Produce better readers and math problem-solvers.
Reduce proficiency gaps among student groups.
Ensure equitable discipline.
Fill classroom vacancies.
Find cushier financial footing.
These desires, all included in a draft of Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara’s strategic plan for the school district, aren’t necessarily a surprise for anyone who even remotely follows education. They’ve been talking points for years, but his proposed five-year plan, called “Focus: 2024,” puts specific numbers behind all those aspirations.
The detailed report includes 15 goals that fall within four broad categories — student success, staffing, fiscal management and community engagement — and then those goals carry 57 objectives. Next to each objective are the “owners,” or the people responsible for reaching the targets.
Jara spent Friday walking the School Board of Trustees through the proposed plan that, ultimately, becomes the measure by which they evaluate his effectiveness. The superintendent has shared parts of the plan with principals and community members over the last month, but the board retreat marked the first time trustees saw the 32-page document.
“These are very ambitious,” Jara said, referring to the goals. “Are we going to meet them all? Probably not.”
But the district’s relatively new leader — Jara started in June — said he felt a “sense of urgency” to set the tone that Clark County students can achieve greater academic success than current test scores indicate. More than half of third- through eighth-grade students are not proficient in English language arts (ELA) and math, according to 2018 state standardized test results. Middle school students, in particular, struggle with math. Only 30 percent of sixth-graders were proficient in math when tested last year.
The draft strategic plan sets ELA proficiency targets of 64.9 percent for elementary students, 62.6 percent for middle school students and 58.1 percent of eleventh-graders by January 2024. The math proficiency targets are 58 percent for elementary students, 48.3 percent for middle school students and 45.3 percent of eleventh-graders.
The superintendent also set a goal of achieving a 90 percent graduation rate within five years.
All these academic goals, if achieved, will lead to his broader mission of eliminating one- and two-star schools.
“The numbers you see here are to get us there,” he said, noting progress will be evaluated and reported to the board each year.
The plan goes far beyond student achievement numbers, though. It includes specific maintenance, transportation, staffing and community engagement goals — the idea being that each piece contributes to the success of student learning. For example, one goal seeks to reduce bus driver absenteeism, bringing the absentee rate down to less than 8 percent, which would decrease the number of tardy students and, thus, maximize classroom time.
Jara also wants to zero vacancies for critical support professionals who, while not licensed educators, often play a key role in assisting inside the classroom.
On the financial side, the plan aims to restore the district’s unassigned ending fund balance to 4 percent within five years. The district ended the 2018 fiscal year with $18.9 million in its unassigned ending-fund balance, or about 0.81 percent of general operating revenue.
Board President Lola Brooks said she was pleased with the strategic plan draft, even if it doesn’t portray the district in a glowing light at the moment.
“We’re very realistic,” she said. “I think that’s something that’s been lacking previously — a realistic view of where we are and then a detailed plan of where we want to go and how we want to get there.”
In the vein of cooperation, trustees suggested adding some governance goals to the plan, which would hold them accountable as well. Trustee Linda Young also reiterated an issue that has been simmering for some time — making school buildings and grounds more accessible to community groups.
“It’s a marketing nightmare in a way,” she said. “Schools are being shut away from the community.”
Trustee Danielle Ford, a single mother of two children, suggested including a goal around making public meetings — whether for school board, school organizational teams or otherwise — more child-friendly to encourage greater parent attendance.
Draft revisions likely will come before the board during an upcoming work session, and then trustees will vote on adopting the finalized strategic plan at a regular board meeting.
Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, who has been helping guide the board and superintendent through this transition period, attended the retreat Friday, too. He offered a positive assessment of the work he witnessed.
“I think you have every reason to feel optimistic about your future and the district’s future,” he said.