the fastest-growing to the fastest-improving district in the nation, because we must.