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Upon his selection in 2011, Superintendent Dwight Jones was hailed as a bold reformer charged with improving a troubled district that ranked as one of the worst in the nation. During his tenure, he introduced changes and implemented turnaround plans at several struggling Clark County schools. Now, only two years into a four-year contract, he's abruptly leaving his post to care for his ailing mother.
His supporters, including the Clark County school board, have been vocal in their disappointment at his departure. But he did have only two years on the job, and, according to some education professionals in Clark County, this wasn’t enough time for him to make the grade.
“I think he did definitely challenge the status quo,” says Ruben Murillo, President of the Clark County Education Association. “Also there were some things that didn’t pan out – school performance framework, standard-based report cards. But all in all you’d have to give him an ‘incomplete.’”
Communities In Schools Board President Susie Lee says that when Jones came to Nevada he faced “insurmountable problems,” but did institute several changes for the better, including getting the community more invested in outcomes.
“He brought to the school district a sense of leadership and some urgency, which I really valued and which really inspires me in my work,” says Lee. “Granted, in two years nothing’s going to be complete. But I think he definitely got the ball rolling, and there is momentum.”
Lee also points to a decrease in the drop-out rate, and an increase in the graduation rate.
“Granted they weren’t crazy gains,” says Lee, “But they’re definitely gains, and they’re a move in the right direction.
In spite of these accomplishments, teacher morale remained low during his tenure, which was marked by contentious battles over union contracts.
“When Dwight was first hired, the school board was very big on collaboration, very big on making sure the next superintendent came in and worked with unions,” says Murillo. “But when you hire a communications director who calls us ‘union thugs,’ when you hire people to help block what unions are working together for – that sends a clear message.”
Not only does Jones’ departure come at a crucial time in the district’s evolution, but it comes at a time when finding a replacement may be especially challenging, because, among other reasons, many other large districts throughout the country are recruiting a new superintendent.
“This is never an easy process, but Clark County is going up against a lot of other districts that are also looking for leaders – Knoxville, Anchorage, Memphis,” says education reporter Emily Richmond.
Richmond adds that the CCSD board can impact how challenging the recruitment efforts will be.
“In San Diego about a week ago they chose a new superintendent just 25 hours after their superintendent announced his resignation, deciding that an in-house candidate is the way they wanted to go,” says Richmond.
Whatever process the board uses to pick CCSD’s next leader, it will come at a cost to the district.
“A search for a new superintendent will cost the school district a minimum of $50,000,” says Richmond. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge.”