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Indy Education: Who are teacher unions backing in education races?

Plus, the Clark County School Board takes another step in its superintendent search, and new Clark County schools cellphone restrictions get mixed reviews.
Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationK-12 Education

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Education newsletter. I’m Rocio Hernandez, The Nevada Independent’s K-12 education reporter. 

This newsletter provides a recap of the latest education stories and highlights interesting educators, students, programs and other events and resources throughout the state. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter and receive it each week via email.

I want to hear from you! Send questions, comments or suggestions on what I should be covering to [email protected]

Clark County School District interim Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell speaks at a press conference on April 4, 2024, at Laura Dearing Elementary School in Las Vegas. (Rocio Hernandez/The Nevada Independent)

News briefs

🍎 Clark County School Board vetting superintendent search firms The Clark County School Board is planning to vet three search firms for help with its search for a new superintendent. The three firms the board chose during its Wednesday special meeting to move on to the next round are Illinois-based Alma Advisory, Nebraska-based McPherson & Jacobson and Illinois-based Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates. The board worked with McPherson & Jacobson in 2009 when it hired former Superintendent Dwight Jones, who led the district until he resigned in 2013. 

McPherson & Jacobson recently finished up its work on the Washoe County School District’s superintendent search last Tuesday, when the board voted to hire longtime district leader Joe Ernst

The interviews will take place at the board’s May 29 meeting. 

🍎 Contract approved for Clark County interim superintendent Clark County interim Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell will receive an annual salary of $320,000, the same base salary as former Superintendent Jesus Jara, under an employment agreement approved by the board Thursday. The agreement is effective as of May 16 and is scheduled to expire Oct. 31 or until a new superintendent takes over. 

Larsen-Mitchell, who began serving in the temporary position in late February after Jara stepped down as superintendent, was Jara’s deputy superintendent and has worked for the district for 30 years. Before he left, he approved raises for cabinet members, including a 28 percent increase for Larsen-Mitchell, which brought her pay up to $275,000. 

Readers React

Students wipe down their cellphones during Health Sciences II class at Desert Pines High School on March 11, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Parents split on upcoming cellphone restrictions at Clark County schools

Some parents are worried about whether a new cellphone policy by the Clark County School District (CCSD) aimed at reducing distractions will make it harder for them to get in contact with their students during the school day, especially during a crisis situation such as a school shooting.

Last week, Larsen-Mitchell announced that starting next school year, the district would require students in middle and high school to place their cellphones in non-locking, signal-blocking pouches. She said students will still have access to their phones during emergency situations. 

The district said in a Thursday statement it spent $2.6 million in federal COVID relief money to purchase about 283,000 pouches, each costing $9. 

Members of the popular CCSD Parents Facebook group had split reactions to the news last week. Some said it’s hard to get front office staff to pass on messages to their students. Others praised the policy, and said students will learn to adapt. 

The pouches are already being piloted at some CCSD school sites. Educators at those schools say the phones stay close to students, and can be accessed after class or at lunch. Another group member said they’ve heard students are already finding workarounds by bringing in a spare phone and placing that “decoy” in the pouch instead. 

The Big Story

Exterior sign at the State of Nevada Department of Education offices on June 14, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Teacher unions share their picks for K-12 education boards

The state’s two largest teachers unions, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) and the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA), are backing several candidates running for local school board and state board seats. NSEA is also supporting candidates backed by its Clark County affiliates, the National Education Association of Southern Nevada (NEA-SN) and the Education Support Employees Association (ESEA).

State Board of Education 

District 1

CCEA’s pick: Tricia Braxton

CCEA is backing Braxton, a program officer with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Youth Horticulture Education Program, in the District 1 race against Timothy Underwood, the senior adviser of the Clark County chapter of the Moms for Liberty, a conservative parental rights group. District 1 includes parts of the southwest Las Vegas Valley, Henderson and Boulder City. 

CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita said he thinks Braxton is in tune with what’s going on in Nevada’s school districts and what role the state board can play to ensure better student outcomes.

District 2 

No endorsements

District 3

CCEA’s pick: René Cantú (holds seat on board, but running for different seat because of redistricting)

NSEA’s pick: Danielle Ford 

Vellardita said CCEA’s endorsed state board candidates understand how crucial it is for the state to work to ensure every classroom has a qualified teacher. He also cited Cantú’s work as the executive director Jobs for Nevada's Graduates (J4NG), a nonprofit organization focused on supporting and mentoring students. 

Vellardita said CCEA has no confidence in Ford, a former Clark County School Board trustee who was not re-elected to the board in a 2022 race against former state lawmaker Irene Bustamante Adams. 

NSEA, however, is backing Ford. NSEA Director of Strategy Alexander Marks said Ford has a track record of supporting teachers.

District 3 includes the western Las Vegas Valley, including Summerlin. 

District 4

CCEA and NSEA’s pick: Timothy Hughes (holds seat on board, but running for different seat because of redistricting)

Hughes, a vice president for TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project), a nonprofit working to ensure students from minority groups and low-income backgrounds get access to effective teachers, is running unopposed for the board’s District 4 seat. 

John Vellardita said the union is impressed with Hughes’ leadership skills and outcome-driven approach. 

“I think he should be the next leader of the Board of Education,” Vellardita said. 

District 4 includes parts of North Las Vegas and extends up to Tonopah and Hawthorne. 

Clark County School Board

District A (incumbent Lisa Guzman not seeking re-election)

NEA-SN and ESEA’s pick: Anna Marie Binder

Binder is a CCSD parent known for her advocacy on special education issues. NEA-SN President Vicki Kreidel said Binder is an ally to teachers. 

District B (incumbent Katie Williams not seeking re-election)

NEA-SN and ESEA’s pick: Samuel Russell Burns

Kreidel said her union members feel that Burns, a teen services specialist at the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, will bring a different perspective to the school board than what they’ve seen in the past. 

District C

CCEA, NEA-SN and ESEA’s pick: Tameka Henry

Both unions previously supported Henry, the executive director of The Obodo Collective nonprofit that provides support for marginalized communities, in 2020 when she ran unsuccessfully against the incumbent and Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales. 

Garcia Morales, who joined the board in 2021, has been criticized for her support of former Superintendent Jesus Jara’s rehiring in 2021 and most recently voted in favor of a $250,000 buyout upon his resignation in late February. Garcia Morales is the only Clark County School Board incumbent seeking re-election. 

Vellardita said the union thinks Garcia Morales’ leadership has been ineffective, and called her a “de facto puppet” for Jara.

“Her decisions have been, just in our opinion, not good at all for students and clearly not for educators,” he said. 

Kreidel said Garcia Morales is not communicative with her union, and “basically made it clear” she doesn't care what the union thinks on district issues. 

Garcia Morales said in a Monday statement that her loyalty is to Clark County students and families rather than special interest groups, and that her voting record has resulted in positive momentum in the district including increasing college and career and technical programs.

Vellardita said he thinks Henry will be more focused on accountability and improving student outcomes. Kreidel touted Henry’s work in the community.

District E (incumbent Lola Brooks not seeking re-election)

NEA-SN and ESEA’s pick: Kamilah Bywaters

Kreidel said Bywaters, a former CCSD special education teacher and community activist, is a “fierce advocate for children and educators.” Kreidel said Bywaters has ideas about how to improve the school district and is ready to put in the work to make these changes. 

Reading Assignments

Washoe school board extends superintendent job offer to longtime district leader

The Washoe County School Board voted unanimously last week to nominate Chief Continuous Improvement Officer Joe Ernst for its top role.

Clark County schools to ban cellphones for middle, high schoolers

Starting next school year, the Clark County School District will require students in middle and high school to place their cellphones in non-locking, signal-blocking pouches during class. 

Despite new law, some Nevada seniors fighting to wear personal regalia to graduation

A Clark County school tried to block a student from wearing personal regalia to her upcoming graduation ceremony despite recent state law affirming that right. 

Extra Credit

Teacher apprentice programs are growing. Nevada offers a model.

In Nevada, districts are increasingly turning to their support staff members — such as bus drivers, substitute teachers, cafeteria workers — as possible teacher recruits, Christian Science Monitor reporter and former Indy staffer Jackie Valley writes. 

‘It’s wrong’: Mount Charleston parents outraged over school’s looming closure

The Clark County School District is considering closing the only K-5 school in the Mount Charleston area after it was damaged by a storm last year, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. 


💧Vegas water parks celebrating end of school year  — Monday, May 20-Thursday, May 23

Cowabunga Vegas is offering free tickets to students with three or more As on their report card. The offer is good for Cowbunga’s Henderson and Summerlin locations. Students can get the offer by presenting documentation of their grades and a student ID. Guests accompanying students can qualify for discounted tickets at $20 each. Visit Cowabunga Vegas’ website for more information. 

🍎 Douglas County School Board meeting — Tuesday, May 21, 4 p.m.    

The agenda includes the adoption of the district’s budget for the next fiscal year and a review of superintendent applicants.

🗳️ Clark County elections candidate forums —  Tuesday, May 20-Friday, May 24

The Clark County Conservative Coalition, Vote Nevada and the Clark County Chamber of Commerce are hosting four candidate forums featuring candidates running for state board, judicial and mayoral positions. The events will take place between 5:30 to 7 p.m. A list of locations can be found online

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Congrats to these tiny Las Vegas graduates!

This story was updated on 5/22/24 at 9:04 a.m. to include endorsements from the Education Support Employees Association.


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