There was a brief period of worry among education reformers in Nevada that their progress could stall once Heath Morrison left his post as superintendent of the Washoe County School District.
That worry vanished Friday morning when Pedro Martinez, deputy superintendent of the Clark County School District, was selected from five finalists to be the next leader of Nevada's second-largest education system. Mr. Martinez had served as deputy superintendent under Mr. Morrison before leaving for the identical post in Clark County last year. Mr. Morrison's decision to accept a superindentent position in North Carolina created the opportunity for Mr. Martinez to take charge of a school district for the first time.
Mr. Martinez, a certified public accountant with a master's degree in business administration, is a rising star in public education because of his background in budgets and analysis. He is honest about shortcomings and, like Mr. Morrison and Clark County Superintendent Dwight Jones, a big believer in raising expectations. During his one year in Clark County, he "directed our efforts to raise the academic bar for all students," Mr. Jones said, work that helped produce a one-year, 6 percent increase in the system's graduation rate. Mr. Martinez was also a finalist for the superintendent's post in Philadelphia.
It's Nevada's gain that he decided to remain in the state. The reform-minded Mr. Martinez brings a familiarity with Nevada's education policies and political landscape, and he's up to speed on what Gov. Brian Sandoval and new state Superintendent James Guthrie hope to accomplish.
Another good sign that Washoe County is on the right path in hiring Mr. Martinez: The state's teacher unions are extremely unhappy with the hire. The unions and their loyalists have been highly critical of Mr. Martinez's appointment to administrative jobs because, in their opinion, someone who has never been a classroom teacher can't possibly make major decisions for a school system.
In fact, Nevada's schools need more outsiders with a private-sector skill set, not fewer. The insular culture of education systems, which accumulate and advance people of identical backgrounds and training, is part of the reason achievement has languished. Reforms, by themselves, aren't enough to shake things up. We need people who believe in the reforms to make them work.