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The Latest School Reorganization Plan: Autonomous Schools

Updated April 21, 2016: In the second week of April, a legislative committee on education voted to hire an expert to create a plan for autonomous schools in Clark County. The plan won't be completed until summer and the earliest the plan could be implemented is 2018.  

Redistricting is apparently an ongoing conversation in Clark County.

Last spring, the Legislature passed a law authorizing CCSD to reorganize. In November, we talked to Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky about his plan to break the district up into precincts, which would share some responsibilities with the district as a whole.

People didn’t like that plan. In particular, the legislative committee tasked with overseeing the reorganization didn’t like that plan.

So it was back to the drawing board. And now the current idea is to reorganize the district into individual, autonomous schools. That’s right – each school would be its own fiefdom, though there would be some district-wide responsibilities.

Superintendent Skorkowsky explained it this way to KNPR’s State of Nevada:

“It is the concept of making sure that decisions are made closest to the school level, looking at what we call flexible or strategic budgeting for each school, where we give them the dollars and they determine at the school site with community and teacher and support staff and administrative input how they will develop their instructional program for the school.”

Support comes from

Skorkowsky said besides a few things that are mandated by the state like class size rules and standardized tests, each school will be in control of its curriculum, its structure, and its budget.

“One of the biggest pieces we’re doing is in our instructional design and professional learning,” the superintendent explained. “That is where our curriculum is developed. That is where our professional development or professional learning is done. We are actually downsizing that significantly and putting all those monies out into schools and performance zones.”

He said besides just funneling money and control to the individual schools the plan will include an accountability component.

According to the superintendent, 180 school are already operating under the program, this would just step it up to a new level.

For parents who love the principal at their children’s school the plan may sound great, but for those who question the principal’s leadership abilities there maybe hesitation.

Skorkowsky agreed, calling the difference in leadership “something that keeps him up at night.” However, he said that there will be leadership training for administration.

“The challenge is you have to provide some very specific professional development for the building administrator,” he said. “You need to have professional development on the concept of strategic budgeting.”

He also said that besides better training some principals may have to be replaced.

Nancy Brune, executive director for the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, said part of the effort should be to know what makes a good principal.

“We don’t have a good sense of what are the competencies that we’re looking for in a good principal,” she said.

And she believes the accountability needs to go up the chain of command from principals to the academic officers that supervise them.

“We need to strengthen the chain of command for accountability,” she said.

Besides strong principals and supervisors, Brune said where this model has worked best there has been strong leadership from teachers.

“I think it’s important that teachers feel empowered,” she said, “It’s important that teachers have time during the day to work with their peers to have that carved out prep time to work in collaboration with other teachers.”

Parent involvement is also vital, according to Brune, but how that community input works will be up to the principal and school leadership team. They will decide how a parent-teacher council will be composed and how they will work.

Brune does dispute the idea that a shift from centralized to decentralized will be a big cost savings.

“We can’t think that by decentralizing or by giving autonomy to every single school we’re going to realize these huge cost savings,” she said.

Besides the fact that CCSD has a small central administration compared with other school districts that are about the same size, the money saved from the top is actually redirected to programs to support principals like professional development.

At this point, the plan is in its preliminary stages of development and has not been finalized.

From Desert Companion: Class Acts

(Editor's Note: This story originally ran in January)

Guests

Pat Skorkowsky, Superintendent, Clark County School District; 

Nancy Brune, executive director, Guinn Center for Policy Priorities;

Caryne Shea, vice president, HOPE - Honoring Our Public Education

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