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.