School district picks deputy from Reno

Superintendent Dwight Jones’ selection for the next deputy superintendent for instruction is a native of Mexico who has seen how education can "lift a family out of poverty."

As a young child, Pedro Martinez moved with his family to Chicago and became a United States citizen. He was the first member of his "blue collar family" to graduate from both high school and college.

"I want to give the children of Clark County the same opportunities I had," he said.

An alumnus of the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and DePaul University, Martinez, 41, currently earns $179,000 in Reno as the deputy superintendent of the Washoe County School District, which serves 64,000 students.

He is in negotiations with the Clark County School District to succeed Lauren Kohut-Rost as deputy superintendent on May 11.

Martinez currently makes more money than Kohut-Rost, who earns $150,532 a year in supervising academics for the nation’s fifth largest school district with nearly 310,000 students.

"We don’t pay in the same range as Washoe," Jones acknowledged. "We’ll certainly look at other things we can do to offer" Martinez a competitive salary.

Martinez’s appointment must be approved by the School Board. Martinez, who is fluent in Spanish, would be the highest-ranking Hispanic in a district where enrollment is 41 percent Hispanic.

Jones said he believes Martinez would be a "tremendous asset" because of his organizational skills.

"I actually think he’s perfectly suited for redesigning our whole instructional approach," Jones said.

A certified public accountant with a master’s degree in business administration, Martinez said his background is a mix of the academic and financial.

"My strength is bringing people together; putting the structures in place to support them," he said. "I’ve never been a teacher or principal but I work very closely with teachers and principals on a regular basis.

"I have a lot of confidence that there’s a lot of talent in Clark County because some of my best principals and teachers come from Clark County," he added. "I feel there is a large amount of talent there that just needs to be supported."

Martinez began working with large institutions as the director of finance and technology for the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. The parochial schools sparked his interest in education.

He then served as chief financial officer and budget director of Chicago Public Schools for almost seven years. Chicago is the nation’s third-largest school district with more than 400,000 students.

"I was at the table for almost every financial decision that was made," he said. "I got to know the programs and instructional strategies."

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who worked with Martinez when Duncan was the superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, predicted Martinez would "stretch every dollar to do the most for children in the classroom," according to a CCSD statement.

Martinez met Heath Morrison, the superintendent of Washoe County, while they were students at the Broad Superintendents Academy, a management training program with weekend sessions across the nation. Morrison brought Martinez to Nevada in 2009.

His proudest achievement was boosting Washoe’s graduation rate from 56 percent to 63 percent in 2009-10, based on the cohort model, which tracks how many ninth-graders graduate in four years.

Last year a study by a group called America’s Promise Alliance estimated Nevada’s graduation rate at 51 percent.

"I frankly feel that is unacceptable," Martinez said. "The reality is that Clark County represents 70 percent of the students in Nevada. I’m really excited by the opportunity to make an impact on that number."

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

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