Las Vegas Sun

January 21, 2018

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UNLV official touting her work in D.C. — with her job on the line

While Pamela Salazar is testifying on Capitol Hill today about the importance of training for school leaders, the UNLV Faculty Senate will hear a report on whether the department that provides exactly that kind of training at the university should be eliminated to save money.

Salazar is an assistant professor in UNLV’s Educational Leadership Department. As of late last year, it had 170 students pursuing master’s degrees and 122 students working toward doctorates.

Many of them are part of the Collaborative Principal Preparation Program, a joint venture between UNLV and the Clark County School District designed to ensure that local public schools have the best possible principals — and highly capable successors waiting in the wings.

The precept is that “the principal is the key to a successful school, second only to having a great teacher in the classroom,” Salazar says.

The elimination of the program would be “much more than an appalling loss to UNLV,” Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes says. “It would be a blow to our source of leadership training.”

The timing’s bad too. The Obama administration’s push to reform the federal No Child Left Behind Law focuses heavily on the need for better principals. One of the federal grant programs requires districts to replace the principal and at least half the staff at each failing school. Nevada is eligible for about $22 million if it meets the conditions set out for that program.

But the school district would face the difficult task of finding better matches for the struggling schools, principals who are more prepared to handle the demands of turning those schools around.

Studies indicate that schools with highly qualified principals have better student achievement, and schools where principals receive training in a research university setting also have more productive teachers, says professor Teresa Jordan, chairwoman of UNLV’s Educational Leadership Department. And a recent national report determined selective admissions, intensive mentoring and rigorous coursework are among the hallmarks of high-quality school leadership training. UNLV’s program incorporates all the recommended elements, Jordan says.

“There is a science and an art to school leadership, just as there is to teaching,” Jordan says. “And just like with teachers, school leaders are more successful when they have the knowledge and a theoretical base from which to work.”

So on the face of it, eliminating her department would appear to be yet another example of Nevada sacrificing long-term gains (better school administrators) for a short-term benefit (reducing the university’s budget).

Salazar, who spent 30 years as an educator in the Clark County School District, is to tell the House subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education today that with the strict student achievement benchmarks demanded by No Child Left Behind, principals face ever-greater public pressure to succeed and they must be “skilled in instructional leadership, organizational development, community relations and change management. Ongoing, job-embedded professional development is the key to developing this capacity in all school leaders.”

Salazar is also hoping to help launch a new center at UNLV next year, as part of her work with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She is co-chairwoman of the committee establishing national board certification for educational leaders. The committee plans to open five centers nationally to support principals as they complete the requirements. The UNLV site would serve all educators west of the Mississippi.

But that’s not all that stands to be lost if the department is axed.

The U.S. Education Department is seeking to increase funding for professional development by $350 million, to $3.8 billion, says Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, who serves on the House subcommittee hearing Salazar’s testimony. UNLV and local schools would likely miss out on some of that money if no program exists to support the grant applications.

Salazar says at a time when everyone wants to hold schools accountable for the success or failure of students, “it’s mind-boggling that educational leadership could be on the hit list” at UNLV.

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