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Union executive, nonprofit director seek District A school board seat

Updated October 7, 2020 - 9:27 am

The Clark County school board has been tasked this year with major decisions about distance learning and reopening schools, and will continue those discussions into the next year, along with others about education funding and Superintendent Jesus Jara’s contract.

The District A seat in the CCSD board race represents the Henderson area, as well as rural schools in Boulder City, Laughlin and Searchlight.

Since 2008, it’s been represented by Deanna Wright, who’s termed out this year.

Two candidates are in the running to replace Wright: Lisa Guzman, executive director of the Education Support Employees Association and assistant executive director of the Nevada State Education Association; and Liberty Leavitt, an administrator with the district up until last summer, and now outreach director at the nonprofit Core, which serves underprivileged youth.

Lisa Guzman

Guzman started her career in education as a para-educator before turning to advocacy in 2007. She worked for the National Education Association in a number of positions focused on professional development for virtual learning before she relocated to Nevada.

She said her background in public policy is much-needed to help the school board understand national policy in its decision-making.

On distance learning for the fall semester, Guzman said better planning was needed, particularly in familiarizing educators with the new Canvas learning management system.

”There have been mistakes along the way, and I don’t think they were malicious mistakes. But they are mistakes that could have been avoided had we really looked at where we were with COVID,” she said.

Perfect conditions for reopening are likely not possible, Guzman said, because they would require funding for supplies like face masks and shields, as well as space to keep students and employees safe. She said she approves of the board’s approach to evaluating conditions every 30 days, and would like to see the regular updates continue once schools switch to hybrid learning.

“Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions, and keeping staff safe means keeping students safe,” she said.

Guzman said the cuts to education passed by the state Legislature this summer could have been worse, but that she recognizes also that they’ll affect schools that can’t make up the difference most.

As a trustee, she said she would advocate for funding Senate Bill 543 — the new Nevada school funding formula — in order to ensure that dollars reach students who need them.

On July 29, the school board held a meeting to discuss Jara’s contract after turmoil over his statements about a bill to revert school funds to the district.

Guzman said the three trustees who called the meeting were blindsided when the other four called to adjourn before the presentation was over, and that the board came off as dysfunctional as a result.

“When I looked at it, I didn’t think termination was coming. I saw three trustees wanting to discuss why CCSD was put in the position they were put in,” Guzman said.

She said that generally speaking, she has a good working relationship with Jara and would base any future decisions on his contract on his evaluations.

Leading up to the general election, Guzman said she’s meeting people whenever she can at socially-distanced events, and encourages would-be voters and future constituents to reach out to her to talk.

Liberty Leavitt

Leavitt worked for the district for 14 years, in roles ranging from teacher to magnet coordinator and administrator. She said that in the latter role, she noted a disconnect between the central office and schools, as well as between the district and the community at large, and believes she can bridge this divide as a trustee.

She described distance learning so far as a mixed bag, with plenty of frustrated teachers and families, and deteriorating mental health for students, but success stories, too.

“I think our educators are doing the best with what they have. I feel the same way about families,” she said.

But ultimately, the goal is to get kids back to schools as soon as possible, she added.

Apart from the health data, Leavitt said she would like the district to ensure educators and families feel safe going back by asking what specifically they’d like to see prior to reopening.

“We’re seeing a lot of division — families and parents who want their kids in school and educators who understandably don’t want to be put at risk,” Leavitt said. “But we need to come together on this.”

Leavitt said she was disappointed with how budget cuts were handled by the special session of the state Legislature, which ultimately hurt the most needy students by cutting SB 178 and Read by Grade 3 funds. She said one of her priorities as a trustee would be to advocate for more funding for education overall.

On the July 29 meeting on Jara’s contract, Leavitt said it was irresponsible and inappropriate of existing trustees to call such a meeting during a critical time and demonstrated the dysfunction of the board.

She added that she couldn’t say how she’d vote on Jara’s contract next year without additional information.

But she said it’s critical for board members to work together with students’ well-being in mind.

“You may not like someone you work with but you find a way to work with them — that’s called being an adult,” she said.

Leading up to the November election, Leavitt said she’d like to be accessible to voters and future constituents, and is hoping to focus on social media, Zoom and text campaigns, as well as future in-person events.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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