Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2017

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Sun Editorial:

Pressing ahead for education

New superintendent makes a good start at CCSD, needs community

New Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky is no stranger to the task in front of him. He started his career as a teacher 25 years ago in the district and has seen the incredible growth in its size along with its struggles.

His knowledge of the district will give him a head start. Having worked his way up through the district, he intimately understands the challenges students and teachers here face. He also knows where things are working.

During a meeting with the Sun’s editorial board last week, Skorkowsky made it a point to recognize some of the success in the district and areas in which there was progress and excellence. The test for Skorkowsky will be to build off and expand the successes.

As former Superintendent Dwight Jones’ deputy, Skorkowsky was part of the aggressive work Jones began, and he pledged to continue that effort.

Skorkowsky talked about changing some of the programs that were initiated under Jones because they weren’t producing good enough results. Like his predecessor, Skorkowsky clearly wants to push student achievement ahead, and do so quickly.

“Nobody wants to have their student go through a year of bad instruction,” he said. “No one wants their student to fall further and further behind.”

No one does want that, but it has happened across the district because Southern Nevadans have accepted it. Thankfully, like Jones, Skorkowsky knows the status quo can’t continue.

The district faces some tremendous challenges, and one of them is the stilted debate on education that has created false choices. It is often couched in either-or terms, as in either CCSD needs more money or it needs organizational change.

The two shouldn’t be pitted against each other. There is a need for both, and Skorkowsky has wisely embraced key reform measures as part of a broader effort to improve the schools.

For example, he talked at length about accountability measures, including his support of improving the ways teachers and administrators are evaluated. But he made it clear that teachers and administrators need support to do their jobs effectively, and he discussed ramping up training and mentoring programs to help them hone their skills.

That’s important. Some education critics have made teachers the scapegoat, blaming them for things outside their control, including classroom overcrowding. Even the best teachers can only do so much in an overcrowded classroom or one in need of remedial education. That won’t work. The entire picture needs to be addressed.

In Clark County, any talk of education reform has to include increasing the budget. The funding per-pupil lags well behind national averages, and unfortunately, that won’t change any time soon.

The budget approved by the Legislature and governor added money for students learning English, but that’s about it. So in the next two years, Skorkowsky and his staff will have to be creative to find ways to make things work, and already, the new superintendent is looking at redirecting money to programs that will make the greatest impact.

That won’t be easy, and it will only go so far, but it’s all that Skorkowsky and the district can do. It’s a start, and for Skorkowsky, it’s a good one. But he can’t succeed without support in the community.

Skorkowsky shows himself to be smart and passionate, and he appears ready for the challenge. The question now is whether Southern Nevada is.

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