Skorkowsky. Pat Skorkowsky.
You may have trouble pronouncing the name but have likely heard it during the past couple of months, even if you can’t place it.
As of Monday, he is in control of the county’s largest employer, the Clark County School District, and its $2 billion budget for educating 311,000 students. Don’t blame yourself if you’re not familiar with Skorkowsky or his track record as a 25-year district employee.
The Clark County School Board, which usually puts superintendent candidates through the wringer, didn’t request one report on Skorkowsky’s performance at schools he managed during his rise, according to School Board President Carolyn Edwards.
She said board members could look at mountains of raw data detailing accountability and student performance at campuses Skorkowsky supervised either as a principal or administrator.
“Of course, we know him,” Edwards said.
The senior board member, Edwards is eight years into her tenure. Three board members — Patrice Tew, Lorraine Alderman and Erin Cranor — are in their first term.
While Skorkowsky is in his 25th year with the district, he has been in the board’s direct view only for the last two months as interim superintendent. Before that, he was deputy superintendent of instruction for seven months.
Still, board members named Skorkowsky superintendent on May 21, asking him after the fact for a letter of intent.
His résumé was made public after his controversial appointment.
A second vote giving him the job was cast by the board Monday after complaints were made to the Nevada attorney general’s office that the initial vote violated the open meeting law because it wasn’t properly noticed.
“I have had more intensive interview processes,” said parent Carrie Russo, who urged board members on Monday to “slow down, take a breath” before filling such a “big job.”
But in a second unanimous vote, the School Board asserted its certainty.
“I have never felt stronger or more sure of a decision for putting a person in the superintendent seat,” board member Chris Garvey said Monday.
Board members have defended their choice with depictions of Skorkowsky as “a known quantity” who “has roots.”
“He knows us,” several board members said.
AN ATYPICAL DISTRICT EXPERIENCE
The schools that Skorkowsky has overseen as principal, academic manager and associate superintendent have all been in the southeast Las Vegas Valley and are atypical in a district that serves large populations of low-income and non-English speaking students.
His student populations were largely Caucasian and historically higher achieving. That contrasts with the struggling district as a whole where Hispanics are the largest ethnic group at more than 40 percent of the enrollment and Caucasians make up just 30 percent of students.
Nevertheless, board members have been clear that they need someone who can boost the literacy of the non-English speakers and raise student performance. The board made these students a top priority for Skorkowsky’s administration.
Skorkowsky, who has a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a bachelor’s degree in elementary and early childhood education from Oklahoma State University, entered the district as an elementary school teacher in 1988. He became principal of French Elementary School in 1998, beginning a three-year tenure.
Board member Erin Cranor pointed to French as one of many “islands of excellence” where Skorkowsky’s “footprints still show in the sand.”
During seven years as a district principal, he was assigned to predominately Caucasian schools, such as White and Webb middle schools in Henderson. His schools’ poverty and transiency rates were often roughly half the district average. Those campuses also had small populations of English language learners.
French, for example, historically outpaces the district in student proficiency. More than 20 percent of French students were gifted and talented when Skorkowsky took charge, twice the district rate.
About 60 percent of French students were Caucasian when Skorkowsky was assigned there, compared to a 40 percent district average. Only 6 to 7 percent of students were then English language learners, compared to the district average of 14 percent.
WHAT TEST SCORES SAY
While French students scored above the district average on state tests before, during and after Skorkowsky’s tenure, French scores actually declined while he was principal.
The year before Skorkowsky took charge, the average French student ranked at the 73rd percentile on the TerraNova language test. That dropped to the 63rd percentile during Skorkowsky’s first year, in 1998-99. A 50 percentile ranking on the TerraNova means students are average compared to their peers nationally.
That same year, French’s average percentile rank in science dropped by 5 points. It dropped by 8 points in reading with students’ average ranking only remaining constant at 64 percent in math. In Skorkowsky’s next two years at French, student test results remained flat or worsened. However, the next principal raised student scores in all four subject areas the immediate year after Skorkowsky’s departure.
After French, he took over White Middle School in 2001. The school, where 65 percent of students were white and 3 percent were English language learners, on average ranked better on state tests than the district did by between 4 and 10 percentile points. But, in Skorkowsky’s three years as White principal, student scores were stagnant in reading, math and language, but improved in science.
He opened Webb Middle School in 2005 and, after one year, left the Henderson school to become an assistant regional superintendent and then academic manager for 50 schools in southeast Las Vegas and Henderson.
When asked if his dearth of experience with minorities and second-language students will hinder his ability to improve the group’s lagging performance, Skorkowsky said he is “prepared.”
During an interview he limited to 10 minutes, which gave little time to discuss his track record, Skorkowsky pointed to the Legislature’s allotment of $38 million to Clark County schools for English language learners.
“That will help us immensely in moving forward,” he said, noting that these students will receive more support, even summer school, which isn’t offered free in Nevada. And teachers will receive more training for a challenging student group often years behind in English skills or coming to kindergarten having spoken no English.
As for the details of his agenda, Skorkowsky doesn’t plan on making waves but sticking to the reform plan of his predecessor, Superintendent Dwight Jones, who abruptly resigned in March for family reasons.
“As superintendent, I will stay the course,” Skorkowsky vowed in his five-paragraph letter of intent to the School Board.
However, critics have argued that hiring a longtime district leader will only produce the same poor results of the past. Because the district is the largest in the state, that causes Nevada to be ranked dead last in student performance, according to the annual Kids Count report.
But Skorkowsky contends, “It is very easy for me to not be part of the status quo,” in responding to critics who question his ability to turn around a district that he helped shape as a building-level and central office administrator.
He pointed to his seven months as deputy superintendent under Jones where he “fully bought into Dwight Jones’ vision,” he said.
Board members have been clear that they plan to continue Jones’ work and want a successor who will stay the course. But the board took the “easy way out” by not even looking at anyone else in the district, parent Michael Bluestein said at Monday’s meeting.
“The most important decision a school board can make is hiring a superintendent,” Bluestein said.
Not looking at anyone else or even looking into Skorkowsky’s background was “an abdication of your responsibility,” Bluestein told board members.
Edwards acknowledged public concerns as “legitimate,” but reiterated the board’s “strong conviction” in hiring someone with intimate knowledge of the district who will continue Jones’ work.
Skorkowsky has agreed to do that.
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.