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July 7, 2015

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Elaine Wynn bemoans state of education in Nevada, lobbies for national search for new superintendent


Elaine Wynn chats with Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich after speaking at Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce Business Power Luncheon at the Rio Wednesday, May 8, 2013.

Elaine Wynn Speaks at Las Metro Chamber of Commerce Luncheon

Elaine Wynn waits to be introduced during a Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce Business Power Luncheon at the Rio Wednesday, May 8, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Elaine Wynn called on the Clark County School Board to conduct a national search for its next superintendent during her keynote address Wednesday at a Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

The president of the Nevada State Board of Education urged Clark County school leaders to cast as broad a net as possible in their superintendent search.

"All of us in business know that finding the best possible talent to lead our companies and staff them is the single most important decision we make," said Wynn, who has served as director of Wynn Resorts since 2000. "In my opinion, how we go about this (search) will greatly decide the future of education in our state."

Clark County School Board members have been conducting community meetings for the past two months to seek public input on who should replace Dwight Jones as superintendent after he resigned abruptly in early March, citing personal reasons. The board decided to conduct a national search but postponed it after intense community pressure to hire locally.

In her speech to nearly 400 business and community leaders — including three Clark County School Board members — Wynn argued a national search need not rule out consideration of "in-house, home-grown local talent."

However, Wynn was adamant the search should not be restricted to local administrators and principals.

"We need leaders who will insist on hiring, training and maintaining the most effective teachers and principals; who support our efforts to measure them fairly, but will push to have them removed if they cannot do the job," Wynn said, to applause from the audience. "The only job protection should be meritorious service, and they should not be protected at the expense of children."

Wynn, a longtime advocate for education who was recently appointed as state school board president by Gov. Brian Sandoval, called upon Nevadans to "embrace bold experimentation" that she believes will improve Nevada's struggling education system.

"I hate to remind everyone of our dreadful statistics. It's painful to recount," Wynn said, listing Nevada's high dropout rate, low graduation rate and substandard test scores.

Wynn cited Education Week's Chance-for-Success Index, which found that a child born in Nevada had the worst chance in the nation for growing up to be a success.

"That's terrible," Wynn said. "If we were to equate the performance of Nevada's students with a (financial) statement, we would be in bankruptcy."

The former chairwoman of former Gov. Jim Gibbons' Education Reform Blue Ribbon task force, which made recommendations for reform efforts to the Legislature in 2011, Wynn said she traveled across the country, studying school-reform efforts in cities such as New Orleans; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Los Angeles.

What Wynn found was a recipe for a successful educational turnaround: community engagement, strong leadership, talented educators and plenty of school funding, she said.

"Without talented educational leadership and adequate financial resources, the prognosis is bad and the system is doomed," Wynn said.

In recent years, Wynn said she was encouraged by the "infusion of new educational leadership" that has begun to transform education in Nevada. She cited former Washoe County Superintendent Heath Morrison, former Clark County Superintendent Dwight Jones and former Nevada Superintendent Jim Guthrie among those transformational leaders, complimenting them for their service.

For a variety of reasons, these leaders are no longer here, Wynn said. However, the state has "strong and dedicated professionals" in Washoe's Pedro Martinez, Clark County's interim Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and in Nevada's interim Superintendent Rorie Fitzpatrick, Wynn said.

"They are all marshaling much of the work begun by (Guthrie, Jones and Morrison), and we're counting on them to forge ahead," Wynn said.

Wynn commended the "many gifted teachers and principals" in Nevada, as well as community partners such as Teach For America and Communities in Schools (of which she is currently the national board chairwoman), for making "some incremental progress" in raising student achievement.

However, not enough is being done, especially for minority students — which constitute the majority of students in Nevada, Wynn said.

"Our melting pot is curdling," Wynn said. "The achievement gap between the haves and have-nots is widening. … There is a sense of urgency to break the cycle of poverty, and we know it can only be done through education."

Echoing Sandoval's education platform, Wynn encouraged business and community leaders in supporting more literacy programs for English-language learners, expanding full-day kindergarten, eliminating social promotion and promoting school choice for parents and students.

Wynn warned changing Nevada's education system would be challenging. "This system can be so resistant to change," she said.

However, Nevada must change, Wynn said. To effectively reform schools, Nevada lawmakers must allocate more funding for education, she said.

"Conceptually speaking, we are grossly underfunded," she said, to applause from the audience.

Wynn recalled a dinner she recently had with education philanthropist Eli Broad, founder of the Broad Superintendent Academy and the Broad Prize for Urban Education. Broad asked Wynn what Nevada's annual per-pupil expenditure was.

"When I told him, he just shook his head," Wynn said. "And he said, 'You'll never get anywhere with that.'"

Wynn touched upon a variety of school reform efforts, including the Common Core curriculum and its new computerized tests ("which will be a whole other nightmare, I fear," she said.). However, in the end, business and community leaders must step up and become part of the conversation around improving education, Wynn said.

"There are more consequences for inaction than action," she said. "For me, until we can impact all of our students, I just pray that we can save one kid at a time, but time is running out."

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  1. Why is Elaine Wynn's opinion relevant to anything at all? It's not as though Nevadans have been quite happy with education and she's suddenly challenging the status quo.

    Changing superintendents isn't going to magically fix the state of CCSD. And if anyone is bemoaning the lack of talented workers in Las Vegas, education is NOT going to bring resolution to that problem. As far back as the late 1990's the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations warned against "brain drain" in Southern Nevada. It wasn't that you didn't have intelligent, well-qualified job applicants in Vegas, it was that they didn't have anywhere to lay down roots thanks to real estate. Prices were steadily going up, and for young individuals and especially families, they were being priced out of homes. It's not that they WANTED to leave Vegas, it's just that they couldn't afford to stay. Enter other states such as Texas that have been siphoning off labor and businesses for these very reasons.

    When smart people leave, they take their smart kids, and their booster funding for education with them. Southern Nevada has already chased off a generation of talented workers. Even if you *COULD* suddenly get every student to graduate and go off to college, this is not an environment where their families will flourish. You're going to loose them and be right back to square one.

    An external injection of intelligent students needs to come into the system, and then you have to keep Nevada attractive to them as a home in order to perpetuate and environment of quality education. Until you can provide decent jobs AND affordable & stable housing, none of this is going to happen. Foreign investors look great on paper for the real estate market. But every home that some out of state investor snatches up, means thats one less place for a family to live. Every single dollar of profit that a "flipper" makes reselling a home is a dollar taken out of the local economy because they buyer doesn't get to spend it. And in many cases a quality buyer may not even buy the home at all.

    Education goes WAY beyond a single superintendent.

  2. With so many that couldn't speak english you would have thought that a Half day pre kindergarten would have been instituted a couple of years ago. Maybe we were too busy allowing the mortgage crisis while many pockets were filled during all of this even the casino's. Education wasn't a worry and it shows . Legislators and Unions filled their pockets with salaries and entitlements without ever thinking that they had to provide quality services with the money they filled their pockets with. How much money will Wynn put into the Community Engagement Funds?

  3. Thank you Mr. Rooney for your astute comments.

    These people are so good at foaming in the mouth. These are the same people who pushed for reforms that have nothing to do with student achievement. Bullying teachers into submission only drives the best of the best out of Nevada.

    Madam Wynn visited school districts around the country: New Orleans? Syracuse? Los Angeles? She found: community engagement, strong leadership, talented educators, and plenty of school funding. DUH! You have to travel the whole country to know that?

    Our community, of which she is supposed to be one of the leaders, thrive on greed. CCSD was short a mere 65 million, and a community who sucks wealth from people cannot even offer help, the district had to take it out from teachers' salary. Yet the same leaders contribute more than double that amount to political campaigns. I don't care where they spend their millions, but please spare me the hypocrisy. A community who suck wealth by squeezing people out of their homes; casinos who cannot even give parents a day off to attend parent-teacher conferences; a community who is so child-unfriendly that residents have to advise friends and relatives not to move here and many talented teachers had to leave because of it?

    She has billions and power. She and her rich friends can make a difference. Why don't they stop posturing and do something about it?

    No. They won't. Education is a billion dollar business. They want to bring it to the ground so they can come in as saviours and control it then push their agenda of privatization.

    If Guthrie, Jones, and Morrison were such exemplary leaders, why did they abandon ship amidst a storm? She simply wants to bring in the same carpet baggers they can control.

    As I said, spare me the hypocrisy.

    I wish LVSun would do more than cover only the surface. I challenge you who call yourselves 'journalists' do a little bit more of investigating. Or, are you in on it too.

  4. Gee Elaine, you and Steve and Sheldon and the Fertitta Bros et al have made your quite lucrative bed and now [mixing methaphors] the results have conspired to bite you on your butts. You have made a gazillion on an industry which exploits the marginally educated by the thousands. Now you dabble in community building thinking that hob-nobbing with politicians and the gliteratti will somehow magically transform what you, yourself, have had a hand in creating and maintaining. Major kudos to Guthrie, Jones and Morrison? Your pets? Wait, they're all gone, smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall and the folk who remain are the ones who have been toiling in the trenches for years. Give it a rest, maybe the Kardashians need some advice.

  5. I believe Einstein said the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. My memory may be wrong but it seems the previous three superintendents were all selected by a national search and have any of them stayed in the job? Also, a national search is not going to attract the current leader of the LA, NY, Miami Dade, or Houston school districts. It will only attract lower level professionals from those similar sized school districts. Why not try someone from within Nevada and hopefully the CCSD who is familiar with the issues and problems of education in Nevada. If Casino owners are concerned about the state of education in Nevada, how about stepping up and offer a gaming tax increase dedicated to education funding.

  6. So far the Commenters here are spot on. Maybe it would serve Ms. Wynn well to spend a month as a classroom teacher and experience what is really going on, and all the dodging of political bullets our educators have to do, each and every day, just to survive.

    Oh, and while we are at it, let's talk about "What Wynn found was a recipe for a successful educational turnaround: community engagement, strong leadership, talented educators and plenty of school funding," based on what, her own personal, in the schoolhouse trenches, or from the sidelines experiences? It is quite ironic to say "plenty of school funding" and not state WHERE the funding is resourced, don't you think? What is "community engagement" according to Ms.Wynn? All around the Las Vegas valley, educators are routinely bashed and rarely see the consistent support of parents of school children.

    So why is it that there appears to be the plea for "strong leadership" according to Ms.Wynn? Why is it that those who were hired from "nation-wide superintendent searches" not still here? What drove them away, or kept them from STAYING for the duration until the job was done??? Who is responsible for supporting and keeping them on?

    Where are the solutions? What is your plan? It is sort of like this: either you are a part of the solution, or part of the problem. Thank you.

    Blessings and Peace,

  7. Obviously, any wealthy person or person married to a wealthy person is an education expert. Let's do whatever Ms. Wynn says.

  8. I must be feeling snarky today...I just had this overwhelming sense of "noblesse obilge".....oooppps, sorry, that should be "oblige"

  9. AS long as we continue to allow the wealthy 1% to fund our elections and to own large news media despite recognized flagrant conflict of interest, the problems with our schools along with our other problems will remain amongst us. Fair news media reveals problems, reminds us of past mistakes, offers possible solutions and keeps such in the public attention until citizens are finally urged to address them. Show me a nation that once had fair media, that conscience of nations, and I'll show you a nation that once had better government and better society. Our nation today is textbook example of bad government and conflict of interest!

  10. Simply put Robert Rooney is insane if he thinks for a second that Nevadans are happy with public education!
    I find it refreshing on one hand that the hard liner Elaine Wynn calls the issue as it really is and then there is the patronizing and self admiring phony Sandoval piping in with his two cents, when he has to be told by special interests just what side of every issue he will take a stand on. I wonder if Elaine Wynn would support a reasonable increase in the gaming tax as part of the solution to Nevada's education problem? Nevada casinos pay about six percent in gaming taxes while other states receive as much as twenty-five present gaming taxes from their casinos.
    One thing for sure has to be done, forget about the superintendent, CCSD is too big and needs to be broken up followed quickly by pink slipping all of the bottom feeders at the CCSD Board of Trustees.

  11. A national search is stupid and a waste of money.

    Superintendents DON'T make a school system work, they just suck millions of dollars from them.

    The real problem is motivation of the students.

    What future do they have? Flipping burgers?

    There are no high paying jobs that really require an education. There is an over supply of college graduates right now. 50% of college graduates are under employed or unemployed.

    The real problem is too many people. What we need to do is educate people that ZPG is necessary if they ever want a future for their kids.

  12. How about this, rather spending a couple hundred grand to hiring another out of market highly paid bureaucrat, hire a teacher and make them superintendent for two years. After that, replace them with another teacher.

    Have interested teachers apply to go in a lottery. Take ten teacher's names from that lotto bucket. Have Mrs. Wynn, Tony Hshieh and a random PTA member interview them. Let them pick the next superintendent. Take these people that are on the front lines of education here in our community and see what they can do. I know a few great teachers here in LV that would do a great job with such responsibility.

    I mean, really, why not? Asking an outsider to come in and get anything done has so far proven to be a waste of time, money and energy. How about some new ideas, instead of the same old ones that have failed?

  13. Why would we care what she thinks? What qualifies her opinion - other than being rich?

  14. What Ms. Wynn fails to articulate is that these out of town hires have simply not stuck around to finish the job they've been hired to do. But, yes, let's search Colorado again. Aye yi yi.

  15. The CCSD can search all over the globe and pay the highest salaries to a new supertindent they feel is the best and brightest.

    But not until the politicians start to listen and act on what is being suggested by a new supertindent to get CCSD out of the hole that has been dug for our schools, will anything change.

    If we don't listen and act then expect the status quo to remain the same.

  16. So Elaine Wynn has determined that Nevada doesn't have a person with the talent to be Superintendent. Why didn't we go on a nation wide search to fill her position? Oh, she is a good friend of Brian Sandoval. Now does Elaine have a good friend outside the State that might work?

    The real objective is to find someone who will take orders from the Nevada elite and ignore the parents and teachers that live here.

    The biggest obstacle in the education of Nevada's children is their parents and home environment, not the Superintendent. TV on most of the night, movies on Netflex, sports programs, games, an occasional shouting match over the shower and then pizza for dinner. Undisciplined environment, artery clogging meals and no space, room or environment to study...and no one at home who does study. That's not the fault of the Superintendent or their requirement to change.

    If Nevada doesn't have the talent inside it's State boarders for Superintendent, then it makes more sense to start with a National wide search for a Governor. That would solve a lot more problems then just the schools.

  17. Maybe we should include a Nationwide search for the Board of Regents as well.

  18. I think that the Acting Super should be made permanent, and the national search suspended permanently. Elaine Wynn should donate $1 Billion to help improve the Clark County Schools. Then she should resign from the State Education Board.

  19. Look at this woman's namesake elem. school, Elaine Wynn Elem, their test scores have decreased every year, etc., all parents hate this school because of ignorance of principal, yet this woman keeps giving her two cents about how the whole ccsd should operate, she's a joke.