Erquiaga welcomed as new Nevada schools chief

CARSON CITY — Dale Erquiaga, a confidant of Gov. Brian Sandoval, was welcomed Wednesday by the state Board of Education to his first meeting as Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction.

The meeting was a trial by fire of sorts, with about a dozen public speakers questioning Nevada’s adoption of Common Core State Standards for the state’s public school students.

The state Board of Education in October 2010 adopted the standards to ensure that Nevada students are college and career ready. The standards in such subjects as math and language arts are the foundation for curriculum design and instructional practice.

Speakers criticized the standards on various grounds, with some arguing that they are a step backwards or public education in Nevada.

Erquiaga, who was attending the meeting in Las Vegas, appeared unfazed by the lengthy public comment session.

Sandoval last month appointed his former policy adviser to the challenging job of leading Nevada’s public education systems forward in student performance and achievement.

Erquiaga was welcomed to the meeting in Las Vegas by board President Elaine Wynn, who in jest said, “Don’t leave yet,” based on the public comment session.

She recalled Erquiaga’s comments during a July public interview for the job about his upbringing in Fallon and how “this brings him full circle to a dream place” of being able to lead Nevada’s public education systems forward in very challenging times.

“I know that he has got the commitment that all of us here have,” Wynn said.

Erquiaga said in his remarks that his service in the position is “proof that public education works.”

“I am humbled and honored to be here,” he said. “I take this responsibility quite seriously. There are half a million children in our state that depend on us. And I go to bed every night thinking about that.”

Erquiaga has been on the job one week. His first day included a lengthy session on the common core standards and their progress toward implementation in Nevada.

The comments from speakers at the meeting show the need for the department to do a better job of communicating to parents what the standards are all about, he said.

Erquiaga, who has committed five years to the job, is Sandoval’s second appointment to the position. James Guthrie, who held the job for a year, resigned abruptly in March in the wake of disputes with state lawmakers over the merits of class-size reduction programs.

Sandoval pushed for a reduction in class sizes in kindergartens across Nevada as part of his new 2013-15 budget.

Rorie Fitzpatrick, a deputy superintendent at the agency, had been serving as interim superintendent during the search for a replacement for Guthrie. She was also a finalist for the position.

Erquiaga was the Clark County School District’s executive director of government affairs, public policy and strategic planning from 2009 to 2010 before becoming Sandoval’s senior adviser. He worked on education reform issues in the 2011 legislative session. He left the job to be closer to his children in Arizona.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801