Pat’s “Tuesday Conversation” with Nevada Succeeds

“You can’t craft a solution to a major challenge with one ideology ramming through a solution without the participation of the other.”

– Pat Hickey


Pat Hickey has worked as a reporter, newspaper columnist, editor and college journalism instructor. A fourth-generation Nevadan whose roots stretch back to the 1870s in the Carson Valley-Lake Tahoe region, he has served in the Nevada State Assembly and on the State Board of Education.

Hickey was recently appointed as Executive Director of the Charter School Association of Nevada, and in this week’s Tuesday Conversation we talk about what he views as the underlying socioeconomic challenges that Nevadans must confront to improve the state’s entire education system.

Question: What are the challenges driving the education discussion in our state?

Hickey: The inequality of educational outcomes in the U.S., and certainly in Nevada, increasingly operates and can be seen through the prism of our schools. Experts who study it will tell us inequality and educational outcomes are closely correlated with parental socioeconomic status.

While as educators and policy leaders we need to be concerned with outcomes, we also need to be concerned with reaching equality of opportunity and the mobility challenges that many of our students face in communities where there is no obvious pathway and tradition to success.

To go into that a little more deeply, children of less-educated parents are increasingly entering the world as kind of an unplanned surprise while children of educated parents are coming into the world as a long-planned objective.

We have in all too many cases–childbearing by default and not childbearing by design. The result in too many instances contributes to a continuation of problems and challenges that children bring to school because they don’t have the family and community support that their counterparts in more well off areas do.

For example, in “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” Harvard Professor Robert Putnam points out that, compared to college graduates, high-school educated men are more likely to father children with women with who they don’t live with and are less likely to visit those children.

These are deep societal problems, and I’m not going to ascribe blame. But, these are some of the things that are especially challenging to us in Nevada, in our urban areas in Clark and Washoe counties, and to a lessor degree in our rural communities.. There are 82,000 children in Clark County who attend low-performing public schools, and again those results are not simply the cause of the school system, but, as referenced, are reflective of some of socioeconomic and very real familial issues. And schools are tasked with addressing these issues.

Question: How do we transform the system?

Hickey: It begins with an “intervention” of sorts, if you will. Almost like you would with a family member who has a severe physical or mental problem, like addiction or abuse. You can’t easily begin to transform a serious problem by intervention–until the “recipient” of help has hit rock bottom and acknowledges they need help. I believe that many of the reforms instituted by Gov. Sandoval and the Nevada Legislature–are an attempt to bring forth an “educational intervention.”

Like with other kinds of interventions, you have to get past the state of denial and have to have that face-to-face interaction in order to come up with shared best practices from successful models from other districts and other states. A big question is whether or not we can be patient and sustained in the efforts that are being made to transform our ailing education system. I’m certainly hopeful that we can. There are signs that we are improving in Nevada.

Like a troubled family member, you can’t expect an instantaneous transformation, but certainly progress (and assessments and accountability) is something we all want to see. Therefore, you hear Governor Sandoval urging legislative leaders to work together in a bipartisan manner. It’s crucial.

In the State Legislature, we tend to go back and forth as of late (on policy solutions) depending upon whether one party or the other is in control. You can’t craft a solution to a major challenge with one ideology ramming through a solution without the participation of the other.

If Nevada’s legislative leaders don’t get together, endeavoring fight through their differences in order to find common ground for Nevada education in a manner that’s tied to our economic future, then our divisions will continue to frustrate the outcomes.

Question: What role does very real, strategically implemented social and community engagement play in all of this?

Hickey: We’re a great laboratory for social engagement. One of those options are charter schools. Here in Washoe County, The Boys and Girls Club of Northern Nevada, which has been a highly transformative community organization that enjoys incredibly broad-based business and community support, is inviting in Mater Academy, a charter school from Las Vegas to serve students in some Northern Nevada’s most underserved neighborhoods. It’s a perfect example of community engagement, where you have an organization that is meeting community needs (by) opening a charter school with the resources of Boys and Girls Clubs. If this model works in Reno, we may see it replicated in places like North Las Vegas Southeast Reno–places where children will benefit the most from some of these innovative programs.

I’m very happy as Executive Director of the State Charter Schools Association to see that public charter schools, when appropriate and where possible, can serve those students who will benefit the most.

Question: Could you provide greater perspective on the role of community and parental engagement within the context of school transformation?

Hickey: One of the things I like about the magnet model in Clark County that is the basis for the District reorganization. It’s a model where you will local site-based governance groups are endeavoring to be successful at getting more parental involvement through engagement because by asking parents to be more involved in the direction of the schools, themselves. Charters schools too, typically ask 30 to 60 hours of parental involvement per year.

That’s where we have to change the culture. Parents learn, themselves, about how important education is. The Governor pointed out (in his recent State of the State speech) that by 2025, 60 percent of all jobs in Nevada are going to require some form of college education or degree.

Right now, only 30 percent of Nevadans between the ages of 25 and 34 have completed some level of post-secondary education. We have to change that culture in Nevada. Therefore, we’ve got to find ways in our elementary and high schools to create pathways where kids can go on to that community college or four-year college that gets them a degree in that New Nevada economy.

Question: What success stories do you see in our public schools?

Hickey: I recently visited Principal Roxanne Kelly at Jerome Mack Middle School in Las Vegas, one of those schools on the list for takeover by the Achievement School District.

She and her staff are making great progress to bridge some of the very real cultural and socioeconomic challenges that are there between the students and the staff.

At Mack Middle School, they’ve worked hard at getting beyond the racial and cultural differences through staff’s commitment, love and attention–which melts away some of those preconceptions and many of those barriers, and there are many of those of educators (like Kelly) in Clark County, Washoe County and Rural Nevada school districts.

Question: What else would you like to do? Run for another political office?

Hickey: Not run for another office. I’ve been there, done that. I’m very excited about working with charter schools in Nevada. They are representing almost 10 percent of Nevada’s students… and make up the third largest school district in Nevada.

I’m hopeful that it will be increasingly comprised of some of the students in our most challenged school neighborhoods and districts in the state.

I see the vision of charter schools as a public school innovation and option, and I emphasize the public school aspect of charters. When bringing in new approaches to some of our longstanding problems they may not always be successful, but in the process–they will begin the process of making needed changes. Let’s welcome help in the form of Nevada’s school reforms and support them. Then we begin to strive and rebuild our “education house” as best we can locally.


Thank you and best as always…Pat Hickey