James Guthrie’s mind is full of numbers and statistics, as one would expect after a 52-year career that includes public education consulting for the governments of Armenia, Australia and Hong Kong while teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, and Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University.
But one school statistic stands front and center as he takes on the job of Nevada superintendent of public schools.
“Every three minutes of every school day, a youngster drops out of school in Nevada,” he said, noting how that is two dropouts just since he began talking. “There’s a sense of urgency in that.”
Gov. Brian Sandoval, who supports education reforms modeled on those in Florida, announced Guthrie’s appointment Monday morning. It has the unanimous support of the State Board of Education. On April 2, Guthrie will replace current state Superintendent Keith Rheault, who is retiring shortly after having submitted the state’s application to be exempted from No Child Left Behind requirements by the federal government. Nevada proposes to replace it with its own school-grading system.
“Nevada certainly appears to be moving in the right direction,” said Guthrie, who, at age 75, is taking over the effort to improve one of the nation’s lowest-ranking education systems.
Guthrie’s age and experience will be an asset, agreed Stavan Corbett, president of the State Board of Education, and state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
“He was unanimous for a reason,” Corbett said. “He’s what we need.”
Guthrie’s experience can keep the ball rolling and in the right direction as Nevada undergoes unprecedented reforms in public education, they said.
Guthrie cautioned against abandoning every aspect of No Child Left Behind, which has high standards of accountability and requires schools to report the achievement data for minorities, low-income students and special education students.
He argued that Nevada already has a lot going for it, including the country’s two best school district superintendents: Dwight Jones of the Clark County School District and Heath Morrison of the Washoe County School District.
On top of that, he supported the state Legislature instituting several reforms last session and is on board with Sandoval wanting more.
“There is an extraordinary amount of hope (in Nevada),” said Guthrie, whose salary will be $121,785 a year.
Guthrie has come out of retirement several times to take on new challenges and add to his extensive track record in public education. Guthrie is the senior fellow and director of Education Policy Studies at the George W. Bush Institute, named for the president behind the No Child Left Behind Act.
Guthrie also served as the director of the Peabody Center for Education Policy at Vanderbilt University and editor of the Peabody Journal of Education, and he coordinated the Peabody Education Leadership Series from 1999 to 2009. From 1982 to 1983, Guthrie was dean of the School of Education at Berkeley.
He was an education specialist in the U.S. Senate and consulted for the Senate Subcommittee on Equality of Educational Opportunity, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Guthrie has been honored as a fellow with the American Education Research Association and the Patricia and Rodes Hart Chair of Educational Leadership and Policy.
Guthrie, a published author, has served with 25 state governments and worked with international organizations, such as the World Bank and the Organization of American States.
Guthrie has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in physical anthropology, a master’s from Stanford in educational administration and a doctorate in educational administration from Stanford. He has completed two postdoctoral fellowships, one at Harvard University in economics and education and one at Oxford Brooks College in England.
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@review journal.com or 702-383-0279.