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NEVADA VIEWS: More than a superintendent search

The Clark County School District is again searching for a new superintendent. While a national search is always advisable, it really isn’t about whether the right candidate is internal or external. It’s about the system we have created.

I have lived in Nevada more than 24 years, and my children are graduates of the public schools in Clark County. I worked more than 20 years in the higher education system. During this time period there have been five superintendents (and now six, counting the interim appointment). Three of the five superintendents came from other regions (California, Colorado and Florida), and two were internal.

While each superintendent has sought to make improvements focusing on student success — and there have been improvements — many of the low numbers have not moved substantially. We are deluding ourselves to believe that there is a magic success formula that can be implemented just by hiring the “perfect” outside superintendent.

Our local education leaders attend and present at the same national conferences on improving student success, so there is no shortage of ideas for how things can be improved. Yes, leadership is important, and having a leader who looks at creative solutions will be critical. Equally necessary, however, is finding a leader who has the political acumen and charisma to operate effectively in what has become a highly charged political football otherwise known as the Clark County School District.

We should focus less on the person in the top position and more on the system we have created that fails to achieve the results we want. A large super-district with large schools and class sizes may be cost efficient, but is it effective? Consider the following:

■ How do we promote more entrepreneurial and creative initiatives and better reward teachers and education leaders who improve student success?

■ How do we direct more resources at expanding access to quality evidence-based pre-K education programs that are likely to have significant impact on student success?

■ We know that poverty is a common denominator holding back student achievement. How do we better support and expand programs such as Communities in Schools that focus more attention on the varied needs of students coming from impoverished backgrounds that go well beyond the classroom?

Beyond strategies for improving student performance, we have a severe shortage of qualified teachers. It’s a national problem. This will require a unified approach to fixing compensation structures that fail to retain our best teachers instead of pushing them into administration for higher pay.

It will also require more innovative solutions to develop new teachers, including encouraging district staff and substitutes to pursue teaching degrees, initiatives to expand more regional and national recruitment of students seeking education degrees, perhaps by offering in-state tuition, and expanding programs to identify teaching candidates in high school and provide them with tuition assistance.

Nevada has many studies on what needs to be done. It’s time to focus on developing action plans with accountability and transparency to create the change we want. Finding a superintendent to lead the charge will be the easy part.

Bart Patterson is a principal with Summit Consulting. He is a former president of Nevada State.

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