Never stop learning! Clark County School Board Trustee Dr. Linda E. Young speaks out on the future of education in Las Vegas
BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD
As Las Vegas works to achieve economic recovery by attracting new businesses to the valley, one of the most persistent roadblocks has been the school system’s struggle to reclaim excellence in education.
Among those leading the charge on that front is Clark County School Board Trustee Dr. Linda E. Young, who made Nevada history in 2012 as the first African-American to serve as president of the School Board that oversees Las Vegas schools.
“As Clark County School Board trustees, we have to approve the district budgets and contracts that impact our schools,” Young said in an interview, when asked to describe her responsibilities. “We review Superintendent Dwight Jones’ reform initiatives, academic programs and approve educational activities and events for … our valley schools.”
Contrary to reports that Clark County schools are underperforming across the board, some inner-city Prime Six campuses — such as Wendell Williams Elementary School, Matt Kelly, Mabel Hoggard, Jo Mackey, and West Prep High School — have shown remarkable improvement in student achievement, despite sharp reductions in funding.
According to Dr. Young, “Some of these schools have had historical precedents of being [socioeconomically disadvantaged]. The bottom line is that we can attribute the academic success of some of these schools to the principals, teachers and support staff and parents and community partners working together tirelessly to make sure those students read and academically achieve in all subject areas at grade level and above. They build self-confidence, and get community partners and parents to participate in the schools. Also, special assistance with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs as well as the performing arts areas also give students a competitive edge. These Prime Six schools galvanize anything and everything around them by pinching pennies and pulling money together from varied sources to make sure the students have what they need in the classrooms to become academically proficient.”
Budget issues have been a topic of fierce debate for Clark County schools for many years. Though Gov. Brian Sandoval indicated in his recent State of the State address that more funding would be provided for all-day kindergarten, Young believes the needs go much deeper.
“Clark County School District is one of the lowest-funded school districts in the country, and proper funding does make a difference in the education that a child receives,” said Young. “Clark County School District’s funding for the classroom, increased class size, textbooks, curriculum and school supplies have been cut 50 percent over the last five years. There has been almost $600 million cut from the … budget. Currently, the budget is a little more than $2 billion, and cuts have really put a strain on our schools and teachers in the classroom.”
In that context, statistics now show a steady reduction in the number of African-American students earning diplomas from Clark County high schools. Some have blamed the required proficiency exam particularly the math component — for the decline, but Young has little patience for such excuses.
“Here is what I would say, with all due respect: First, there is nothing unique about math. The math subject areas perhaps just require more study and practice with more support from teachers, parents and community tutors. If we can be the best in the world at dribbling a basketball, and spend hours each and every day practicing hoops, then we can do the same thing with math and science. My suggestion is that we start early with pre-algebra and learn math strategies and skills at ages four and five. We must understand the mathematical language and concepts and not wait until students are in the seventh and eighth grade. We must never stop learning and be persistent and consistent with lifelong learning.”