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Nevada Today

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The accidental superintendent: How Jara was hired, and how he might be getting a contract renewal

Screenshot from CCSD Supt. Jesus Jara’s 2018 “welcome video.”

Policy, politics and progressive commentary

This week, with the latest list of licensed personnel separations revealing 148 more teachers heading out the door, Data Insight Partners came out with a damning series of data sets that show how many teachers are leaving CCSD, and how many are expected to leave by August.

“It’s bad, and we are in uncharted territory,” wrote Nathan Trenholm in Data Insight’s Twitter thread.

Trenholm writes that in typical years, teachers leaving the district “slowly accumulate August through March and then accelerate April through July when staff start to say they’re not coming back.”

Here’s the handy graph Trenholm made showing the normal trend of teacher attrition over the last few years:

teachers leaving ccsd

 

Then Trenholm hit us with the rate teachers are already leaving as of April 25, 2022.

teachers exodus now

You are reading this graph correctly. We already have as many teachers leaving the district a month before school is out as we usually do by July, when teacher attrition reaches its peak.

So far, 1,706 teachers have announced they are leaving or have left CCSD. In 2018/19 – the last pre-pandemic school year – there were 1,093 teachers leaving/left as of April. And even that number was up a bit from previous years.

You should read the thread yourself. He goes after Supt. Jesus Jara pretty hard, starting with the letter from the president of the teachers union in Florida where Jara came from, warning CCSD in 2018, “For the sake of your students and your employees, Dr. Jara is not the person to lead your schools to success.”

Remember also that Jara tried to put Data Insight Partners out of business in 2020 by taking away schools’ ability to hire them, as per the AB469 reorganization law. That is part of the reason the State Board of Ed and the Nevada Superintendent of Schools is considering putting CCSD into receivership.

Hell hath no fury like a couple of Davids with data, fighting for their business against a Goliath dictator.

Trenholm’s thread, though, got me thinking about how Jara was hired to begin with. 

I wasn’t in town for the decision, on May 2, 2018. But I have heard about it from plenty of people. It was apparently a hard-fought, balls-to-the-walls, raucous night that went into the wee hours of the morning and ended with Trustee Carolyn Edwards sneaking in her preferred choice.

So I watched the meeting. And found it wasn’t like that at all. It was strategic, to be sure. There were a lot of pregnant pauses. There was one candidate who was polarizing, despite overwhelming community support. In the end, the decision seemed to be made not because the majority of the Board of Trustees really wanted Jara, but because… it was getting late, and a decision needed to be made.

Seriously. The meeting started at 8am and was only four hours long – compared with the 9-hour-plus meeting when Jara was provisionally fired on Oct. 28, 2021 – and lost all its steam when Trustee Chris Garvey left to go to work.

So glad there is video of these things.

It’s fair to say that the 2018 meeting was not a referendum on Jesus Jara – he was barely mentioned, and garnered almost no community support. It was a referendum on Mike Barton, heir apparent to then-Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, serving at the time as chief academic officer.

Barton is a nice guy. All of the trustees seemed to agree on that. But they didn’t like his tactics, campaigning for the role. Or they didn’t like the tactics of the people who were campaigning for him.

“I think the tactic of tearing other candidates down to raise a certain candidate up has really soured people to that candidate,” said Deanna Wright, who was then president of the board, and who announced at the beginning of the meeting that she would not recuse herself despite a casual friendship with both Barton and former CCSD administrator Eva White, who was also up for the job.

Wright won’t talk to me, because I pointed out how horrible she was in shutting down the meeting to reprimand Jara in July of 2020 after he lied to the legislature and was called on it publicly by the governor. (The link is on Trustee Danielle Ford’s Facebook because the two official CCSD channels for CCSD meeting videos either don’t have the end of the discussion or have the audio and video vastly off track.) But I do find the Deanna Wright in this video vastly different from the contemplative Deanna Wright at that May 2018 meeting.

In any case Barton had support of most of the people who gave public comment that morning – 23 out of 33 people who spoke or put in a letter via someone who spoke. No one else had as much support. Only one public commenter – Jose Solorio – spoke in favor of Jara. Two commenters spoke for Jessie Welsh, who is currently the executive director of Nevada State High School. HOPE for Nevada’s Julie Vigil put in tepid support for either Jara or White, while three people weighed in in favor of White.

That interplay – between White and Barton or an “outside candidate” – was the underpinning of the drama.

After Barton’s candidacy was thwarted in a 4-3 vote, the trustees seemed unsure what to do next. Trustee Linda Young asked for more time. She had not considered Jara very strongly. Nor did she consider Dr. Don Haddad, who was Superintendent of St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado. And who, unbeknownst to at least two of the trustees at the time, had already taken himself out of the running.

There are some parts of this discussion that struck me, four years later, as both prescient and hypocritical.

The prescient part came from Garvey, who had issues with reports that the way Jara’s Florida district was dealing with low graduation rates was to “farm children to adult ed charters.”

“It concerns me. It concerns me a lot. Especially with the relationship with Fordham and Broad. Because they are making it very well known that we have too many charter deserts and we need to expand that.”

Garvey is referring to the Broad Foundation and the Fordham Institute, both organizations dedicated to spending public money on private schools and creating more charter schools. The Broad Foundation inspired Chiefs for Change, from which Jara is a graduate.

Then Garvey gave an impassioned plea to safeguard public education:

“I gotta tell ya, public education is one of those things that if we don’t hold it very dear, it is going to be the death of us as a nation… the way that charters have been structured in this state is to make it very easy to take all the wheat and then put those children that have the most struggles in traditional public schools, then hold them accountable with limited resources.

“I don’t [sic] see an understanding of that when I had conversations [with Jara] or in the interview process. It did not seem to resonate with this particular individual, nor did they have a clear understanding of what that landscape looked like here.”

She then pointed out that the data for CCSD showed “significant” more growth than the data for Jara’s previous district, in Orlando.

And she added the part that honestly made me gasp from the lens of 2022: “I think that possibly for this particular candidate, it’s more important to find that big job.”

Remember, Garvey then went on to support Jara at every turn, including the shut-down of that contentious July 2020 meeting. Garvey has not answered my texts. I very much would like to know what changed her mind. Because in 2018, she was completely right.

The hypocritical part had to do with Trustee Lola Brooks, who dismissed support for Barton by noting that people who were afraid wouldn’t come forward to speak against him. She then ended with, “It speaks to the type of negative loyalty his leadership inspires, and this is not something that I approve of.”

She was talking about Barton. Brooks has since been negatively loyal to Jara despite overwhelming reports of retaliation and coercion. But the video of her saying this with a straight face in 2018 is… something.

Brooks and Garvey also had a bit of a tiff over whether or not social emotional learning was important. Again, Garvey was correct. And looked incredibly prescient from a 2022 perspective.

And so it was, coming close to noon, that Chris Garvey said she was going to have to leave, and asked for a recess until 6pm. “Otherwise I am in a position which either the board will disenfranchise District B, or they will make arrangements to allow travel and come back for a final decision.”

Garvey left, agreeing to call in to the rest of the meeting, when Trustee Carolyn Edwards said, “I’m counting votes… I’m struggling a little… I feel pretty strongly that I think Dr. Jara is a good fit for our district and for the community. I think he has the experience that we need. But I just don’t know if there are the votes here to move forward with him.”

Then she made a motion. And to audible gasps in the room, four trustees – Edwards, Linda Cavazos, Brooks and Kevin Child – voted for Jara.

“No one expected Kevin to vote for Jara at all,” said one former admin who was there.

Child told me he only realized later that the vote was being set up to name Eva White as superintendent.

“It was a smokescreen. [Carolyn Edwards] thought I would vote no,” Child said in a phone conversation. “I wouldn’t have voted for him if I had known that.”

Do I believe Child? Not entirely. Hindsight is, well, 2022, and he doesn’t want to be the goat. But he clearly didn’t realize what was happening during the meeting.

I have tried to ask former trustee Edwards about that vote. She sent me a text back saying, “I am not interested in visiting about this topic.” She did not answer my followup question about whether or not she even regretted it.

And there we have it – an accidental superintendent who was chosen because one trustee called a vote rather than take a step back and regroup after the assumed successor was turned away.

As Nathan Trenholm pointed out, four years later, CCSD is in disarray. All of our measurements for student success are significantly worse than they were when Jara came in. Just as Garvey had predicted.

***

Jara and the $2.6 Million Payoff

I am once again pointing out that Jara’s demand that he be paid $2.6 million for being fired on Oct. 28 did not go away with his being un-fired on Nov. 18. He and the trustees are still negotiating, though it’s not clear where they are at. They were supposed to have a mediation, which I had heard happened a couple of months ago. Since then, I have been told by two sources not affiliated with the board that it’s common knowledge Jara is not only asking for the $2.6 million, but is also asking for a multi-year contract renewal and a new yearly salary of $400,000.

I asked Trustee Lisa Guzman and Trustee Danielle Ford to confirm or deny this. Both of them said they could not confirm the contract renewal rumor, but they also both refused, multiple times, to deny it.

The post The accidental superintendent: How Jara was hired, and how he might be getting a contract renewal appeared first on Nevada Current.

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Michael McGreer Mesquite, Nevada
Dr. Michael Manford McGreer is managing editor of Nevada-today.com and writes on issues that impact public policy.

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