CARSON CITY — Lisa Cano Burkhead said sacrifices made by her immigrant parents came proudly to mind when she learned she would become Nevada’s 36th lieutenant governor.
“I paused to remember all the sacrifices that my parents had made to make the American dream happen for their kids,” Cano Burkhead, a just-retired Clark County high school principal, said in an interview Tuesday. “It was a pretty emotional moment. It’s truly the greatest honor of my life.”
Her appointment by Gov. Steve Sisolak will become official Thursday with events in Las Vegas and Carson City. She succeeds Kate Marshall, who stepped down in September to join President Joe Biden’s administration as a senior liaison to state governors, and says she plans to run for the position in 2022.
Her mother and father, from Paraguay and Argentina, respectively, arrived in Las Vegas in 1965 with elementary school educations. Her father went to work in the casinos, first as a porter and eventually a blackjack dealer. Her mom started work at Hudson Cleaners before becoming a seamstress at the Las Vegas Hilton, working on productions with performers such as Elvis Presley and Gladys Knight.
Las Vegas was a “very small community” when her parents arrived, she said. “I grew up here with that sense of community and also was raised to always give back to the community that was so good to us.”
As a ninth grader, she helped tutor two students from Ecuador at the principal’s request because the school didn’t have English language classes. The experience lighted a spark. Her parents emphasized education as “the key to my future. So through that experience and upbringing, I then decided to become a teacher.”
She returned to Nevada after graduating from the University of Redlands in California with her teaching credential and dual degrees in English and Spanish. She taught high school English and Spanish in Clark County schools for 10 years and then went into school administration, first as dean of students and assistant principal at Eldorado High School.
She served as chief of staff to the district’s northwest region superintendent before becoming principal of Fertitta Middle School, a post she held for five years. From 2015 until her retirement in July, she was principal at Foothill High School. She now consults, teaching other educators how to build more vital classrooms and better connections with students. In 2016, she was among five district principals who received best-in-class awards for school leadership from the Public Education Foundation.
As Foothill principal, Burkhead “worked tirelessly to improve the culture and climate,” teacher Regan Peterson said Tuesday, raising expectations for student conduct, pushing them to strive and adding more advanced placement and dual credit courses.
“We would be thrilled to have an educator in that position, one who believes in providing the most rigorous and relevant education to our state’s student population,” Peterson said.
Cano Burkhead’s background in education is what brought to her to the governor’s attention and forged their connection, she said. The governor’s team reached out to her and the two first spoke “a few weeks ago.”
“After we had a conversation and we saw that we really philosophically understood what was important to make improvements in our state, that’s kind of how this all came to fruition,” she said. “He really has prioritized education. He understands the importance of education and how it impacts directly the economic development and our economy.”
The pandemic, she said, made it “very clear that we are in a vulnerable situation, and we really do need to focus on diversifying our economy. So when we are recruiting and wanting to pull businesses to our state, the way to do that also is to make sure that we have a top notch public school system so that we can attract businesses and potential families to move here.
“The common thread here is education, and education is an investment that we make in our children that pays dividends through their lives.”
The lieutenant governor’s official portfolio offers no direct role in education policy or administration, but Cano Burkhead said she would use the post to advocate for schools. Besides presiding over the state Senate when the Legislature is in session, the lieutenant governor chairs the state Commission on Tourism and serves on state boards dealing with small business, transportation and economic development.
“Obviously I’m going to use my voice and this seat at the table to lend my expertise and my educational experience from 25 years,” she said, adding that advocating for education “blends naturally” with the position’s official duties.
Cano Burkhead, 50, a Democrat, ran for Assembly in 2002 and earlier served on the Paradise Town Board. In tapping her for the post, Sisolak passed over two Democrats who have announced candidacies for the post, term-limited Henderson Mayor Debra March and Northern Nevada party organizer Kimi Cole.
Announced Republican candidates include Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony, former Treasurer Dan Schwartz, Las Vegas businessman John Miller and Las Vegas activist Mack Miller.
The governor’s office declined to comment on the appointment pending Thursday’s formal announcement.
Staff writer Julie Wootton-Greener contributed.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.