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Community members share their vision for next Clark County superintendent

Ahead of a Wednesday meeting, community and business groups call on the school board to conduct a broad superintendent search with lots of public input.
Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationK-12 Education

The Clark County School Board voted Wednesday to find a firm to help decide the kind of search the district should pursue for its next superintendent.

The decision comes as community groups including the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) and the Vegas Chamber called for a nationwide superintendent search that they say could attract the broadest pool of candidates and aid the board in finding the best leaders to help the district move forward. 

The calls began shortly after a late January announcement about the resignation of Superintendent Jesus Jara, who became the district’s superintendent in 2018 through such a search. The contract for the search firm — Ray & Associates — used to find Jara cost the district nearly $50,000.

The board had previously considered making Brenda Larsen Mitchell, Jara’s deputy superintendent and a 30-year-veteran of the Clark County School District (CCSD), the permanent superintendent before appointing her in an interim position. 

During its last meeting, the school board discussed two possible options: a nationwide search or a smaller search potentially limited to local or statewide applicants. 

According to board documents, a national search could cost the district $60,000 to $100,000 and take from three to six months. The board would work with a firm, which would vet potential candidates and could present three to five finalists for the position. 

A search limited to local candidates or candidates within Nevada could cost between $1,000 to $20,000 and could take one to two months. In that arrangement, the board would vet potential candidates and all submitted applications — not just those from a handful of finalists — would be shared with the public. 

During its work session Wednesday, the board voted 7-0 to begin the process to select a firm to work with for the superintendent search. Trustee Lola Brooks said the firm will help the board gather community feedback on what kind of search they would like to see. 

“If the broad community feedback comes back and says, ‘Hey, we want fresh, shiny, new things,’ then we're going to listen to them. If they say we don't, we're gonna listen to them,” she said. “That's the intent.” 

Before the vote, Brooks and Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales raised concerns about the time and cost that a nationwide search process would require. They also said such a process could distract the board from its focus on monitoring student outcomes, and were worried it could create dysfunction within the board and potentially lead to an exodus of employees concerned about instability the search could create. 

They also noted that the pool of superintendent candidates has become limited in recent years, and competitive. Two other Nevada school districts, in Douglas and Washoe counties, are currently searching for a new leader. The Washoe County School Board is expecting to spend no more than $100,000 for its search. Garcia Morales said a nationwide search could cost CCSD more than that. 

Trustee Katie Williams said regardless of the decision the board makes, not everyone will be happy and the board could receive hate comments “like we always do.”

Education leaders, community groups weigh in

In a March 6 letter to the school board, groups such as CCEA and the Vegas Chamber called for a nationwide search that’s inclusive of internal candidates and a transparent search process that includes community input. 

Educate Nevada Now, a nonpartisan education policy organization funded by The Rogers Foundation, said in a separate letter it’s hoping for a new superintendent who can foster communication and collaboration with parents, educators and other community members. 

“(The school district) needs a leader ready and willing to earn community support,” the organization said in the letter. 

During a rally before the work session, about two dozen educators with CCEA chanted “community voices demand new choices.”

CCEA President Marie Neisess said the problem with the district’s last nationwide search, which resulted in hiring Jara, was that the board was split on its vote. The board remains divided. She said she’s hoping the board members will take their time with this new search, even if it extends beyond the start of the next school year in August.  

“What's most important to me is that they have a quality candidate that they hire, that the seven [voting] trustees can come to consensus, and that it's the best candidate,” she said.

Two former school board trustees and a UNLV professor weighed in at a Wednesday morning event focused on the superintendent search and hosted by Hispanics In Politics. 

Linda Young, who served as a trustee from 2008 to 2020, said she wants to see a new superintendent who doesn’t take criticism personally. Young, who had conflict with Jara, referred to him not by name but as "the last superintendent." She added that the job is not for the faint of heart.

“If you don't have the skills, or the stamina, to do the job, don’t take the job,” she said.  

Danielle Ford, who served as a trustee from 2019 to 2022, said she’s concerned about hiring a superintendent during a year in which four of the seven elected school board members are up for re-election. Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales filed for re-election this week. Trustee Lisa Guzman has indicated she will not be running again to keep her seat. 

Ford suggested the school board offer the new superintendent a short-term contract of 15 to 18 months to give potential new trustees time to adjust to their new positions before the school board decides if it wants to offer a contract extension to the new superintendent or start over. 

UNLV law professor and education advocate Sylvia Lazos urged the community to stay engaged as the search process gets underway. She said the simplest way they can get involved and make their voices heard is by writing to the board. 

“Finally the CCSD district has opened up and is ready to listen,” she said. “Will they get the ear wax out of their ears? I don't know. But I do know that if we don't talk, we won't be heard and we won’t have any change and our children will be the worse off for it.” 

During the public comment period, speakers overwhelmingly supported a nationwide search. They also stressed the importance of having community support for the board’s superintendent. 

CCSD teacher Daniel Unger said if done incorrectly, the toll the selection of a new superintendent could cost the district more than any dollar amount the board could save through an easy and expedited process. 

CCEA Secretary Jessica Jones said the next superintendent, whether they are an internal or external candidate, will need community buy-in in order to succeed. 

“If you do not have community buy-in … this person is going to fail,” Jones said. “They are going to fail before they even start.”

The City of Henderson’s Director of Government and Public Affairs Nicole Rourke said the next superintendent must be selected by a unanimous vote as they will need every member’s support in order to face the many challenges ahead of them. If they can’t, she urged the board to leave the hiring decision up to the next board taking over after the 2024 election. 

“The board that hires the superintendent should be the one that they will work for in the first years of their tenure,” Rourke said. “You have an acting leader, so take the time that this important decision requires.” 

This story was updated at 7:45 p.m. on 3/6/24 to add comments from the Clark County School Board’s work session. 

This story was updated at 10:11 a.m. on 3/7/24 to correct the years Danielle Ford served on the Clark County School Board.


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