Thursday, April 28, 2011 | 10:59 p.m.
Pedro Martinez, who has never taught in the classroom but is credited with helping raise high school graduation rates in Washoe County, was hired Thursday as deputy superintendent of instruction for the Clark County School District.
Martinez, 41, will oversee classroom instruction, becoming a key player in the cabinet of first-year Superintendent Dwight Jones.
Jones has vowed to raise student graduation rates, despite a pending budget cut of as much as $400 million and the possible layoff of at least 2,000 teachers amid the state budget crisis.
Martinez, who is Hispanic, joins Jones, who became Clark County’s second African-American superintendent in December.
Supporters say Jones and Martinez are reflective of the diversification of the Southern Nevada population and the school district’s student population, which is 41 percent Hispanic and 37 percent white.
Martinez, who held a similar position in the Reno-based Washoe County School District, replaces Linda Kohut-Rost, who is retiring.
Sylvia Lazos, a professor at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, spoke in support of Martinez, in part, because of the “cultural affinity” that could come from Hispanic students seeing a native Spanish speaker atop the school district’s hierarchy. Lazos is a member of the district’s Hispanic Roundtable, a panel that provides members with the opportunity to discuss the relationship of the 309,000-student school district with the region’s booming Hispanic population.
Other activists in the Southern Nevada Hispanic community echoed those comments, but they primarily pointed to the credentials of Martinez, a certified public accountant with a master’s degree in business administration. He served as chief financial officer for the Chicago Public Schools when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan headed that city’s school system.
Martinez received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and his master’s degree from DePaul University.
“Three months into this, you’ll say, ‘Wow, what a great hire,’” Jones told members of the School Board, who unanimously approved the hire after a closed-door executive session to finalize the negotiations. “The plans I have for Mr. Martinez will align quite well.”
Martinez will earn $158,795 annually and will receive $27,000 over eight months to aid with moving costs.
School Board member Linda Young, a former teacher and school administrator who recently raised questions about Martinez’s lack of classroom experience, was the first person to speak Thursday in support of his hiring. “We’re all looking forward to working with Mr. Pedro Martinez,” she said.
Martinez will be charged with helping the district increase graduation rates.
The Clark County School District claims a high school graduation rate of 72 percent, but think tanks and universities place the figure closer to 50 percent.
Jones has repeatedly said in public that he has demanded district staff produce an accurate and transparent accounting, noting that its failure to do so has created a crisis of confidence that is plaguing the district in the current budget debate in the Nevada Legislature.
CORRECTION: This story was changed to correct that Dwight Jones is the second African-American superintendent of the school district, not the first, as was originally reported. | (April 29, 2011)