What’s next for Clark County schools in the wake of Superintendent Jara’s departure?

Superintendent Jesus Jara speaks during a news conference at Dean Petersen Elementary School, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Las Vegas. School administrators in Las Vegas say they plan a phased return to classrooms in coming weeks for middle- and high school students in the nation's fifth-largest school district. (AP Photo/John Locher)

By Lorraine Longhi

March 5, 2024

Superintendent Jesus Jara resigned from the helm of the Clark County School District last month, bringing a nearly six-year chapter at the nation’s fifth-largest school district to a close.

Clark County schools, which serve approximately 300,000 students, must now move forward with finding a new superintendent and reforging the priorities of a new hybrid board made up of elected and appointed members.

In a statement sent to district staff on his final day, Jara said he had been guided throughout his professional career by an unwavering devotion to ensuring access and equity in public education.

“I implore each member of the community to meet our children where they are and provide them with the support they need,” he wrote. “It is all our duty to ensure they don’t slip through the cracks to the detriment of our society.”

But Ryan Fromoltz, a teacher at Harney Middle School, said the choices made during Jara’s tenure will have long-lasting, negative effects on education in Southern Nevada.

The district is now marked by an overall lack of discipline, he said, and students aren’t motivated because of changes like a controversial “minimum F” grading policy, which made it so that students could never score lower than a 50% on assignments and tests.

“Teachers are not having the autonomy that they used to have in understanding students’ needs,” Fromoltz said. “It doesn’t have the well-being of our students in mind.”

Trustees must now also set out to replace Jara, who resigned with a $250,000 payout from the district, after public outcry led to a renegotiation of his previous contract terms.

Chris Giunchigliani, a former Clark County Commissioner who also served as president of the teachers union, said the board did not uphold their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers and ultimately took “the easy way out” in paying Jara to resign.

But Trustee Linda Cavazos, who was one of the two trustees who voted against paying Jara to resign, called the February meeting where dozens of teachers, students, and community members came to voice their concerns over Jara’s resignation “a culture shift.”

The throng of people who came out to make their voices heard went beyond the usual suspects who typically come out to speak at board meetings, she said. Following the concerns from the community, the board narrowly voted to reject Jara’s resignation and renegotiate the terms of his resignation, which ultimately saw the cost of his payout shrink from just under a million dollars to $250,000.

“I think there were people sitting on that dais and people sitting in that room that it was really kind of like a wake up call for them,” she said. “The big message I heard is ‘We want change.’”

‘We want change’

That Feb. 7 meeting was the first time Flor Diaz, a UNLV student and graduate of Desert Pines High School, spoke at a school board meeting. In a fiery speech to the board about accountability and transparency, Diaz slammed trustees for not meeting students’ educational goals and for disrespecting students and their time.

Diaz, a youth organizer with Make the Road Nevada, told The Nevadan she was glad to see Jara resign, but said the $250,000 paid to him was ultimately taking away from teacher pay and student resources.

“It’s taking away our taxpayer money and from our students who we should be investing in,” she said. “We stand for students’ rights, we want students to do as best as they can, and I personally feel like we deserve a better superintendent.”

The board ultimately voted to appoint Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell as the interim superintendent. On Wednesday, the trustees will discuss whether to hold a national search for its next leader, or stick with a local or statewide search.

Several members of the community–including Henderson Mayor Michelle Romero, Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce President Mary Beth Sewald, and Nevada Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager–have called for a nationwide search, with Sewald saying the district needs someone with a proven track record to lead it.

“For this board to fail to do a search for the next superintendent would be unprecedented, it would be unconscionable, and it would be a disservice to our students,” Sewald said.

Ahead of Larsen-Mitchell’s temporary appointment to the role, Trustee Lola Brooks stressed the need for the board to be focused on student success, saying the board’s priority “has to be stability.”

But Fromoltz, the Harney Middle School teacher, said certain board members have cultivated the instability, and the district is the one dealing with the consequences. The board has been marked by dysfunction in recent years, with Jara receiving $95,000 to settle a lawsuit over claims of a hostile work environment.

“I hope that the district and board realizes they’re going to have to do something real soon. We’re not going to have teachers if we keep going down this path,” Fromoltz said. “I hope the new superintendent cares and appreciates his employees, because a lot of employees didn’t feel that from Jara.”

The district did not respond to a request for comment about how it plans to maintain a stable learning environment for students moving forward.

In reflecting on the superintendent’s tenure, Cavazos said she believes Jara ultimately had the best intentions in his approach to the job, but called the implementation of changes in schools and how it impacted students “not optimal.”

Cavazos said her priorities this year will be to be more cognizant of how the district is implementing and rolling out changes so as not to continue adding responsibilities to educators’ plates without taking them off, in addition to maintaining and improving mental health resources at schools.

Diaz, the CCSD graduate, says students want to see a board that is transparent and will represent them, and a superintendent that will fight for them.

“Our students deserve the best. They deserve someone qualified, who knows what they’re doing, someone who genuinely cares about their students,” she said.

  • Lorraine Longhi

    Lorraine Longhi is a reporter for The Nevadan and native of the southwest. A graduate of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication, she spent eight years reporting in Arizona, including at The Arizona Republic and The Copper Courier, where she covered education, health care and state politics. She returned to Las Vegas, her hometown, last year as an education reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where she was later promoted to assistant city editor

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