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Students zero in on education at Mayors Prayer Breakfast

For a group of about 200 high school students, their Nov. 15 breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

Students from across the valley met with teachers and public officials for the 2012 Mayors Prayer Breakfast. The Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada organized the event at the Texas Station, 2101 Texas Star Lane.

Also in attendance were Dwight Jones, Clark County School District superintendent; Carolyn Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas; Andy Hafen, mayor of Henderson; Roger Tobler, mayor of Boulder City; Pamela Goynes-Brown, mayor pro-tem of North Las Vegas; Susan Brager, Clark County commissioner; and others.

After the breakfast and a candle-lighting ceremony, Jones, the event’s keynote speaker, talked about the importance of college and leaving a positive legacy behind. Every student remembers that one teacher who had a profound effect on them, he said, but they also remember the bad teachers.

Jones grew up in rural Kansas, and after graduating from high school, he told his father he did not want to go to college but wanted to be a farmer instead. Jones’ dad indulged his son’s wishes, waking him up at 3 a.m. to start work, which lasted until midnight, Jones said. After three days, he told his dad he wanted to go to college.

Jones ended his speech by telling students to start saving for retirement early on. He said he wished he had listened to that good advice when he started teaching at 21.

Students then had an hour of open mic time to grill any of the public officials. Boys and girls in formal attire focused most of the questions on education and directed them at Jones.

"These are tough questions," Jones said after the first few. "And thank you for the opportunity to answer them."

Daniela Sanchez, the senior student body president at Valley High School, 2839 S. Burnham Ave., asked Jones what the school district and state are doing to make graduation rates comparable to other states and his stance on teacher evaluations being based on student achievement.

Jones said Nevada, and nearly every other state, is working toward a goal of having comparable data, but it is tough to do when many states have different graduation requirements, he said. He also said teachers are not afraid of being evaluated but that it has to be a fair evaluation and based on student growth rather than simply a single test score.

Sanchez attended last year’s breakfast but said this one had more of an impact on her.

"I think it’s because the superintendent was there to answer questions," she said. "This year, the vibe was better; we had a lot of communication."

Students asked how the elected officials would work together with members of different political parties to improve their cities and state. They also asked about marijuana legalization in Nevada in light of recent votes in Washington and Colorado to allow for recreational use.

Jones was one of two on stage who chose to respond. He said he "still (has) a problem with that" and does not "think it’s in our best interest."

Proceeds from the event benefited the Interfaith Council’s Camp Anytown Las Vegas, a program that "empowers youth in leadership skills, human relations and diversity," according to its organizers.

The annual Mayors Prayer Breakfast was founded more than 50 years ago after Las Vegas Mayor Oran Gragson attended a President’s Prayer Breakfast hosted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 702-224-5524.

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