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October 20, 2014

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Dwight Jones, reform-minded superintendent, to leave School District

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Paul Takahashi

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones delivers his second annual “State of the District” address on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, at Western High School. Jones unveiled a new online “Open Book” portal, which makes the district’s financial information public, and touted the district’s academic gains last school year.

Updated Wednesday, March 6, 2013 | 1 a.m.

Dwight Jones Visits Schools

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones shares an idea with Principal Amber Brookins at Jacobson Elementary School on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. Jones said he hopes to take formal, one-hour tours at more than 50 schools by the end of the school year. Launch slideshow »

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones announced Tuesday evening that he is stepping down from the nation's fifth-largest school district.

Jones, who was hired in October 2010, said he is leaving to take care of his ailing mother.

His mother had been ill for some time, but her condition worsened over the past few weeks, Jones said. For about a month, Jones had been traveling to Dallas to care for his mother, he said. Jones contemplated a leave of absence to be with his mother in Texas for a short period, but he said he realized he "couldn't do both jobs."

"I just need to support my mother. She needs me 100 percent," Jones said. "She is important to me and my family."

• • •

Jones came to town promising new reforms to turn the system around. When he arrived, Clark County had one of the lowest test scores and graduation rates in the nation.

To "turn the ship around," the former education commissioner of Colorado installed a version of the "Colorado Growth Model," a new way to measure student achievement by annual improvement rather than proficiency scores. This model served as the backbone for the Silver State's waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Jones also worked to make the district more transparent by launching the state's first school ranking system, which rated schools on a one- to five-star scale. High-performing schools were given more autonomy while low-performing schools were given more support.

Throughout his tenure, Jones sought to bring a more personal touch to his turnaround efforts. He launched the "Reclaim Your Future" initiative, going door to door to persuade dropouts to return to school. He also started a new mentorship program, reaching out to the larger community to help its youngsters.

Greater emphasis was placed on principals to identify struggling children to help them graduate. Through the federal turnaround effort, several of the district's worst-performing schools were overhauled with new principals, teachers and resources, translating to a dramatic improvement in school culture and student achievement.

Through it all, Jones never gave up on students who demonstrated the will and desire to graduate. Despite financial constraints, the superintendent allowed seniors to take summer classes and even a fifth year to receive their high school diplomas.

Jones pointed to the district's first August graduation that honored students who were on the cusp of dropping out but persevered to pass their proficiency exams and coursework — even after most of their peers had graduated in June.

"I'm just proud of that kind of work," Jones said. "I hope we changed the conversation around setting high expectations for our kids — to do everything humanly possible to support them."

• • •

Jones is leaving before much of his reform efforts have borne fruit, but he said he is optimistic about the direction of the School District. He said he hopes the School Board will continue "to stay the course."

"I think we've made a lot of progress, but there's much more work to be done," Jones said.

Jones said he is most proud of his staff and teachers, and what they have been able to accomplish during his short time here.

"I know budgets here have been horrible, but teachers have done an amazing job," Jones said. "They have done a great job with less."

Jones has no immediate plans for employment but said he will move back to Colorado, where he maintains a home. Jones said he will fly between Denver and Dallas to be with his mother. His wife, who was a public school volunteer and helped with local foundations in Clark County, will return to work in the Denver public school system, Jones said.

Jones said he hopes to return to education someday, but for now, he is committed to helping support his family.

"The timing is certainly never good, but illness has no set time," Jones said. "This has been a very difficult decision, but I have been honored for the opportunity to serve."

Jones informed the School Board of his decision Tuesday night. His last day will be March 22.

• • •

School Board President Carolyn Edwards said she was "stunned and dismayed" by Jones' decision to leave his post just halfway through his four-year contract. Jones has been paid $396,000 per year, including benefits, according to TransparentNevada.com.

Edwards said she doesn't believe Jones was looking for an easy way out of the many challenges he faced in Clark County, nor did she think he was abandoning the reform efforts he started here.

"This was a very hard decision for him. He's not taking this lightly at all," Edwards said. "He's committed to the work he's been doing here. He's been invested in this community."

The average superintendent tenure nationwide is about three years. All of Jones' immediate predecessors — Walt Rulffes, Carlos Garcia and Brian Cram — had stayed at the helm for at least five years.

Jones would have stayed for that long if it weren't for his ailing mother, Edwards said. Jones' father has already died, which explains why it was so important for Jones to care for his mother, Edwards said.

"I understand he needs to do this," Edwards said. "He will be sorry for the rest of his life if he doesn't."

• • •

Jones saw the district through one of the toughest periods in Las Vegas history, guiding its schools through the aftermath of the worst recession in over 50 years.

During his tenure, the district experienced multimillion-dollar cuts, which caused class sizes to balloon and programs being cut.

Jones also inherited a challenging student population, the majority of whom are minority students from low-income families. Nearly a quarter of Clark County students live in poverty, and 53,000 students don't speak English at home.

Jones acknowledged these challenges, but refused to allow them to become scapegoats for his administration. "No excuses," he often said.

Jones' tenure was characterized by reforms big and small, but also several missteps and mishaps.

Jones created plenty of enemies when he went to battle with the local teachers union, one of the largest unions in the state. To shift more resources to the classroom, Jones called for a freeze on all employee salaries.

The teachers union revolted. The ensuing barrage of union demonstrations took a toll on Jones' public image, one that he would never overcome for the remainder of his tenure. Frustrated teachers began leaving the district in droves.

When an arbitrator decided against the district last spring, Jones was dealt his first major setback. Jones said the binding decision forced him to cut more than 1,000 teaching positions, raising class sizes by an average of three students.

During the subsequent contract negotiation, Jones went on the offensive, immediately calling an impasse and sending the matter into arbitration.

This time, Jones prevailed. The superintendent promised the $34 million award will be used to hire more teachers for classrooms, which are among the largest in the nation. (Union officials declined to comment about Jones' departure Monday evening.)

Jones was dealt his second major blow when he called on Southern Nevadans for support to address the district's overcrowded and deteriorating schools.

The district wanted to raise property taxes to help pay for school repairs and maintenance and to build two new schools. In November, voters overwhelmingly rejected the district's tax initiative.

This setback caused Jones to work harder to win over community trust.

Jones' final project — the Open Book Portal — tries to make the district's finances more easily accessible to the public. By going on the website, residents are able to see how taxpayer dollars are being allocated and make suggestions on how to run the district more effectively and efficiently.

• • •

Even with the support of the School Board and much of the business community, Jones was not without his faults.

When Jones refused to release preliminary graduation data to the public, critics called him out for being transparent only when it suited him.

Others were skeptical of Jones' highly paid consultants, pricey technology initiatives and close ties with the "education reform" movement sweeping the nation.

Some criticized Jones for a slower-than-expected rate of improvement. Others criticized Jones for moving too fast with his reform efforts.

Jones — the district's second black superintendent — received some of his highest accolades and harshest criticisms from members of his own community.

While he tried his best to address the needs of a minority-majority school district, Jones was unable to solve some of the district's deepest inequities.

The School District continues to have the nation's second highest achievement gap between white and minority students, and has the notoriety of expelling its black students at a rate three times higher than other races.

During Jones' tenure, the district also failed to boost its English-language learner students, 90 percent of whom failed to pass the high school proficiency exam last year.

• • •

Despite these shortcomings, Jones will likely be remembered for being an agent of change in one of the worst-performing public school districts in the nation.

"Dwight is a forceful, courageous visionary," said state superintendent Jim Guthrie. "We won't forget him soon."

The Clark County School Board is expected to set a date for a discussion on Jones' replacement on Wednesday morning. Deputy Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky will assume the role of acting superintendent once Jones steps down March 22.

Regardless of who his replacement will be, the transformational legacy Jones leaves behind will continue, Guthrie said.

The state — which has already adopted the "growth model" — will soon roll out its own version of Clark County's school rating system and implement a teacher evaluation system that Jones worked closely with Gov. Brian Sandoval to develop.

"Clark County educates 70 percent of Nevada's children," Guthrie said. "So goes Clark County, so goes the rest of the state.

"We're not going to lose any any momentum here," he continued. "We're not going to lose any ground."

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  1. Dwight Jones is a good man who took on an impossible job. All of you armchair quarterbacks who have not lifted a finger to help him or the school district and now want to bad mouth him on his way out, you disgust me. I'm sure you'll have nothing nice to say about anyone who doesn't come in waving a magic wand spreading unicorn glitter everywhere to solve all your problems for you. Just go back to watching your reality shows.

  2. None of his excuse for leaving truly makes sense. It sounds like he knew he couldn't do the job here, so he found a way to gracefully exit, move back to Colorado, and have his wife continue her job there. I wonder if Ken Turner helped him with the exit strategy. I am certainly not sorry to see him go, so whatever excuse he has, it's fine with me. In the end, students and families will be much better served by someone else who has not lost touch with what it means to be in education and the real issues we face.

  3. @ Proofus: While I respect your opinion, you could not be more wrong on this subject. Dwight has done a few decent things, but overall he has been a disaster and an abject failure. I say this not as "an armchair quarterback," but as someone who has literally devoted the majority of their life to the students of Clark County. My parents were CCSD educators, I graduated from CCSD schools, I am a CCSD educator, and I am the parent of CCSD children. Dwight was never right for our community. What we need in this school district isn't obvious to an outsider, but it's really not all that complicated, either -- go into a school (you have that right as a taxpayer, even if CCSD doesn't like advertising it) and just ask some teachers.

  4. Good riddance. His top accomplishments are obvious, wasting money and destroying the morale of his employees. How much money did CCSD waste bringing him here? How much money did he waste hiring Pedro Martinez, getting Ken Turner another contract, implementing programs that are now obsolete (School Performance Framework) and hiring Amanda Fulkerson to spew nothing but hate at his employees? I don't know one person who will miss him. Teachers across Clark County deserve to celebrate this tonight. He can't leave soon enough.

  5. Wasn't there a news item that said he was interviewing for a job in Texas a few months back?

    CCSD spent a few hundred thousands to look for a Super and a few more for his move, salary, and consultants. Now, all down the drain.

    Wow. Our board really needs to do a better job of hiring, doesn't it? Well, there is a campaign going on Facebook to raise funds to buy a billboard that will say "Fire Dwight Jones." I guess now, they have to return the funds to those who contributed.

    Maybe we should look from within our district, but then again, it would be more of the same. Wouldn't it?

    Perhaps, we should rethink our hiring philosophy. A 'proven record and experience' doesn't always equate with efficacy as evidenced by the state of CCSD these past two decades.

    Maybe we need a shift in the leadership paradigm?

  6. Seems the taxpayers got the shaft again. Everything he said has the stink of fish...hopefully the people who hire the next Superintendent find a local guy and not get cute about hiring from out of state.

  7. There is only one qualification a superintendent needs:

    An honest to goodness caring for the children and their future.

    Any and all decisions that the district must make should be juxtaposed against that vision. Each CCSD employee, parents, students, the board, and the community must look at that vision with a single lens. Any other considerations must take the back seat if they do not benefit children.

    I can only wish.

  8. Not many have the ability to just quit their jobs to care for an ill parent. There was no other recourse than to quit midway thru this gargantuan plan of his?

    I somehow wonder if during the vetting process this ever was an issue to be is discussed before handing this guy the keys to the castle and a 250k tag along consultant.

    The school system is a mess. I'm sure there are a lot of people who have faith in this school system but I wouldn't put my kid in this system for all the tea in china.

  9. OK, your mom is sick, I get that. So, take some time off, be with her and care for her. Even if you stay till she passes, do what you have to do.

    But seems to me you are a full grown man who has other responsibilities besides caring for your mother. You made a commitment and a promise to this county and its children. Take that commitment seriously and finish the job you started or give the proper notice and quit after a replacement is found.

    The children of this county need to see examples of someone who can stick to a job, even when the job is tough and the storm is raging. You have not only set a bad example for our children, you have set a bad example for our citizens.

    Shame on you...

  10. It seems that Jones progressively put our school district in a more realistic place even if it wasn't always a pretty picture to paint or take credit for. Let's hope our new school superintendent does such a good job, just a bit longer.

  11. Dwight Jones does not like to lose. His departure should tell you something about where we are.
    He has alienated the teachers, encouraged adversarial
    relationships between administrators and teachers, demoralized the thousands who work for the district and reneged on promises to pay teachers for elevating their skills. He has created an atmosphere of bullying in the district. The last few years have been a nightmare.
    Why the Sun elevates his "progress" has mystified me. His excuse for leaving is weak. I wish him the best and hope his mother recovers. Having cared for an ailing parent I know how stressful and difficult it can be. I am hopeful we can find someone who can bring the district back together as a team and not as this giant pit of vipers all destroying what is good for our kids to save their jobs.
    Let's bring a little sanity back to education.
    Our students deserve to be so much more than computerized test scores.

  12. Mr Jones may have the vision of an improved district, but I can say for certain, being a part of it for a quarter century now, that he was doing it the wrong way. Alienating the greatest bulk of people working for you is not good leadership approach. If he had a compelling reason for doing what he was doing, he failed miserably in communicating its importance to the rank and file. Communication is one of the key elements in leadership.

    He failed because his action belies what he wanted/purported to do, i.e. improve student achievement. He talked about tight budget, but gets huge salaries and benefits for him and his friends. I realize the funds come from a `different source,` but you cannot tell that to one who just lost $400.00 from her paycheck. There is an appearance of more commanders than there are soldiers.

    He talked about improving teacher performance. Changing an evaluation system to make it easier for administrators to fire `those who do not blindly obey them` is NOT going to convince teachers it is the best approach. There is compliance for fear of their jobs, but teaching is a work of the heart, and one cannot do it wholeheartedly when one`s heart aches or is scared.

    He talked about accurately measuring student achievement through individual progress made, but there were no credible initiatives to help those who really needed help. There were only added pressures to teachers who are required to identify students who need one year, two years, or three years to catch up and what kind of interventions are being done in their classroom. Five hours is not enough instructional time with at least six subjects to teach to cover required skills outlined in the Core Curriculum Standards. There is hardly no time for intensive interventions many of these children need.

    Then there is the challenge of parent participation. The governor created a department that will oversee parent participation in school. That was a waste of good money. We need people in individual schools to coordinate parent involvement initiatives. They are already in schools - the teachers! But, to do it, they volunteer their own time after school hours. Title I funds allow `parent meetings` once a month. That is NOT an effective way toward parent involvement. Parents MUST be taught HOW TO help their children at home. Literally, they must go to school themselves and learn how, every day, until they feel comfortable enough to learn what it takes to educate a child. There is no denying that those who achieve in schools have parents who are involved greatly in their children`s education and learning.

    There are many more fails I can list. However, there is not enough space or time. I hope for the best for this district. I am not sure there is one who really cares about children.

  13. The incompetency and lack of transparency of so many school superintendent makes is look like it is a racket of good old boys who just take the money and really do nothing for education.

    What schools really need to do is put REAL TEACHERS who have REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE into these positions.

    Get rid of the political superintendents because all the intend to do is take the money and do nothing but say lots of tripe and feel good nothings.

  14. While I feel bad for his mother, I'm glad to see Jones go. When he first arrived, I had high hopes, only to have them dashed with each bad decision he made, the highly paid consultants, the condescending and hostile memos he sent to his teachers. Morale is as low as I've ever seen it.

    The board needs to find someone within the district, someone who has the respect of the employees, someone who understands this community and its needs. I'm not holding my breath, though, because the school board doesn't seem to ever make any decent decisions. Get rid of all the highly paid consultants. Get rid of Amanda Fulkerson. Put together a team of Las Vegas based educators who actually care about this school district and its students.

  15. I would like to believe Jones is a decent enough man to resign suddenly for the sake of spending time with a very ill mother, but I can't. I wonder who or what is really behind this.

    I can't say I'm sorry to see him go, but I dread what's coming. There's big, big money behind school races and "reform" politicians and school officials all over this country. The corruption is astounding. We have all seen this country change for the worse as the distribution of wealth has changed in the past few decades, and what is going on in public education will add to the decline. If you think the schools are bad now, just wait until there's a hodgepodge of for-profit schools with little oversight that parents have to choose from without much knowledge.

    The education system is the new pet of Wall St, which sees a way to create profit where profit doesn't belong.

    Perhaps dealing with issues such as social promotion, funding, chronic behavior problems, poor teacher training (and working conditions and salaries), and frivolous lawsuits would help "Superintendent-proof" the district and create a better outcome than letting the rich and their sycophants, the rich wannabes, cannibalize our schools.

    I'd like to hope this is a first sign of death of a sick and bound-to-fail "reform" movement, but I doubt that it is. I suspect the profiteers have someone waiting in the wings.

  16. Jones was merely the new captain on the Titanic and couldn't change its course no matter what he did. Nothing really changed. It's the same old tired and broken system that cheats its students, their parents and the taxpayers by embracing mediocrity and indoctrination. If 50% of the Ford Motor Compay's vehicles were lemons, how long would it stay in business? If 50% of GE's jet engines failed, how long would the airline industry put up with it? If 50% of the mayonnaise Kraft sold was rancid, who'd buy it? Yet, that's been the sorry record of the public shool system throughout the United States for more than 5 decades - a 50% failure rate - and we're supposed to give it "more money?" What a racket it has going for its self-serving self!

  17. Every time the superintendent position opens Jim Rogers offers to do it for FREE! No one understands the education system better in Southern Nevada. What we have been doing is not working so let's bring in someone radically different as in committed to the community not passing through and cashing out.
    http://www.change.org/petitions/ccsd-dra...

  18. He should have to pay for the search for a new superintendent

  19. Advice to the next superintendent:

    1) FIRE the entire administration.
    2) Reduce the organizational structure by half.
    3) Have everyone reapply for those remaining jobs.
    4) Hire strictly on Merit.
    5) Limit all elementary schools to a Principal, an Assistant Principal, and a secretary as the entire administrative staff.
    6) Everyone assigned to a school that has a teaching license must be in a classroom.
    7) Eliminate all other "teaching" positions.
    8) Assign the "best" teachers to the low-performing schools with no transfers until there is an acceptable improvement.
    9) Give the FIRST raises to those teachers when a school improves.
    10) No district-wide raises if no schools improve.

  20. ANNUAL SALARY SCHEDULE:

    President of the United States: $400,000.00
    Clark County School Superintendent: $396,000.00

    Is something wrong with this picture?

  21. Rather convenient that taxpayers have paid him so much he can AFFORD to "take care of his mother." I suppose that gets him out of his contract without penalties and makes for a resume. Whatever, he's leaving. But I will give him credit for trying. Not astounded that he is overwhelmed with the encapsulated inefficiencies and overwhelming unionization within CCSD. He came, he saw, he left.

  22. Last I heard, Michelle Rhee (spelling?) is available.

  23. Let's get some of the creative thinking that is changing downtown to help save our school district.

  24. I think the 'mom's sick' story is b.s...

    methinks that Mr. Jones, it will soon be disclosed, has OTHER, more PERSONAL reasons for 'stepping down'.
    MAYBE, if certain reporters didn't have 'Sunglasses' on, they would have already REPORTED it!

  25. This is not the R-J, Mr. Swanson, and while we do happily accept criticisms both of our reporting and of the subjects on whom we report, we will not tolerate commenters posting racial epithets, no.

    If you have any further questions about what is and what is not appropriate to post in our comments section, please refer to our user agreement at http://www.lasvegassun.com/about/useragr...

    Thank you.

  26. This country spends more on education per student than any other country yet the students are still as dumb as a post. Too much money spent on administration salaries. They treat School Superintendents like deities. Eventually they all prove they have feet of clay. Let's try to run the school w/o a big boss.

  27. Maybe the LEGISLATURE needs to allow SD administration to administer their SD's--so we can keep a superintendent. Enough micro managing: END CSR. Let the SD's decide class sizes so they can level it out from K (at 16:1) thru HS.

  28. By bite: the Super's salary is reasonable when you consider than class room teachers make up to $96K for part-time work.

  29. "By bite: the Super's salary is reasonable when you consider than class room teachers make up to $96K for part-time work."

    Really, Roberta?? You're trying that played out line again? I thought someone with your intelligence would have figured that one out, but perhaps I overestimated you...

  30. Something smells here,why not move mom here? There's something about to surface involving this man and it's not gonna be good. You don't give up nearly half a million dollars a year to take care of mom , you can pay someone for that.

  31. So many opinions from so many people who have A.) Not set foot in a school to see what really takes place on a daily basis. B.) Supported the the very "reforms" that have failed. and C.) Fail to realize that there are thousands of success stories being achieved in the Clark County School District daily. Some of the same critics were touting the board for "having the courage to stand up," in choosing a "game changer." All of the special interests were celebrating the union busting courage to change the status quo. How's that working for you? Where is Terri Janison? She was big on Dwight and weeks later, Sandoval appointed her? Wake up morons.
    Big mouthed Roslenda thinks teachers make 96K for part time work? Go to a classroom in an at-risk school and see if the job is part time. There are dedicated teachers who left other fields to teach and spend countless hours tutoring in order to get the students in a position where they can overcome the fact that they happened to be born into the "wrong situation." All the NPRI think tank scumbags keep the public in an uproar about "top heavy spending." The average middle school has 3-4 administrators to manage 80 employees for a school with 1500 students. Let me see the state local or federal government achieve positive achievement, stable bully free climates and instructional leadership with those numbers. Let the mouthpieces who so candidly spout off, enter any at risk school and spend one period (not entire day), one period, substitute teaching in a classroom. Lastly, if you moved here from a state with higher taxes only to complain about the quality of services and like to compare CCSD to other districts, buck up and pay your fair share, we have not "dumped" money into the problem in Clark County at the proper "per pupil" spending level. The casinos and mining industry get away with murder, making billions off the backs of working people only to invest in other states and China. None of the tax breaks benefit our economy or the future of our children. We have the highest juvenile incarceration rate and recidivism rate but fail to spend a few extra dollars per month to instill pre-K or Kindergarten. Idiots call it day care, probably those who don't have kids or send them to school after a steady diet of tv, video games and junk food (baffled when the "teacher" didn't catch them up to the national norm by 2nd grade). This administration does not speak for the dedication or attitudes demonstrated by thousands of teachers, administrators, and support staff members who are in the trenches daily. Many of those individuals made the choice to relocate, start families, build a sense of community, and dedicate themselves toward assisting CCSD students. Wake up and choose a local candidate who is familiar with the students, staff, challenges, and community.