Jara earns high scores in his latest evaluation despite pushback on data
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara received an “A” grade on his annual evaluation on Thursday from the district’s school board.
The praise from the board comes after years of disruptions in student learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The past year has also been marked by tension between Jara and the school board, which came to a head last October when the board voted to fire Jara. It later reversed that decision, and rehired him.
Now, the friction seems to be healed as the board gave him a summative score of 3.6 out of four possible points and rated the superintendent as highly effective, almost three months before Jara’s contract is set to expire on Jan 15, 2023. But some school board members in the minority continued to express concerns on Jara’s leadership, and questioned the evaluation process that the majority chose for this year.
“I appreciate working with the board to identify relevant metrics on which to be evaluated appropriately and fairly,” Superintendent Jesus Jara said in a statement after the meeting. “As we work on recovering from the pandemic-related learning loss, improving our student results, and accelerating student academic achievement, I look forward to continuing to lead the District with the Board of Trustees and our 40,000 employees as we all focus our collective efforts on improving student outcomes and well-being.”
His latest evaluation is an improvement from years prior. In his 2019 evaluation, the board credited Jara for increasing community and business involvement in his first year as superintendent but lamented some of his communication gaffes. In 2020, the board gave Jara lukewarm scores, though he pushed back and argued his job was made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the board evaluated Jara on three goals it approved earlier this year, including: increasing proficiency in reading by third grade for students in all racial and ethnic group by 7 percentage points and increasing proficiency in mathematics for students in sixth through eighth grade by 5 percentage points; decreasing the overrepresentation of the Black/African American student group in student suspensions, and discretionary expulsions by 5 percentage points in each area; and hiring more than 1,600 teachers by November.
Jara came short of the reading goal among Native American and Black students. He said while there were some improvements in math, he “missed the mark” since none of the student groups’ math scores increased by the 5 percentage points the board expected to see.
But Jara did meet the goals set for suspension and expulsion rates, as well as the benchmark for new teacher hires. Jara credited the hires on the efforts of the district’s human resources team, as well as the board for raising the district’s starting salary and offering retention bonuses for certain existing teachers.
Trustee Danielle Ford questioned whether the data in the evaluation presentation was completely accurate.
“From more recent data that's come out, it seems that in-house suspension, a.k.a. StarOn programs, and RPCs (required parent-teacher conferences) went up as my understanding that principals were told to find alternate means of discipline to hit the metrics we were going for,” Ford.
She also noted that the hiring figure in the evaluation presentation did not take into account the number of teachers who have resigned from the district. Clark County schools started this school year with almost 1,400 teacher vacancies, higher than in previous years.
Data Insight Partners, a consulting firm that provides education data, took to Twitter to push back against the evaluation findings, citing that only 54 percent of students participated in the standardized tests for the 2020-21 school year, according to data from the Nevada Department of Education, that was part of the data Jara was evaluated on. The school district limited in-person classes for most of that academic year.
Ultimately, the board voted to give Jara scores of “4” for the student expulsions, suspensions, teacher hires and reading proficiency goals, and a score of “2” for the math goal.
An ‘expedited’ process
The timing of this year’s evaluation is unusual and has raised eyebrows among some trustees and members of the community. That’s because prior to this year, Jara’s evaluations have taken place around December.
But earlier this month, Board President Irene Cepeda and Trustees Evelyn Garcia Morales and Katie Williams supported a motion by Trustee Lola Brooks to have the evaluation completed by Oct. 1, which she said would allow the board to evaluate Jara “fairly and (in) a timely manner.”
But Cavazos, who voted against the motion, said that rushing the evaluation process was not conducive to their duties as a board.
“We come in here, we have one thing on the agenda, and all of a sudden it turns into something else, and then we have this expedited thing that seems to have been maybe predetermined or certain people have talked about it, but the other people are not included,” she said.
Jara’s contract doesn’t specify when his evaluation needs to take place. Instead, it states that the board is expected to evaluate and assess Jara’s performance no later than Dec. 15 of each year.
Although the presentation for the evaluation was completed before the meeting, it didn’t seem the board had previously agreed on a grading system. Near the end of the discussion, Brooks suggested grading Jara with only scores of “4” if a goal was met, and a score of “0” if a goal wasn’t met, with no in-between. The last-minute suggestion came to the displeasure of some trustees.
“Why have we decided that Lola gets to lead this and determine the way that we do the math and everything, and not our evaluator that we've paid money to?” Ford asked.
The board didn’t support Brooks’ idea, and ultimately decided to use a 1-4 grading scale, similar to what it’s done in the past.
The completed evaluation clears the way for the board to start thinking about whether it wants to keep Jara on as superintendent and put the matter up for a vote.
Cavazos said in an interview with The Nevada Independent she wasn’t sure if that’s why the evaluation process was sped up, but she didn’t appreciate the optics it was creating. Three of the trustees are up for re-election this November, meaning new faces could be joining the board.
“I am a little concerned that we're trying to kind of rush this before the November election,” Cavazos said. “I'm not in favor of rushing it because we've had so much drama that I don't want the superintendent's evaluation to be seen as a political football.”
In an interview with The Nevada Independent, Cepeda didn’t say whether the board would vote on the superintendent’s future sooner rather than later, but said it’s possible that discussion would have taken place before the end of the year, even if the evaluation would have taken place in December.
Updated on 9/30/22 at 11:07 a.m. to clarify details about the grading system that was used in the Clark County superintendent’s evaluation.
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