Three weeks into his new job as Clark County School District superintendent, Pat Skorkowsky spoke at the July 23 meeting of the Rotary Club of Las Vegas Summerlin. It was a natural fit, as the club makes education one of its top priorities.
At the TPC Golf Club gathering, he joked about the rocky road to the position, which included his first contract being revoked, then being voted into the position again. He said his hands-on experience at many levels of teaching and administrating helped prepare him.
“When you have somebody who comes in from the inside and is able to work their way up through the system, there are so many things that I see differently from somebody coming in from the outside,” he said. “The good part is that I know where all the dirty laundry is, and I know who put it there.”
Over the past five months, he’s been talking with trustees, community members, the business community and parents to better understand in which direction the district should be going. Skorkowsky said the district needs to focus on academic results. Every parent, he said, should have the expectation that his child will test at a year’s growth, at minimum, from where he tested the previous year.
He said a new teacher and administrator evaluation system is being implemented. It was designed by a state team of leaders from across Nevada working with UCLA. The backbone of learning falls to the staff, he said, and at the helm are principals.
Some principals were good at observing instruction in the classroom and being able to give teachers helpful feedback, he said, while others were more challenged and would need training to better lead their schools.
The second group he plans to address is teachers. They, too, would need specialized training to better do their jobs.
“They have to understand that it’s not about ‘I gotcha.’ It’s about ‘Let’s getcha better and let’s make sure that our students get the best possible (instruction),’ ” he said.
Another goal is implementing more year-round schools. They are necessary, he said, to see students are challenged and summers are not wasted. Another argument is it helps students retain information. That’s needed, he said, as the bar is being raised to prepare young people for today’s world. The learning starts as early as kindergarten.
“I don’t know if you read ‘Frog and Toad’ as a kid,” Skorkowsky said. “That is a book that they are expected to be able to read and comprehend in kindergarten. Kindergarten, remember that, playtime and cookies? Now (they need to) read and comprehend that book by the end of the year.”
Skorkowsky said kindergartners are also expected to listen to “The Wizard of Oz” and answer high-level critical-thinking questions from that book, along with mastering the base 10 system for numbers.
“… That’s scary because we only have kindergarten for 3 hours and 11 minutes at most of our schools,” he said. “So, when you look at what we’re being expected to do, we have to step up our game. We have to do that. I will tell you, we’ve pushed extensively for full-day kindergarten across the state of Nevada because the curriculum that we expect these kids to master, we can’t do it in 3 hours and 11 minutes. It can’t be done.”
He said he’s also working to get kindergarten class sizes down to a ratio of 21 students to one teacher by the end of the 2014-15 school year. It will result in teachers having more time to work with individual students.
“Now that doesn’t mean that we’re going to have full-day kindergarten in every school,” he said. “I wish we did, but we’re on that path because we were able to do that now in 52 more schools this year … We need to be pushing through students higher. Academic results matter because we need to make sure every student in this system graduates and that they are college prepared or career ready. It’s their choice.”
Skorkowsky added that the district needs to ensure that students have that choice and to make sure they have the skills.
“We know from the business community there have been times in the past when they felt like the product we’ve given them has not been top-notch,” he said. “ … And we need to change that.”
Denise Murray, principal of Neal Elementary School, who was inducted as a Rotary member that day, listened closely to Skorkowsky’s presentation.
“What stood out for me was his talk about the STEM programs, the Science and Technology, Education and Mathematics, because that’s what I’m trying to do at my elementary school,” she said. “We’ll have a focus on science and math this year and also on project-based learning, making the children familiar with the 21st-century skills, which they need, and I feel it’s my moral obligation to prepare the students for the 21st century.”
She said skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and cooperation and problem solving needed to be in place before going on to higher education. Murray said staff development was important for those priorities to be properly explored.
“It takes some practice, ” Murray said. “The more they do it, the better they’ll get at it.”
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.