As a successful school administrator for more than two decades, Kyle Konold could no doubt land a job at a big-budget private school — the kind whose student body comprises high-achieving children born to parents who have the means to give their kids the best of the best.
To do so, though, would be to abandon a philosophy that Konold adopted as a young football fan growing up in Wisconsin and honed while a doctoral student at UNLV.
“In my youth, I always rooted for the underdog. Back then, that underdog was the Green Bay Packers — this was before Hall of Famer Brett Favre was the team’s quarterback — and several underachieving Wisconsin Badgers football teams in the 1980s.
“When I got to Las Vegas in the late 1990s after spending my entire life in the Midwest, I was exposed to the diverse culture that defines our country. Then as a Ph.D. student at UNLV, I was provided with personal experiences that changed the way I look at societal issues and norms. That, in turn, changed my attention and focus to the real underdogs: students living in poverty.”
So after completing his doctorate in 2004, Konold poured all of his energies into positively impacting the lives of countless Southern Nevada students — a great majority of whom began life’s long-distance run at the back of the pack.
For the past 16 years, those students have attended The Delta Academy, a fully accredited, tuition-free charter school in North Las Vegas where Konold authored the initial charter application and worked as executive director before becoming superintendent in 2017.
Serving middle and high school students in grades 6-12, The Delta Academy is located in a low-income neighborhood where children frequently find themselves behind the academic curve. Konold’s job — and the school’s mission — is to provide not only a quality education but also vital resources designed to give youngsters a clear path to careers in all industries, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds.
“These students are our future carpenters, welders, nurses, scientists, doctors, leaders, entrepreneurs, and service men and women,” Konold says. “And they need more than encouragement from the sidelines.”
In addition to his duties at The Delta Academy, Konold serves as principal and CEO of Ivy Global International, a Florida-based K-12 virtual private school. He also has public-education experience as a school psychologist, principal, and vice president of academic affairs, and he’s served on advisory boards for multiple secondary and post-secondary schools.
At each and every stop, he’s held firm to the belief that every child deserves access to a quality education, and that such an education is the key that unlocks the door to a quality life.
“Education is the golden ticket — to better yourself, your family, and your community,” Konold says. “And it shouldn’t matter where you come from. That’s why I hope our current and future education leaders subscribe to the professional mantra that UNLV instilled in me: If you don’t advocate for the underdog, who will?”
What led you to pursue a career in education?
I always knew I wanted to work with children, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. During my undergraduate program at the University of Wisconsin, I changed majors four times, with one of them being secondary education.
My first practicum experience in that program was at a local high school, where I had the opportunity to observe and interview the school’s psychologist. After talking with that person and doing my own research on the roles and responsibilities of that profession, I changed my major one more time and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Three years and a master’s degree later, I was happily employed as a school psychologist in Las Vegas.
You initially worked for the Clark County School District before pivoting to charter schools. What prompted this decision?
As a school psychologist, I worked in dozens of CCSD schools and interacted with even more school administrators. The majority were dedicated, hard-working professionals with the common goal of improving students’ lives through a solid foundation of education. However, many of the operational and programmatic decisions were not made at the building level. They were made in the central office and implemented in the schools.
When I had the opportunity to work in charter schools, I was immediately intrigued by the operational autonomy that was offered. The school leaders could identify an issue, create a solution, and implement the remedy in a single day.
As a school psychologist, you can have an impact on 20 to 50 students per year. As a teacher, you can have an impact on 100 to 200 students. As a school administrator, you can have an impact on thousands of students. So I knew that if I wanted to have a greater impact on the youth of Southern Nevada, it was going to be as a charter school leader.
The public is often inundated with “bad news” about our public education system. What’s something positive you can say about the current state of public education in our country?
The media frequently reports what is going wrong in public education, but there are many things going right. Next time a negative education story hits the airwaves, keep these facts in mind:
- The United States has been providing a free, public education for all school-aged children for so long that we sometimes take it for granted. The majority of countries across the globe do not meet this basic need for children.
- Public schools do more than just educate our children. They provide food, clothing, mental health services, basic health care, peer socialization, fine arts, and competitive sports. Many schools distribute backpacks of food every Friday and bags of groceries before every holiday so the entire family can eat.
- Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a renewed focus on the mental well-being and safety of the students. The federal government has provided unprecedented resources to assist schools in meeting these student needs to the tune of $200 billion. These funds have a direct and positive impact on students through increases in staffing, professional development, and direct services to students and families.
- The final — but by no means least important — point relates to school personnel and staff-student connections. I am always amazed by the “retired” teacher who is contracted to work three days a week but shows up every day after school to tutor a group of students. I am equally amazed by the custodian who stops to encourage a student who recently lost his father to cancer because she sees her role as more substantial than just vacuuming the carpet. And I am in awe when students and parents write letters to our school expressing their gratitude for the extra attention given to them by teachers and staff — some saying that it made all the difference between the student graduating and dropping out.
UNLV students and alumni are encouraged to embrace their “Rebel spirit” — to be daring, take chances and resist convention. Describe a moment when your “Rebel spirit” was on full display.
My Rebel spirit moment requires a little background context.
The community in which Delta Academy is located has a median family income of $28,762. Many of our parents did not finish high school and very few of those who did went on to college. Students who enroll at Delta were not successful at their previous schools, and the majority are significantly below grade level in all academic areas while also being credit deficient.
To help get our students up to speed, we provide before- and after-school tutoring, remediation courses during school, and access to community services, as well as weekly meals for students to take home to their families.
Despite all this assistance, Delta students do not test well on state accountability assessments. Nevada’s school performance system applies the same performance standards for schools located within low socioeconomic status (SES), highly transient communities as they do to schools located 10 miles away where the median family income is $122,054.
Historically, schools in lower SES communities do not perform as well academically compared with more affluent neighboring schools. However, the state was adamant that all schools should be rated, and an across-the-board rating system was the only one approved.
So in 2014, I tapped into my Rebel spirit to change these unfair standards.
I met with then-state Senator and fellow UNLV alum Becky Harris to discuss the inequities in education, the school rating system, and how the state’s then-current statute could shut down schools whose missions were to provide a quality education to students who did not find success in their zoned schools. To her credit, Sen. Harris sponsored Senate Bill 460, which applied different performance standards to schools that primarily serve students at-risk for school failure.
This was not a popular bill, as many Nevada institutions were concerned about a negative impact on school accountability. However, thanks to my and Senator Harris’ Rebel spirits, the bill passed. There are currently 16 schools in Clark County that have been approved to be rated under the new alternative performance framework.
What’s your message to today’s UNLV student who is pursuing an education degree but isn’t yet sure which career path to take?
The first part of my message is a question: Why did you choose to major in education? If the answer isn’t “I want to have a positive impact on students and the community,” I would ask them to reconsider their decision to pursue a degree in education.
To those who have answered the call to become an educator, I say thank you. Your choice wasn’t easy, but the positives will far outweigh the negatives.
The first two to three years will be challenging. Use those years to hone your skills, find your voice, and spend time getting to know the licensed support staff. There are many important positions in and outside of the classroom that greatly impact student success.
If you decide that teaching isn’t for you, please don’t give up on the field of education. Guidance counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, speech pathologists, reading specialists, and librarians all play important roles within a school. And all are in high demand.