Leland Byerly Newcomer, whose innovative approaches shook up the Clark County School District during the 1960s, died April 9 in California after suffering a heart attack. He was 86.
Newcomer, school superintendent from 1961-65, was credited with breathing new life into the district and building community support.
He was the first to break up the school district into five regions, and he gave school principals more autonomy.
“He was an innovator; there’s no doubt about it,” said former Gov. Kenny Guinn, whom Newcomer hired in 1964. “He was a great guy, a tough taskmaster, and kind of a new breed of superintendents coming out at the time.”
Guinn, who was superintendent from 1969-74, said Newcomer was the first to start planning around Southern Nevada’s expected growth.
“I think the school district has pretty much used that model over the years,” Guinn said.
He said Newcomer was also the first to start talking about introducing year-round schools before the idea was popular.
Newcomer was among a handful of superintendents from across the nation to be invited to Washington, D.C., by President Lyndon Johnson for a meeting of leading educators in 1964.
“He was always in the news,” said Joan Greenberg, 56, a lifelong friend of the Newcomer family and counselor at Kesterson Elementary School in Henderson. “I think he kind of got a kick out of ruffling people’s feathers.”
Newcomer’s oldest son, Joel, said his father found widespread community support for schools in Southern Nevada. Voters passed $59 million in school bonds in two years under his leadership.
“He loved challenges, and the bottom line is he always put the kids first,” Joel Newcomer said.
The elder Newcomer was praised in a Dec. 17, 1965, article in Time magazine, which stated that he lowered annual teacher turnover to 14 percent, from 33 percent, and increased teacher salaries 25 percent.
When he left in 1965, he was the highest paid state official in Nevada with a salary of $26,500.
Newcomer went on to head the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and the University of La Verne, both in Southern California. He spent the rest of his life working as a consultant for school districts and school boards.
Services will be at 3 p.m. May 12 at Church of the Brethren, 2425 E. St., La Verne.