Preparing teens for jobs amid a recession is of paramount importance to candidates running for the State Board of Education District 4 seat.
Incumbent Mark Newburn is vying for a third term against two newcomers Rene Cantu, the executive director for the nonprofit Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates Inc. and Vincent L. Richardson, a fifth-grade teacher at Kelly Elementary School and adjunct professor at the College of Southern Nevada.
The board is the governance arm for the Nevada Department of Education and sets standards for students and policy to ensure equal access to education. It also directs money to programs to retain teachers.
With expected budget cuts coming to education funding amid the economic downturn, each candidate has a different approach to address distance learning, the state’s low national education ranking and teacher recruitment and retention.
Newburn, 60, will be running on the same platform that he did in 2012 when Las Vegas was just coming out of the Great Recession: supporting STEM education in an effort to diversify the economy.
“It just happens now the economy is still too narrow, Nevada is going to be hit the hardest (by the recession),” he said. “The choices we make this session lay the groundwork for our ability to respond the next time this happens.”
Additionally, he supports policies that would help recruit and retain teachers and advocates for financial transparency.
When it comes to the pandemic, there are many issues that need to be addressed and Newburn thinks he’s the right person for the undertaking.
“It’s not a great time to have people in these jobs that don’t know what they are doing,” he said.
Richardson, 41, supports increasing opportunities for students to learn about different career fields and trade schools through field trips and lectures and supports expanding opportunities for internships.
A Las Vegas area native, Richardson graduated from Cheyenne High School in 1996 and has a number of degrees including a doctorate in education and a master of arts in teaching.
He said he’s driven to help minority students succeed and is proud to have worked at Williams Elementary School when it went from a low-performing to a high-achieving school, he said.
To address distance learning issues that have arisen during the coronavirus pandemic, Richardson would support a web-based educational platform that students and teachers could use. On the administrative side, he supports high quality training for teachers.
“Teaching from kindergarten to college it opened my eyes in the direction we need to go especially for Nevada,” he said. “My whole life has been devoted to teaching.”
Cantu, 56, has never run for public office, but has a wealth of experience in education as the executive director of Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates a nonprofit focused on students from low-income backgrounds, as well as those who struggle in school because of disengagement absenteeism or poor grades..
He also was appointed to a short stint on the Clark County School District Board of Trustees in 2012.
His top goal is to ensure students are college and career ready.
“We need a school system that is designed to find a pathway out to the middle class and beyond,” Cantu said, adding that he would like to see Nevada students first in line for in-state jobs. “Education shouldn’t tell young people what they can and cannot do, it should empower their potential.”
When it comes to the coronavirus, Cantu believes he would be able to guide the state in its next steps.
“Good leadership is essential after coronavirus,” he said, adding that a major setback in distance learning – that he would like to address – is reaching students in North Las Vegas and rural Nevada.
“We need to not miss a beat,” he said.