Improving education in the Silver State and beyond was the focus of more than 250 educators, policymakers, and community leaders who gathered Dec. 7 for UNLV’s inaugural “Summit on Nevada Education.”
The daylong conference, hosted by the UNLV College of Education (COE), drew decision makers from the local, state, and national levels to discuss policy opportunities in the wake of a landmark 2015 Nevada Legislative Session for education. Also front and center were Nevada’s role and impact on the national education conversation and the importance of partnerships to ensure quality education at all levels.
The summit, two years in the making, also showcased COE's demonstrated role as a thought leader that informs and facilitates policy ideas and research on topics like education reform and teaching methods through its community clinics, class offerings and other resources. Speakers and panelists likewise urged attendees to candidly share ideas, challenges and lessons on how to effectively and equitably improve K-12 and higher education, and to collaborate across political and ideological lines.
“The goal of this event isn’t for us to leave agreeing on what to do,” said COE dean Kim Metcalf, gazing around the packed Student Union Ballroom. “It’s to make sure we get ideas on the table.”
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval opened the summit with a recap of accomplishments during 2015 legislative session, praising lawmakers for passing 25 of 26 proposals laid out in his education package. He called on summit attendees to embrace conversations on how to best implement the new measures, including funding for full-day kindergarten, special education and gifted/talented classes, technological advances in secondary schools, increased career placement and technical education offerings, and scholarships to shore up the teacher shortage.
“Remember, right now there are kids sitting in their classrooms dutifully listening to their teachers at every level, through kindergarten and middle school and high school,” Sandoval said. “They don’t have a voice. They are counting on all of us.”
Metcalf described Clark County and Nevada as a microcosm of the United States that will serve as models for other urban and rural communities facing issues including the wealth gap, English language learners, school choice and funding, incorporation of various teaching standards and metrics, and diversity.
“Folks are watching to what happens in Nevada to see what we do, how we do it, and how it works,” Metcalf said. “Because of that, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to take what we’re doing to learn from it and share it in ways that can help people throughout the state, country and around the world to better educate kids.”
Among the themes that appeared to resonate with summit guests was a reminder from Google chief education evangelist Jaime Casap that teaching methods need to change with the times, and to heed the rising demand for tech jobs. He said that within a decade 60 percent of jobs will require high-skills education. During one panel discussion, several speakers emphasized the importance of incorporating social service and business perspectives when shaping education policy.
Other prominent speakers were:
- Pat Skorkowsky, superintendent of the Clark County School District
- Dale Erquiaga, chief strategy officer for Gov. Sandoval
- Dan Klaich, Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor
- Steve Canavero, interim superintendent of public instruction for the Nevada Department of Education
- Officials from the Lumina Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education
“Ensuring a quality education for all Nevadans means we’ve all got to come together,” said UNLV President Len Jessup, who also spoke of UNLV’s progress toward becoming a top national public university. “This (summit) clearly weaves together many of our goals, in particular community partnerships and student success and achievement. I can’t think of a better way to capture the spirit of our strategic plan than what we’re doing here today.”