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Rural school advocates hope next Clark County superintendent will be more supportive

Mesquite and Moapa-area schools have historically felt “forgotten” by the school district, but advocates remain hopeful that could change with a new leader.
Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationK-12 Education
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The estimated 4,000 students in the Moapa and Mesquite areas make up about 1 percent of the Clark County School District’s nearly 300,000 students. 

Moapa Valley is located about an hour’s drive northeast from Las Vegas. Mesquite is another 37 miles northeast of Moapa, along the Arizona border. 

Being so far away from the Clark County School District (CCSD)’s urban core has put the district’s rural schools at a disadvantage, said Jodi Thornley, chair of the Virgin Valley Community Education Advisory Board in Mesquite. It’s something they hope will change when the massive district brings on a new superintendent in coming months, even if experience tells them it’s unlikely.

“We're kind of the forgotten ones out here,” Thornley said. 

Thornley and Wendy Mulcock, chair of the Moapa Valley Community Education Advisory Board, said the distance makes it hard for their students to access educational opportunities such as magnet schools or special education services that are offered in the Las Vegas area. Mulcock said she was speaking for herself and not the full board. 

“We do not have affordable, consistent transportation to and from Las Vegas on a daily basis, especially if you happen to use a wheelchair for mobility,” Thornley said. “Students are slipping through the cracks because of our distance.”

In addition, Thornley said getting services such as maintenance and repairs can be tedious and time consuming. 

“It takes way longer for CCSD facilities personnel to travel here, determine what is needed, then return another day to fix the issue,” she said. “Most of their day is spent on the road. That’s definitely not efficient use of funds especially when we have qualified businesses here who could fix drywall, [heating, ventilation and air conditioning], plumbing, etc.”

Thornley and Mulcock said these issues predate former Superintendent Jesus Jara, who resigned from the district last month, and is part of the reason that they and other advocates joined an effort to break away from the school district. 

The Clark County School District said in a statement the Moapa and Virgin Valley high schools have career and technical education programs that are supported through the district, such as the Moapa Valley High School farm, but recognizes that location and transportation may be a barrier for students wishing to attend a magnet school in the Las Vegas area. The district said certain maintenance services, such as for buses, need to be performed at a central location due to safety, economic and efficiency challenges, and a loaner vehicle is provided to the school in the meantime so there’s not a disruption in service. 

As the Clark County School Board begins its search for Jara’s replacement, Thornley and Mulcock said they are hopeful the next superintendent will be more proactive in addressing some of the challenges that rural schools have been facing for years.

During its March 6 work session, the school board voted to hire a search firm while it continues to debate whether to conduct a local search limited to current or former CCSD employees and in-state applicants, or embark on a nationwide search. 

Thornley said she’s torn between the two options. If the next superintendent is someone who comes from the outside, they could potentially have one foot out the door. But, she also sees issues with picking a candidate from within the district who could potentially maintain the status quo. 

Regardless of where the next superintendent comes from, she said she would like to see the next district leader have some experience working with schools such as the ones in northeast Clark County, and stay committed to them. 

“When they first come on board, they'll come out once … and they'll seem interested and say all the right things, but once they get back into town, we're definitely cast on the back burner for sure,” Thornley said. 

Mulcock said regardless of who becomes superintendent, she doesn’t think one person alone can solve the problems. 

"They have to be able to trust … the teachers, the administrators, the staff to do their jobs. The micromanaging stuff can't happen,” Mulcock said. 

Larry Moses, a former Moapa Valley High School principal who has stayed involved in education and worked on issues such as the district’s reorganization since retiring about 27 years ago, has a different perspective. He said in an interview he’d like the next CCSD superintendent to have a background in business and not education. 

“Educators are great, wonderful people, but we are not very astute at running a business,” Moses said. “We're good at teaching kids, and I'd like to see them bring in a person who understands how to run a conglomerate corporation.” 

He said he also believes the next superintendent should come outside of the district, and opposed giving the position to Interim Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell, who was Jara’s deputy superintendent and has been with the district for about 30 years. 

“A person who has been promoted through the ranks of CCSD to a point of second in command while the district fell to one of the worst school districts in the United States is part of the problem not the solution,” Moses wrote in a recent opinion column in the Mesa Valleys Progress

Rural Clark County school advocates have previously supported breaking away from the district as a way to have more flexibility in deciding how to operate and manage their own schools. 

Last year, they pushed for a bill, AB420, introduced by Assemblyman Toby Yurek (R-Henderson) and Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Henderson) that would have created a separate and independent school district in northeast Clark County. The bill died without receiving a hearing. 

Thornley said she still believes having a separate school district for northeast Clark County schools would be best for everyone. But since that effort hasn’t been successful, Thornley said she will stay involved with the search and hopes the board will consider input from her community. 

“It’s just as hard on CCSD,” Thornley said. “We know we are different; urban has way different struggles than we do.”

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