Why would Kim Wooden, deputy superintendent of the Clark County School District, attend a disciplinary meeting for second-year teacher Jason Wright?
Because Wright is no ordinary teacher. He’s married to Deanna Wright, president of the School Board. He’s received special treatment since before he even became a teacher.
Jason Wright was a district support staffer when he applied to become a teacher through the “alternative route to licensure” program. In 2014, the HR department recommended rejecting his application. Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky overruled that decision and got him admitted.
Fast forward to October 2017. Wright was a fifth-grade teacher at Harris Elementary School. Ra’Niah Sanders, one of his students, said he was angry with the class and threw a desk, hitting her and bruising her leg. The district acknowledges that school police didn’t conduct an investigation.
That kept Wright in the classroom. In March 2018, Jayden Zelaya-Ramos, another of his students, said Wright kicked him in the hand and yanked him up by the collar. School police found that Jayden’s pinkie finger was “swollen and bruised” but ultimately declined to press charges. Wright said he kicked the boy’s hand to protect him from bees.
The school police make decisions about criminal charges. School principals and administrators determine if an incident warrants internal discipline.
According to a source who requested anonymity, Wooden, the No. 2 person in the district, showed up to Wright’s disciplinary meeting. Skorkowsky gets the press, but principals and administrators know Wooden — and how powerful she is. The message was unmistakable: This teacher is connected. Tread carefully.
“You would have to ask Ms. Wooden why she attended the meeting,” said district communications chief Kirsten Searer. “Superintendent Skorkowsky, Dr. (Mike) Barton and Trustee Wright have all stated that they did not interfere in the investigation or treat it differently than they would any other investigation.”
Wooden didn’t return calls seeking comment. Her receptionist twice recommended contacting the district communications office, apparently unaware that the office had already distanced itself from Wooden’s actions. It looks as if Skorkowsky is hanging her out to dry if there’s any fallout.
And there will be fallout. Wooden’s attendance at that meeting makes it implausible that Skorkowksy, Trustee Wright or both treated the Jason Wright situation as they would have with any other teacher.
Wooden’s presence gives the appearance of quid pro quo. In March, trustees settled a harassment complaint filed by Wooden against Trustee Kevin Child. By a 4-3 vote, trustees allowed Wooden to work from home. Did Wooden attend the disciplinary meeting as a favor to Wright, who weeks earlier cast the deciding vote in her settlement?
There’s a troubling corollary here. Skorkowsky has admitted to using his power as superintendent to directly benefit Trustee Wright, who’s been an ally of his. Has Skorkowsky also used his power to attack his political enemies, such as Child? Child has frequently clashed with the superintendent over district policy. Last year, Skorkowsky banned Child from school buildings over charges of harassment that remain vague. Was Skorkowsky doing his job or retaliating?
These are all questions the independent investigator trustees hired three weeks ago should be finding the answers to. Just one problem. “The independent investigator has requested the district assist him to contact witnesses and obtain documents,” said Searer. “The office of the superintendent is providing that assistance.”
The office of an individual who should be questioned in this investigation shouldn’t be providing administrative support. That’s an obvious conflict.
But as the public is learning, there are a lot of things Skorkowsky and other district leaders shouldn’t have done.