Navigating the Pandemic
with Flexibility, Patience, and Grace
By Superintendent Jesus F. Jara, Clark County, NV
I

remember when we had our first case of COVID in Clark County; I had just landed in Reno for a meeting with state leaders. Immediately, I was called back — we were faced with trying to figure out how to keep our staff safe and maintain a feeling of calm. It was an enormous challenge to prepare for, as we had to consider much more than students’ basic educational needs. How could we continue to feed the students who depend on us for three meals a day?

Superintendent Jara headshot
How were we going to support parents who could not work from home and might not be able to provide childcare for kids learning at home alone? And of course, how could we support our teachers in continuing to provide students with high-quality and equitable learning opportunities? Faced with so many unknowns, uncertain at the time about how long the closures would last, I quickly realized that patience, grace, and flexibility were going to play a key role in keeping our students healthy, connected to their community, and engaged in learning.
Support the Whole Child with Flexible Policies

Clark County School District serves 320,000 students, 70 percent of whom qualify for Title 1 funding. For these students, the pandemic threatens not only their physical health, but their mental health as well. While this issue has been a concern for decades in Clark County, the pandemic would mean increased stress for many of our students already vulnerable to the effects of unemployment, food insecurity, and other high-risk factors. Within this reality, I felt the pandemic could be an opportunity for my staff and our community to respond to these pre-existing issues with a fresh perspective. The old way of doing things, that was not helping all children, needed to change for some time. So, I challenged my staff to examine everything from grading and attendance policies to general course requirements. I knew we could not come back from this unchanged; shame on us if we did, because we have needed to find better solutions to these old problems for a long time. We have an opportunity to come back differently, and I wanted us to focus on that.

Empowering Educators with Patience

While our plans for remote learning do not look the same in every school, we have had to ask ourselves how to provide all teachers — those in our rural, suburban, and urban neighborhoods — with professional learning opportunities that meet them where they are, accommodating their already busy schedules. Because of our geographic diversity, which has required some schools to be completely virtual, while others could keep some class time on-site, our teachers were learning different skills at the same time. We quickly realized that we could capitalize on each teacher’s experience through virtual Professional Learning Communities that allowed teachers to learn from one another. Besides helping teachers learn from one another, we have arranged for several of our partners, such as Achieve3000, to host live sessions for online learning that we record, and then keep accessible ondemand, for teachers who would like to learn at their own pace. We work with our partners to customize these professional learning sessions, to meet the specific needs of each of our schools, so that teachers are not only learning how to use a new tool, but specifically how that tool can support their instructional needs.

Clark County School District serves 320,000 students, 70 percent of whom qualify for Title 1 funding. For these students, the pandemic threatens not only their physical health, but their mental health as well.
Superintendent Jara at a school reading a book to small children
While these activities are important, I feel it has been important for us to frame our expectations for students and teachers with the understanding that none of us have a playbook for how to do this, and we are going to need to be patient with ourselves, and one another. Academic rigor is important and necessary, but no more so than relationships. We will not get it right, off the bat, so let us take care of one another. If our district leadership can support our principals so they can better support teachers, our teachers will take care of our students. This is hard work and adding extra pressure will not make it easier or more effective.

Wrapping Your Arms Around Families with Grace

We have delivered over nine million meals to our families since schools closed last spring. That is equivalent to approximately 30,000 meals a day, seven days a week. This kind of work does not happen without the effort of an entire community coming together. In Clark County, through the Governor’s task force, we have been able to collaborate closely with the business community, and community partners such as the United Way, Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA, and the Department of Children and Family Services to provide a foundation of support for struggling families. This means bringing our Tier III kids that need face-to-face instruction to school as often as possible. When circumstances are strained at home with nine or 10 children living in a two-bedroom apartment, we are knocking on doors, gathering information about the family’s well-being, and coordinating needed resources.

Superintendent Jara at the podium at the Heart of Education awards ceremony
Besides these targeted efforts directed to care for our families most at-risk, we stay connected to the broader community via town hall meetings, listening sessions, and Q&A sessions in English and Spanish via Facebook Live. Obviously, my parents are unemployed because of the casinos shutting down, so there is an enormous impact for us. We all must work to keep the lines of communication open, and contributing to conversations about businesses reopening and the welfare of families has been essential. We have worked with many of our major employers like MGM, Caesars, and Westgate to host training opportunities for parents, and teach them how to access Canvas to monitor students’ work and progress.
Because of our geographic diversity that has required some schools to be completely virtual, while others could keep some class time on site, our teachers were learning different skills at the same time.
Superintendent Jara speaking at press conference
Superintendent Jara talking with a student at an elementary school
We have delivered over 9 million meals to our families since schools closed last spring. That is equivalent to approximately 30,000 meals a day, seven days a week. This kind of work does not happen without the effort of an entire community coming together.