LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A necessary step or a step back for the Clark County School District? The day after CCSD trustees voted to push out Supt. Dr. Jesus Jara, the attention now shifts toward the future of the school district and who will lead it.
“There’s blood in the water. When you have a political hit job like this, there’s blood in the water,” said Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Vellardita.
Vellardita is frustrated by the CCSD trustees’ decision. He’s confused why the trustees wanted to nix Jara's job immediately with about six weeks to go before the superintendent’s evaluation.
“That superintendent should be judged on his performance just like an educator in a classroom,” he said.
Trustee Katie Williams, who voted against firing Jara, also believes the move was political and sets the school district onto a path of uncertainty.
“They had one agenda and that was to get rid of Supt. Jesus Jara. They succeeded, obviously, and they don’t have a plan going forward. They were so blindsided by their hatred of this man,” she said.
She says Jara wasn’t perfect but provided a tempering voice in the district. Trustee Williams fears there will be instability that could reflect badly on potential candidates for the superintendent role and result in lawmakers considering appointed school boards.
“They don’t want this chaos in the district. They don’t want this chaos in the state. It’s embarrassing. I said that on the record last night. It’s embarrassing for this entire board. I’m embarrassed,” she said.
In a phone conversation, Trustee Danielle Ford, who voted to oust Jara, says she heard from district staff members who told her they were afraid of Jara, saying he created a culture of intimidation and retaliation and felt he wasn’t honest. Trustee Ford also says she thinks the district will still be able to operate and feels the next superintendent should be someone who’s familiar with Southern Nevada.
Vicki Kreidel with the National Education Association of Southern Nevada says she trusts the board’s decision.
“I don’t believe they would have terminated his contract if they didn’t have valid reasons,” she said.
She says Jara’s tenure wasn’t perfect and felt he focused too much on stats and numbers rather than the overall well-being of students. Kreidel says she holds the same trust that the board can choose a better leader.
“We can only go forward from here. It’s been really rough, but I think it can get better with the right leadership,” she said.
A look back at Jara's tenure at CCSD
The tenure of Jara began how it ended, with a split vote among the board of trustees back in 2018. Jara came in after serving as the deputy superintendent of Orange County Public Schools in Florida.
He hit the ground running, helping develop an ambitious five-year plan called "Focus 2024" aimed at improving test scores and student success.
"You look at it, what works, you continue to do it. And what doesn't work, you stop doing it and you reallocate resources,” he said previously.
Jara also got accolades for developing relationships with students, particularly at Mission High School, which helps teens recover from addiction.
The superintendent also had to face challenges contending with negotiations with the CCEA over new teacher contracts back in 2019, just averting a strike. Vellardita says, despite some bumps in the road, his relationship with Jara has been professional.
“The relationship is something you work through moments that are challenging. You work through difficult moments where there are disagreements, but you get past that,” he said.
There was perhaps no bigger challenge than the pandemic, forcing students into distance learning. During that time, Jara and some board trustees had a contentious relationship where he faced criticism on communication and poor culture and climate.
A move to terminate his contract in July 2020 failed when the discussion was tabled in a 4-3 vote. He ultimately was ousted Thursday night in the same 4-3 vote. Jara says he was kept from enacting changes he was hired to do from some trustees.
“While some members of this board seek to run the operations of the district and micromanage and undermine the staff and me, I have been dedicated to protecting the staff from their overreach and interference,” he said.
Based on the writing in his contract, Jara will remain on the job for the next 30 days and then be paid the full amount of his salary and other benefits whenever his contract was supposed to end. His annual salary is about $320,000.