Nevada Succeeds Tuesday Conversation
The Tuesday Conversation

Welcome back to our ongoing series, “The Tuesday Conversation.” Each week, we will feature discussions with Nevada business leaders working in many different ways to transform the state’s education system. 

You can always find previous conversations on our website,

If you know someone you think should be highlighted here, please contact Dave Berns at or (702) 510-4420.
“You can’t craft a solution to a major challenge with one ideology ramming through a solution without the participation of the other.”
- Pat Hickey

Pat Hickey has worked as a reporter, newspaper columnist, editor and college journalism instructor. A fourth-generation Nevadan whose roots stretch back to the 1870s in the Carson Valley-Lake Tahoe region, he has served in the Nevada State Assembly and on the State Board of Education.

Hickey was recently hired as Executive Director of the Charter School Association of Nevada, and in this week’s Tuesday Conversation we talk about what he views as the underlying socioeconomic challenges that Nevadans must confront to improve the state’s entire education system.

Question: What are the challenges driving the education discussion in our state?

Hickey: The inequality in the U.S., and certainly in Nevada, increasingly operates and can be seen through education. Experts who study it will tell us inequality and educational outcomes are closely correlated with parental socioeconomic status.

While as educators and policy leaders we need to be concerned with outcomes, we also need to be concerned with reaching equality of opportunity and the mobility challenges that many of our students face in communities where there is no obvious pathway and tradition to success.

To go into that a little more deeply, children of less-educated parents are increasingly entering the world as kind of an unplanned surprise while children of educated parents are coming into the world as a long-planned objective.

We have childbearing by default and not childbearing by design. The result by example is just a continuation of problems children face because they don’t have the family and community support that their counterparts in more well off areas do.

In “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” Harvard Professor Robert Putnam points out that, compared to college graduates for example, high-school educated men are more likely to father children with women with who they don’t live with and are less likely to visit those children.

These are real challenges, and I’m not going to ascribe blame. These are some of the things that are especially challenging to us in Nevada, especially within Clark County and Washoe, to a lesser degree. There are 82,000 children in Clark County who attend low-performing public schools, and again those results are not merely the cause of the school system, but, as referenced, are reflective of some of socioeconomic and very real familial issues.

Question: How do we transform the system?

Hickey: It begins with an intervention, if you will, like you would with a family member over some physical problem, like addiction or abuse. You don’t really begin to transform until you hit the rock bottom. I guess Nevada in a sense has recognized that.

With interventions, you have to get past the state of denial and have to have that face-to-face interaction so we can come up with shared best practices from successful models from other districts, other states. Can we support each other and give the additional help that Governor Sandoval and the Legislature in the last four years have tried to do?

Like a troubled family member, you can’t expect an instantaneous transformation, but we certainty want results in a budget period. Therefore, you hear Governor Sandoval urging legislative leaders to work together in a bipartisan manner.

In the State Legislature, we tend to go back and forth as of late (on policy solutions) depending upon whether one party or the other is in control. You can’t craft a solution to a major challenge with one ideology ramming through a solution without the participation of the other.

If Nevada’s legislative leaders don’t get together, endeavor, fight through to find common ground for Nevada education in a manner that’s tied to our economic future, then our divisions will continue to frustrate the outcomes.

Question: What role does very real, strategically implemented social and community engagement play in all of this?

Hickey: We’re a great laboratory for social engagement. One of those great options is charter schools. Here in Washoe County, The Boys and Girls Club of Northern Nevada, which has been a highly transformative community organization that enjoys incredibly broad-based business and community support, is inviting in Mater Academy, which is in Las Vegas. It’s an example of community engagement, where you have an organization that is meeting community needs (by) opening a charter school with the resources of Boys and Girls Clubs… moving into places like North Las Vegas Southeast Reno, where children will benefit the most from some of these innovative programs.

I’m very happy as Executive Director of the State Charter Schools Association to see that charters, when appropriate and where possible, can serve where they will benefit the most.

Question: Could you provide greater perspective on the role of community and parental engagement within the context of school transformation?

Hickey: One of the things I like about the magnet model in Clark County is (that it’s) one where you will naturally endeavor to be successful at getting more parental involvement through engagement because you will ask the parents to be more involved in the direction of the schools, themselves. Charters will ask 30 to 60 hours of parental involvement per year.

That’s where we have to change the culture. Parents learn, themselves, about how important education is. The Governor pointed out (in his recent State of the State speech) that by 2025, 60 percent of all jobs in Nevada are going to require some form of college education or degree.

Right now, only 30 percent of Nevadans between the ages of 25 and 34 have completed some level of post-secondary education. We have to change that culture in Nevada. Therefore, we’ve got to find ways in our elementary and high schools to create pathways where kids can go on to that community college or four-year college that gets them a degree in that New Nevada economy.

Question: What success stories do you see in our public schools?

Hickey: I recently visited Principal Roxanne Kelly at Jerome Mack Middle School in Las Vegas, one of those schools on the list for takeover by the Achievement School District.

She and her staff are making great progress to bridge some of the very real cultural and socioeconomic challenges that are there between the students and the staff.

You get beyond the racial and cultural differences because of commitment and love and attention, which melts away some of those preconceptions and many of those barriers, and there are many of those of educators (like Kelly)  in  Clark County, Washoe County and Rural Nevada school districts.

Question: What else would you like to do? Run for another political office?

Hickey: Not run for another office. I’ve been there, done that. I’m very excited about working with the charter schools in Nevada. They are representing almost 10 percent of Nevada’s students… and that would make up almost the third largest school district in Nevada.

I’m hopeful that it will be increasingly comprised of some of the students in our most challenged school districts in the state.

I have the opportunity to see the vision of charter schools as a public school innovation and option, and I emphasize the public school aspect of that vision. When bringing in new approaches to some of our problems they may not always be successful, but they may engender a new process. Let’s welcome help and support when it’s forthcoming, and rebuild the house as best we can locally.
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