Published Tuesday, May 21, 2013 | 8:15 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, May 22, 2013 | 1:30 a.m.
The Clark County School Board unanimously appointed Pat Skorkowsky as superintendent of the nation's fifth-largest school district on Tuesday night.
Skorkowsky became Clark County's 14th superintendent after School Board members overwhelmingly rejected to contract with a national search firm. That decision came after more than two months of public input meetings and surveys, which found wide public support for hiring locally.
School Board members approved 7-0 to open new contract negotiations with Skorkowsky, a 25-year veteran educator who rose through the district ranks from first-grade teacher to deputy and interim superintendent. The board did not consider any other candidate over the objection of School Board President Carolyn Edwards, who ultimately was the only advocate for conducting a national search.
During an hourlong interview, School Board members commended Skorkowsky's tenure in the district and his familiarity with the challenges facing the School District. They peppered Skorkowsky with questions, such as whether he can make tough decisions on budget and staffing and how he plans to boost minority student achievement — among the lowest in the nation.
"We've blamed the home and the family (for poor student performance)," Skorkowsky said, echoing his mantra of "No excuses." "We can't do that anymore. My job is to make sure that every student is successful."
Skorkowsky said he understands the district's changing demographics, and pledged to educate all students, especially black and Hispanic students. He said he plans to place renewed focus on the district's 54,000 English-language learner students, who posted a 28 percent graduation rate in 2010.
"Language is not a barrier to intelligence," Skorkowsky said. "It's a barrier to the curriculum."
Skorkowsky also called for the School District to come up with better ways to engage parents in their children's education. He said he plans to be a better listener, and work on providing more resources for teachers.
"We have not done a good job mentoring teachers," Skorkowsky said. "If we don't give teachers what they need, students won't succeed."
Despite his reputation as a "softy," Skorkowsky called for better and more fair teacher evaluations, and said he has never shied away from making tough decisions, not renewing several probationary teacher contracts during his time as district administrator.
The School District will need more resources from the state to continue its reform efforts, Skorkowsky said, adding he is not afraid to lobby for more funding.
"We have to do better by our students and the Legislature needs to do better by our district," Skorkowsky said.
The majority of School Board members seemed eager to heed the calls of many teachers and community members, who have lobbied for Skorkowsky almost immediately after former Superintendent Dwight Jones resigned in March.
Many in the public said they felt hurt by Jones' sudden departure just halfway into his four-year contract. Jones' transformative tenure was characterized by fast-paced reform efforts and a tumultuous relationship with the local teachers union.
School Board members said they sought a candidate who could help the district heal from the rapid changes over the past two years and repair its strained relationship with teachers, many of whom have left the district in droves.
"Already, (teacher) morale is coming up," said School Board member Chris Garvey, who publicly endorsed Skorkowsky last month. "We have had plenty of time vetting (Skorkowsky) in the past 25 years. I don't need any more. It's time to fish or cut bait."
Edwards, however, was reluctant in appointing a superintendent immediately. She expressed "angst" over choosing a leader of a $2.1 billion institution without considering other local and regional candidates.
Edwards argued that there ought to be some procedure to vet multiple candidates to see if they are capable of negotiating with employee unions during tough financial times. The public must be given a chance to weigh in on local candidates, she added.
"We have to do our due diligence in sorting out whether (Skorkowsky) is the right decision," Edwards said, in protest. "This is too fast for me."
School Board members Erin Cranor, Chris Garvey and Linda Young pushed to appoint Skorkowsky immediately, saying that decision reflected the will of the people. They worried that a local or regional superintendent search would be too distracting and "jeopardize" their efforts to improve the struggling district, which graduated 62 percent of its seniors last year.
"We need to do something now," said Young, who previously took issue with the fast pace with which the board was choosing a search firm. "We need to move the dial now, because our children can't wait."
Skorkowsky's appointment was buoyed by his strong support from the local teachers union, who had fought the district over contract negotiations under Jones' tenure. Outgoing Clark County Education Association President Ruben Murillo said he looked forward to a more "collaborative" relationship with the School District.
"We would be very comfortable working with Pat on a lot of school reform issues," Murillo said. "It's time to stop the bleeding and start the healing."
The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, which had been pushing the district toward a national search, expressed disappointment in the School Board's decision to eschew casting a wide net for superintendent candidates. However, in the end, they pledged their support for Skorkowsky.
"It's important that our community moves forward," said Paul Moradkhan, the chamber's director of government affairs, adding that the new superintendent must continue to champion reform efforts.
Although Edwards expressed some hesitation at first, by the end of the 3 1/2-hour meeting, she said she came to terms with her decision to ultimately support Skorkowsky's appointment.
Very few outside superintendent candidates would be willing to continue Jones' reform programs and initiatives, Edwards said, adding she was pleased that the business community has pledged its support for Skorkowsky.
For the new superintendent, his trajectory from first-grade teacher to superintendent overseeing more than 311,000 students has been a longtime dream realized. Skorkowksy said he never imagined growing up in a small Oklahoma town that he would lead one of the largest school systems in the country.
"I'm humbled, overwhelmed and honored," Skorkowsky said after the meeting. "You never know where you'll end up if you work hard and do your job."