In Roundtable with Superintendent, Student Voice Illuminates Budget Priorities
In an op-ed I published last May, I called on the newest leader of the Clark County School District (CCSD), Dr. Jesus Jara, to come into our district with a strong vision for the future but also to listen to stakeholders in order to make positive changes for our students. Last month, he fulfilled a commitment he made to me about visiting my classroom and my students.
The lesson that we shared with Superintendent Jara, School Board Trustee Linda Cavazos and Chief Financial Officer Jason Goudie, both addressed an important educational issue and elevated the voices of my students. The lesson put my students in the shoes of a school organization team and asked them to make hard decisions on what to cut from a school budget. My students based their cuts on what they valued in a Clark County school and by analyzing school-level data made available through the Nevada School Performance Framework
It was an incredible conversation, as eye-opening for Dr. Jara as it was for my 20 AP Government students. They learned that the reality of having limited resources at a school inevitably results in hard choices―the reality that at one point brought them to tears as they tried to rationalize why this is the case. Dr. Jara got a chance to experience the frustration students experience in an underfunded district. For me, this experience was the high moment of my teaching career. My students spoke strongly and passionately about issues and they were honest and eloquent in presenting their decisions. Our guests sat up and paid attention. Here is one of my students’ reflections on Dr. Jara’s visit:
We No Longer Want to Choose Which Adult We Keep
By Cassedy Walker
During Dr. Jara’s visit, my group and I talked about the extremely difficult decisions we had to make when faced with a funding issue. Specifically, we had to choose whether to keep a social worker available to students in our school or have a teacher coach available to teachers. Using statistics from not only our own school, but also national data points, we decided to cut the teacher coach. We came to the conclusion that students are facing more issues emotionally, mentally, and physically in and out of school as they begin transitioning into early adulthood. Being able to express concerns to a licensed and trained social worker can help students focus on their performance in school rather than worrying about issues they may be facing. Students can begin building healthy coping mechanisms in their teens that will follow them into adulthood, raising awareness for their own mental health and that of those around them.
Having the opportunity to share our findings with Trustee Cavazos, Superintendent Jara, and Chief Financial Officer Goudie allowed me to understand what it means to finally be listened to when it comes to decisions that directly affect me and my peers. The most important thing we as students are asking of Nevada legislators is that they remember that we are more than just numbers. Even though the Clark County School District (CCSD) houses nearly 75% of students in Nevada, our county does not get nearly 75% of the budget. In fact, we have a much higher demand for funding when we take into account the higher numbers of ELL, low-income, and special needs students in Clark County. In our assignment, we had to choose between two adults, knowing that we only had enough funding to keep one of them. But in reality, we all know that keeping more adults on campus benefits students’ safety, mental health, and quality of education. We no longer want to choose which adult we keep based on funding through an outdated Nevada Plan. We, as students, want to choose our own education, and to do that, we need Nevada legislators to choose a budget plan that accurately represents the needs of students in Clark County.
Cassedy Walker is a senior at Del Sol Academy for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas.
Kenny Belknap teaches U.S. government and human geography at Del Sol Academy for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. He is a Teach Plus Nevada Teaching Policy Fellow.