Why one superintendent doesn’t want to be the ‘smartest person in the room’

'You have to invest in educators, you have to invest in leaders at the school level. You have to give the adults the resources needed by the 300,000 lives we have the opportunity to impact,' Jesus Jara says.

“I’m not the smartest person in the room,” Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara says when asked to describe his leadership philosophy. The growth he is seeing in his district—which is Nevada’s largest and the fourth biggest in the nation—is the result of building a leadership team that “can deliver on the mission.”

“My philosophy is really about being relentless around providing our students with the best opportunity to succeed,” says Jara, who was recently named Nevada’s superintendent of the year. “That means you have to invest in educators; you have to invest in leaders at the school level. You have to give the adults the resources needed by the 300,000 lives we have the opportunity to impact.”

On the way out of COVID, Clark County anchored 17 of its schools in project-based learning and has this year added another six to the initiative that is blending the STEAM subjects together in a climate of student-teacher collaboration at all grade levels. In its high schools, more students are taking Advancement Placement classes and passing the end-of-year tests.

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Jara and his leadership team are also looking to improve working conditions for educators by instituting team teaching at six Clark County middle schools. Clark County has joined the Next Education Workforce designed by Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. The model pairs multiple teachers and teaching assistants with large groups of students in open classrooms where personalized learning is emphasized, Jara explains.

The Next Education Workforce also aims to provide more pathways for people to enter the teaching profession and reward them for building their skills and aspiring to become K12 leaders. Clark County is not alone in struggling with shortages of teachers and other school staff as fewer college students choose to pursue education degrees, he adds.

Also like most other districts, Clark County is expanding support for the growing number of students who are experiencing mental illnesses in the wake of the pandemic. “We’ve had a high number of suicides,” he says. “The suffering that’s going on outside is coming onto our campuses.”

Though behavioral problems are decreasing as students reconnect to in-person instruction, social media continues to be a substantial source of stress for kids. Clark County has worked with community providers to provide family counseling at no cost and has also added telehealth to expand students’ access to mental health care.

“The other piece that is a huge challenge is the number of kids who are chronically absent—we made it too easy for kids to stay home,” he continues, referring to the deluge of COVID-era warnings urging sick students to stay home. “We have a new campaign we are pushing out that says ‘Every day matters—you need to show up for school.'”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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