’96 M.Ed Instructional and Curricular Studies
College of Education Alumna of the Year
Like most professional educators, Jhone Ebert discovered her passion for learning at a young age. And that passion initially was linked to a single subject.
“I loved math,” Ebert says. “So much so that I used to ask my sister if I could do her math homework.”
Sure enough, Ebert would go on to earn her undergraduate degree in mathematics from Fresno State University. From here, you probably think you know the rest of the story: Moved to Las Vegas, earned her master’s at UNLV, then embarked on an incredibly impressive and influential career in education, first as a teacher, then an administrator.
All accurate. But to truly appreciate the uniqueness of Ebert’s journey requires understanding where she experienced her “Education is my calling” epiphany. No, not in a classroom or a professor’s office, but… on a ski slope.
“I worked my way through college by cleaning hotel rooms and working as a waitress,” Ebert says. “At one point, some of my college friends said, ‘You would make a great ski instructor!’ I laughed, then took them up on the challenge.
“Being a ski instructor, I learned how much I enjoyed teaching. And even more, how much I enjoyed helping people learn what they already had inside of them — the capacity to do anything. Beyond the fear of falling, there is a joy in swishing down a mountain.”
Thus began a lifelong commitment to using the power of education to better the lives of all children. Following stints as a middle and high school teacher in Las Vegas, Ebert transitioned to administrative roles within the Clark County School District. She spent nearly a dozen years working in the nation’s fifth-largest school district — including as chief technology officer and chief innovation and productivity officer — before accepting an education policy position with the New York State Education Department in 2015.
Some three-and-a-half years later, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak enticed Ebert to return to her adopted home state with an offer she couldn’t refuse: superintendent of public instruction for the Nevada department of education.
As the state’s chief school officer, Ebert’s primary responsibilities dovetail with her greatest passion: Ensure that all of Nevada’s nearly 500,000 students have equitable access to education, and that every educator in the state’s 750 schools has the necessary tools, resources, and support to maximize student success.
For Ebert, the mission remains as clear as a bright-blue sky hovering over a ski slope.
“Growing up in poverty, my life was full of hardship, but I was fortunate to have teachers who looked beyond my frayed clothes to see the promise in me,” she says. “That experience convinced me that school can and should work for all students — especially those facing the steepest climb. So the agenda is unfinished until every single child is thriving and each has a clear pathway to success in both school and life.”
Describe the origins of your boundless enthusiasm for education.
When I was in elementary school, I discovered that school was a safe haven with caring teachers who looked beyond my circumstances and saw only the possibility within me. You could say that lit the fuse. Then after college, I became one of those people who had made a difference early in my life: I joined the ranks of teachers. As a math teacher in the Clark County School District — first at Von Tobel Middle School, then Green Valley High School — I was living the dream by helping young people grow and teaching them that math is fun.
Early in my career I was honored with a trip to the White House as the Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics education. That was pretty cool. But as the world changed, my interests grew, and technology caught my eye. I saw it could accelerate learning, so I jumped right in. Before I knew it, I was leading a virtual high school, then I became chief technology officer for the fifth largest district in the country. I was just doing what I loved. And doing what I believed in made it joyful and effortless.
What led to your decision to choose UNLV as the place to earn your master’s degree?
Initially, I was lukewarm about pursuing graduate work at UNLV, but that changed when a fellow Green Valley High School teacher told me about two UNLV instructors — Neal Strudler and Randy Boone — who were working with graduate students to investigate instructional technology. They were way ahead of their time. I registered for a couple of their classes, and they pushed me. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to switch majors.
I also remember how kind and accommodating they were. I was pregnant while I was working on my master’s, and it wasn’t an easy time. Their high expectations never changed, but I will always remember how their grace and empathy helped me “get down my hill.”
UNLV is located in one of the world’s most dynamic, diverse and innovative cities. How have you been able to leverage that benefit professionally?
As a professional educator, the great thing about diversity is that you quickly learn that success for students comes easily the moment you — as a teacher — meet students where they are. And that can look different for each student.
Underneath all that diversity lies some simple truths. A New York University scholar named Kwame Anthony Appiah put it this way: “Two things are true, and we need to hold both in our head at the same time: We are all alike. We are all different.”
Also, back in 2000, I was fortunate to be among 12 higher education faculty and two K-12 representatives who traveled to South Korea for a month. Professors Strudler and Boone were awarded federal funding for the trip as part of the Fulbright-Hays project for foreign travel. The cultural exchange was one of the best experiences in my life and definitely made a difference in how I visioned and implemented educational programs in our state.
What’s your message to today’s Rebel students who are interested in making a difference in education?
There is healthy tension that comes from wanting to do our best and be our best. Our adversaries are complacency and resignation. By engaging with a talented group of UNLV professors, I began to grasp that the only limits are those you impose on yourself.
To today’s Rebels, I say get involved. Reach beyond your comfort zone because it is there that you grow. Also, in this day and age seemingly dominated by a near-constant tribal drumbeat that we are much more than one tribe, it’s important to understand that we all share one space on the planet. And we can all do better.