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Skorkowsky appointed CCSD superintendent in unanimous vote

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Paul Takahashi

Clark County Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and Clark County School Board President Carolyn Edwards address the media after the seven-member board unanimously appointed him as the leader of the nation’s fifth-largest school system on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

Updated Wednesday, May 22, 2013 | 1:30 a.m.

The Clark County School Board unanimously appointed Pat Skorkowsky as superintendent of the nation's fifth-largest school district on Tuesday night.

Skorkowsky became Clark County's 14th superintendent after School Board members overwhelmingly rejected to contract with a national search firm. That decision came after more than two months of public input meetings and surveys, which found wide public support for hiring locally.

School Board members approved 7-0 to open new contract negotiations with Skorkowsky, a 25-year veteran educator who rose through the district ranks from first-grade teacher to deputy and interim superintendent. The board did not consider any other candidate over the objection of School Board President Carolyn Edwards, who ultimately was the only advocate for conducting a national search.

During an hourlong interview, School Board members commended Skorkowsky's tenure in the district and his familiarity with the challenges facing the School District. They peppered Skorkowsky with questions, such as whether he can make tough decisions on budget and staffing and how he plans to boost minority student achievement — among the lowest in the nation.

"We've blamed the home and the family (for poor student performance)," Skorkowsky said, echoing his mantra of "No excuses." "We can't do that anymore. My job is to make sure that every student is successful."

Skorkowsky said he understands the district's changing demographics, and pledged to educate all students, especially black and Hispanic students. He said he plans to place renewed focus on the district's 54,000 English-language learner students, who posted a 28 percent graduation rate in 2010.

"Language is not a barrier to intelligence," Skorkowsky said. "It's a barrier to the curriculum."

Skorkowsky also called for the School District to come up with better ways to engage parents in their children's education. He said he plans to be a better listener, and work on providing more resources for teachers.

"We have not done a good job mentoring teachers," Skorkowsky said. "If we don't give teachers what they need, students won't succeed."

Despite his reputation as a "softy," Skorkowsky called for better and more fair teacher evaluations, and said he has never shied away from making tough decisions, not renewing several probationary teacher contracts during his time as district administrator.

The School District will need more resources from the state to continue its reform efforts, Skorkowsky said, adding he is not afraid to lobby for more funding.

"We have to do better by our students and the Legislature needs to do better by our district," Skorkowsky said.

The majority of School Board members seemed eager to heed the calls of many teachers and community members, who have lobbied for Skorkowsky almost immediately after former Superintendent Dwight Jones resigned in March.

Click to enlarge photo

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones answers questions today from media about his resignation, which he announced via email Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Jones reiterated that he was leaving to take care of his ailing mother. School board member Deanna Wright is at right.

Many in the public said they felt hurt by Jones' sudden departure just halfway into his four-year contract. Jones' transformative tenure was characterized by fast-paced reform efforts and a tumultuous relationship with the local teachers union.

School Board members said they sought a candidate who could help the district heal from the rapid changes over the past two years and repair its strained relationship with teachers, many of whom have left the district in droves.

"Already, (teacher) morale is coming up," said School Board member Chris Garvey, who publicly endorsed Skorkowsky last month. "We have had plenty of time vetting (Skorkowsky) in the past 25 years. I don't need any more. It's time to fish or cut bait."

Edwards, however, was reluctant in appointing a superintendent immediately. She expressed "angst" over choosing a leader of a $2.1 billion institution without considering other local and regional candidates.

Edwards argued that there ought to be some procedure to vet multiple candidates to see if they are capable of negotiating with employee unions during tough financial times. The public must be given a chance to weigh in on local candidates, she added.

"We have to do our due diligence in sorting out whether (Skorkowsky) is the right decision," Edwards said, in protest. "This is too fast for me."

School Board members Erin Cranor, Chris Garvey and Linda Young pushed to appoint Skorkowsky immediately, saying that decision reflected the will of the people. They worried that a local or regional superintendent search would be too distracting and "jeopardize" their efforts to improve the struggling district, which graduated 62 percent of its seniors last year.

"We need to do something now," said Young, who previously took issue with the fast pace with which the board was choosing a search firm. "We need to move the dial now, because our children can't wait."

Skorkowsky's appointment was buoyed by his strong support from the local teachers union, who had fought the district over contract negotiations under Jones' tenure. Outgoing Clark County Education Association President Ruben Murillo said he looked forward to a more "collaborative" relationship with the School District.

"We would be very comfortable working with Pat on a lot of school reform issues," Murillo said. "It's time to stop the bleeding and start the healing."

The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, which had been pushing the district toward a national search, expressed disappointment in the School Board's decision to eschew casting a wide net for superintendent candidates. However, in the end, they pledged their support for Skorkowsky.

"It's important that our community moves forward," said Paul Moradkhan, the chamber's director of government affairs, adding that the new superintendent must continue to champion reform efforts.

Although Edwards expressed some hesitation at first, by the end of the 3 1/2-hour meeting, she said she came to terms with her decision to ultimately support Skorkowsky's appointment.

Very few outside superintendent candidates would be willing to continue Jones' reform programs and initiatives, Edwards said, adding she was pleased that the business community has pledged its support for Skorkowsky.

For the new superintendent, his trajectory from first-grade teacher to superintendent overseeing more than 311,000 students has been a longtime dream realized. Skorkowksy said he never imagined growing up in a small Oklahoma town that he would lead one of the largest school systems in the country.

"I'm humbled, overwhelmed and honored," Skorkowsky said after the meeting. "You never know where you'll end up if you work hard and do your job."

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  1. Carolyn Edwards, Ms. Wynn and all the other proponents of forging ahead with a national search have not addressed the problem of these "carpet bagger" outside executives who score a big payday here and simply move on before they get their plan to work. There's good reason to select a local. First on the list is they at least likely have some roots here. What good is the "best" if he doesn't honor his full contract or leaves before the job is done? Then all you do is start over, as we are now picking up the pieces from the Dwight Jones debacle. This was a good vote.

  2. Good move.

    Local schools deserve local solutions from local educators.

  3. Ahhhhh they succumbed to the tried and true Nevada mantra to do everything on the absolute cheap. Our rightful place in last, must be firmly adhered to... the citizenry will not tolerate any effort to excel.

    Nevada solutions to Nevada problems... we don't care how you did it where you came from, we know better than anyone how do it cheap and without results!

  4. I understand where you are coming from TomD but I'm more afraid that this superintendent will be just more of the same. They'll continue to cry for more money, more money, more money and then no results.

  5. I can see both sides having a point here, but what legacy the previous guys left us. Ever since Carlos Garcia we have sought out a culturally diverse person who can relate to our community, a guy from another community. It appears that our supers don't last more than 5 years anyway (except Brian Cram), let the man do his job so we can get it over with.

  6. For those of you who still have children in school here in Clark County, appointing Superintendent Skorkowsky has its benefits during this critical time in Nevada's history: Nevada Lawmakers, local business people, CCSD employee associations, the CCSD School Board, fellow colleagues in education, local parents, students, and the fact he spent the last two years WITH former Superintendent Jones (the extreme reformer) being groomed in the position of Assistant Superintendent, points to this man as being an asset for our school district and our community. People already KNOW him, his experiences on the job, his expectations, and how he rolls. It can't get much better than that as qualifications.

    This is not a great time to have the 77th Nevada State Legislative Session going on and attempt to ply CCSD's interests with a totally strange and unfamiliar person to Lawmakers, CCSD, business people, and community. Superintendent Skorkowsky, has the vital presence and relationships necessary to represent Clark County School District this legislative session, and he also has an open dialog with the community, school employees, and local businesses, as well as students.

    This was both a reasonable and logical move, and the Clark County School Board is to be commended for having the insight and courage to forge ahead. And to Superintendent Skorkowsky, congratulations, good luck, and you will be in my prayers. Stay strong, and forge on! Thank you.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  7. Great choice! This man's already invested in this area and in this school district. Let's see what someone local can do with their hometown!!!

  8. For the record, my comments were made when this story was about the decision not to work through a national search and made previous to the hiring
    of Mr. Skorkowski. I wish him the best... he'll need it around here.

  9. He plans to focus on the more than 54,000 ELL's. What about OUR kids?

  10. Appears that the Board listened to the community and made a decision in line with their expressed wishes. Time will tell if it was correct but the initial responses from a variety of stakeholders seems positive. Big city districts have a hard time retaining superintendents, the average tenure is only 39 months. That is, however, an improvement ....five years ago it was only 28 months. From an organizational perspective it is usually best to have an internal succession plan in place. That should be a function of the Board and top management. A good leader understands that the organization and its mission comes first. I know it is crass to say this but Pat Skorkowsky could be dead in six months....the hand of fate and all that...what then?

    @ Roslenda.....could you define for us 'OUR kids"?

  11. Outstanding choice! I'm sure there will be people that disapprove of the pick but most will embrace the decision. Let's all keep a good thought. Let's all pray for Mr Skorkowsky to make the right decisions.

  12. Get ready for more of the same... He already cemented his future with the Union by saying we can't blame the parents. Just like Obama, he believes its up the school/government to take the place of the parent and raise them the right way...

  13. A bit concerned, but still hopeful. When some commenters say that that board listened to "the community", I worry that they mean "the teachers union". I don't want a super that's constantly battling the teachers, but I also don't want one that is simply their puppet. I'm worried that he's the latter. The teachers aren't always right, and they aren't always wrong. We need someone who has the brains to know the difference, and the guts to take appropriate action.

    I like his "no excuses" mantra. Though the concerns about the parents and community are extremely valid, you have to focus on what you CAN do (realistically), and not worry about what you can't do. He has limited financial resources, so he has to pick and choose the most cost-effective initiatives.

    We'll see how it goes. Good luck.

  14. I would suggest that all who have concerns either listen to the audio file of last night's questions from board members and Skorkowsky's answers. That audio file is available on the CCSD website under trustees.

    An alternative is to watch the video file of the live stream broadcast from the meeting. This is not available yet, but will be in several days.

  15. A reasonably good choice. He's already here & doing the job, and is familiar with the district and its myriad challenges. Looks like the board can go back to sleep now.

  16. He won't last a year !! Nothing to do with him...they are just impossible to work for.