Wanted: high-achieving principals with fresh ideas and a willingness to take on a new challenge.
That’s the gist of a memo the Clark County School District sent to principals last week while announcing a new initiative aimed at transforming underperforming schools. Labeled as a “request for proposals,” the memo asks principals interested in turning around a one-star school to submit evidence of their success at other campuses and an action plan for boosting student achievement at a chronically struggling school.
“Ensuring all CCSD schools are rated three stars or higher on the Nevada School Performance Framework is a primary student success target of Focus: 2024, the District’s five-year strategic plan,” the memo states. “The work toward this target must include the ability to explore innovative models of practice to support achievement of students in all subgroups. CCSD principals have the experience, knowledge, and vision to develop and implement models that should be implemented at schools where they are most needed.”
In a nutshell, the district is offering principals a chance to experiment with innovative practices, hire a core team of staff and enter into partnerships with organizations wanting to support turnaround efforts. But the seemingly greater autonomy comes with a caveat: The principals will be reporting directly to Superintendent Jesus Jara.
The superintendent spoke briefly about the initiative Wednesday during a discussion hosted by Opportunity 180 and the Progressive Policy Institute. Jara said the supervisory structure will allow him to “cut some of the red tape” these principals may encounter — not meddle in the day-to-day affairs of the school.
“We have phenomenal principals in Clark County,” he said. “How do we give them the ability to do some of these things they’ve been wanting to do?”
About 14 percent of Clark County schools this year received a one-star rating, which is the lowest designation and means they’re not meeting the state’s academic standards. Of the 54 schools that received a one-star rating, the distribution looks like this: 34 elementary schools, 14 middle schools and six high schools.
Jara said he’s not sure how many one-star schools will be included in the pilot program, but he expects the chosen principals to start in January. There is no financial incentive for principals who apply and are selected, he said.
Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees, said he discussed the concept with Jara and supports the idea. The district employs many principals who have these capabilities, he said, and this gives them a chance to prove it.
“It will bring out that entrepreneurial (spirit) that principals always have — the good ones,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any idea that should go unexplored in this business at this point.”
The plans submitted by interested principals must explain why they’re interested in the opportunity, what innovative model they would like to pioneer and why that model differs from most current practices.
Proposals are due by Oct. 7 to Deputy Superintendent Diane Gullett. Jara said principal candidates will be interviewed, and school organizational teams will be involved in the process.
Last year, Jara disbanded the Turnaround Zone, which infused chronically struggling schools with extra resources and often involved many changes in staffing. The program, aimed at rapidly improving those schools, had shown mixed results over its tenure.