The Clark County School District (CCSD) will discuss, and possibly seek approval of its new 5-year strategic plan at the Board of Trustees’ meeting on February 28, 2019. When compared to the previous strategic plan under Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, the proposed plan is more substantial in both length and detail. The previous plan included six overarching goals, tracked through 11 data points. The proposed plan includes five high-level priorities, but strikingly recommends reporting 107 unique data points and provides 198 strategies to accomplish these priorities.
In addition to the depth of the proposed CCSD strategic plan, what is also striking is the number of strategies that CCSD has noted will require additional financial resources (“Additional funding must be sought to implement this strategy”). In total, CCSD believes 32 of its strategies – or 16 percent – will require additional resources. However, the majority (22 out of 32 or 69 percent) of these unfunded strategies are included in the student success portion of the strategic plan, and within this section, those strategies that seek to address the achievement gap.
While we encourage everyone who is interested to review the actual strategic plan document, this blog will provide an overview of the plan with additional focus on the student success portion. That the proposed plan emphasizes student achievement may offer some measure of reassurance to education stakeholders, who have long raised concerns that CCSD has addressed this matter inadequately. However, the plan raises a new set of questions insofar as the significant number of student success-focused strategies CCSD has identified would require additional financial resources.
This concern is magnified because it does not appear there will be substantial new monies included in Nevada’s K-12 education budget, per ongoing discussions in Carson City (see here for a link to the Guinn Center’s new Nevada Budget Overview 2019-2021). Moreover, CCSD’s strategic plan does not include any specific strategies in the Sound Fiscal Management priority area to secure additional funds. The critical question then becomes: In the event that there are no additional resources, is CCSD no longer held accountable for making progress on these strategies – most of which address student success and closing the achievement gap?
The figure below provides information on the distribution of strategies across the five high-level priorities. Student success and sound fiscal management account for almost two-thirds of the 198 strategies; teachers, principals, and staff account for 17 percent of the strategies within the strategic plan. Balanced government accounts for a mere 2 percent of all strategies outlined in the new strategic plan.
Priority 1: Student Success
To improve student success, CCSD aims for progress in 4 specific areas:
- Increase student achievement on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), ACT, and science Criterion-Referenced Test (CRT) assessments, as well as improve the graduation rate.
- Decrease proficiency gaps in the assessments noted in previous bullet point, as well as in the graduation rate.
- Increase the access to rigorous curriculum and instruction for all students.
- Ensure students are safe and engaged at school.
To track progress on these four specific areas, the strategic plan includes 50 unique data points. It also details 63 strategies the district will pursue to achieve these goals. As noted previously, 22 of these student success strategies (approximately 35 percent of all student success strategies) will require additional resources. This includes 11 strategies that target students accessing a rigorous curriculum, six strategies for addressing proficiency gaps, and four that directly target increasing student proficiency rates. The strategies that need additional resources make up a substantial portion of the total strategies proposed.
Without additional resources, the Guinn Center posits that this may introduce slack in the line of accountability in measuring and tracking progress in these areas. The CCSD Board of Trustees should clarify how goals and student achievement will be affected in the presence of flat (reduced) revenues.
Priority 2: Teachers, Principals, and Staff
CCSD seeks to ensure all students have access to effective teachers, administrators, and staff. To accomplish this, CCSD lists 10 measures to track progress, along with 34 strategies to meet this goal. Eight of these 34 strategies – or approximately 24 percent – require additional resources.
Priority 3: Balanced Governance and Leadership
This priority acknowledges that effective leadership and governance are key drivers of student achievement. The district proposes four data points to track progress toward this goal, along with three strategies that it will pursue. None of these strategies are contingent on additional resources.
Priority 4: Sound Fiscal Management
This priority is organized around both the fiscal and operational components of CCSD. The fiscal piece seeks to ensure that the public, school organizational team (SOT) members, Trustees, and employees understand the financial information of the district, as well as ensure the district’s regulatory compliance. The fiscal component includes six measures and 20 strategies the district proposes to meet those needs. None of these strategies require additional resources.
The operational piece appears to be a result of the recommendations from the Council of Great City Schools report presented to the CCSD Board of Trustees at the January 10, 2019, board meeting. This portion of the strategic plan addresses the Facilities and Maintenance, Food Service, Technology, Transportation, and Purchasing Departments. It includes 20 measures and 46 unique strategies to achieve the proposed goals. Only two of these strategies require additional resources.
Priority 5: Parent and Community Support
This priority area seeks to improve parent and community engagement, by making parents more informed of various resources available to them to increase their student’s academic performance. This priority also seeks to partner with additional community groups and businesses to support CCSD’s strategic vision, both financially and non-financially. This priority lists 17 data points and 32 strategies CCSD will pursue to achieve this goal. None of these strategies are expected to require additional resources.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
There are many reasons to applaud CCSD’s proposed strategic plan. We commend CCSD for formulating a plan that requires a heavy focus on data to ensure proper monitoring and measurement of the goals. Additionally, we think it is important to note that CCSD’s annual targets for student proficiency align with the Nevada Department of Education’s Measures of Interim Progress – which will place CCSD on track to meet the goal of ensuring all schools are rated three stars or better on the Nevada School Performance Framework after five years. In doing so, this document continues to support Nevada’s ESSA plan of becoming the “Fastest Improving State in the Nation.” Finally, we also commend the district for including all stakeholders in the strategic plan and emphasizing the point that the entire community is necessary to improve the educational outcomes of students.
However, we would reiterate our concern regarding the number of strategies that CCSD has identified that will require additional funds – especially the high percentage of those strategies that rest within the student success (and achievement gap) priority area. What is missing from the strategic plan, but may be covered at the Board of Trustees meeting, is how CCSD will prioritize strategies in an environment where they do not believe they have enough resources to address them all. Perhaps the district will re-direct resources to those initiatives it believes will have the biggest impact on student achievement? Or perhaps the district will find another way to balance competing strategies if additional funding is not secured. Leading up to the release of this plan, Superintendent Jara told the community, “If it’s not in the plan, we won’t do it.” Now, we wonder if it would be better stated as, “If it’s not in the plan, we won’t do it. And even if it is in the plan, it may be contingent on additional funding.”