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October 4, 2015

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New leader, similar plans: Skorkowsky lays out his vision for School District

Pat Skorkowsky at Editorial Board Meeting

Pat Skorkowsky, Clark County School District superintendent, listens to a question during an editorial board meeting at the Las  Vegas Sun offices in Henderson June 11, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Pat Skorkowsky unveiled his vision for the nation's fifth largest school district on Thursday — and it sounds a lot like his predecessor's plans.

Skorkowsky, who became the Clark County School District's 14th superintendent in May, said he plans to continue the reform efforts started under Dwight Jones. And indeed, much of Skorkowsky's speech before the School Board on Thursday night recalled phrases and ideas previously discussed in the district.

"Together, we will work to ensure every student graduates from high school college or career ready," Skorkowsky said right off the bat, echoing Jones' manta "Ready by Exit."

Skorkowsky, who has 25 years of experience in the district but is untested as superintendent, quickly laid out four key areas of focus for his administration:

1. Academic results will be priority No. 1 for the School District.

Skorkowsky said his goal for Clark County students isn't just to get them to the graduation stage, but for them to exit the system with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in higher education and beyond.

To do that, Skorkowsky insisted that the district must increase its academic rigor, focusing on the higher-level, critical thinking skills demanded by the new Common Core curriculum standards.

The district has seen "some positive indicators of student success," Skorkowsky said. He pointed to the district 2012 graduation rate, which improved by two percentage points to 62 percent.

While Skorkowsky acknowledged the graduation rate is "still much too low," he said the district is working hard to raise the academic bar at all grade levels.

"We're not going to hide behind difficult results," Skorkowsky said. "We're not going to make excuses. We're going to have honest conversations."

2. The School District must develop its human capital: Educators

Every student in the district deserves an excellent teacher, Skorkowsky said. To that end, Skorkowsky said he is working with state education leaders on creating a new, more robust and fair evaluation system for teachers and principals.

"Let's shift our focus to our talent," Skorkowsky said. "We spend 90 percent of our budget on employees. Our people are our best resources."

Although state law requires a new evaluation system for teachers and principals, Skorkowsky wants to expand that accountability system to all employees, including support staff and central administrators.

"We're not going to let anybody off the hook," Skorkowsky said. "Adult success must be defined in terms of student success."

However, the evaluation system mustn't be punitive in nature, but encourage teachers to continuously improve their teaching, Skorkowsky said. The district will need to figure out how best to incentivize quality teaching and reward its best teachers, he added.

"People matter," Skorkowsky said. "As we work toward excellence in academics and operations, we must show a spirit of caring and 'growing' our employees so they can build a successful and satisfying career in the district."

3. As a minority-majority school system, the district must focus on equity and diversity of its staff and students

Skorkowsky said he hopes to cultivate a welcoming environment for students, staff and parents within the district's 357 schools.

The district must improve its diversity efforts in the hiring of teachers, Skorkowsky said. While more than three-quarters of Clark County schoolteachers are white, the vast majority of their students – 70 percent – are from minority backgrounds.

In addition to boosting its ranks of minority teachers and administrators, Skorkowsky said the district must also encourage its educators to work in Clark County's lowest-achieving schools. Throughout the system, teachers must be trained to deal with different cultures as well as different language barriers.

Only then will the district be able to reduce its achievement gap between different student groups and address the overrepresentation of minority students in its discipline system, Skorkowsky said.

The district's diversity efforts must extend beyond race to include other student groups, such as those with disabilities, Skorkowsky added.

"There is no excellence without equity," he said.

4. The district will continue its emphasis on "return on investment."

Skorkowsky is currently reviewing all of the district's initiatives and programs with an eye on "effectiveness in relationship to associated cost."

Those initiatives that fail to deliver adequate improvement in student achievement will no longer be funded, Skorkowsky said. On the other hand, programs that are showing results will be expanded, he added.

The district is looking at new technologies to set better benchmarks and measure its progress, Skorkowsky said.

"We are stewards of a $2.1 billion taxpayer-funded budget," Skorkowsky said. "Our responsibility is great, especially in difficult times. … We cannot continue to throw money at programs that do not produce results."

Skorkowsky plans to work with the seven-member School Board in August to develop a more comprehensive vision and plans for the district. He urged the board and the public to hold him accountable to his "lofty goals."

"We can't afford to wait," Skorkowsky said. "We can't afford to let our students wait on the sidelines."

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