(Jim Clark) – John H. O. La Gatta is a successful investment banker who settled in Reno and is devoting this stage of his life to promoting ideas to make Nevada a better place. I first met him in the late 1990s when I recruited him for Nevada Policy Research Institute.
Currently John and his non-profit, the Catamount Fund, are promoting education reform (see www.johnholagatta.us and click on “education”). Last Thursday, I was invited to witness a political miracle. John had arranged for a six-hour education reform program in the Capitol Building sponsored by Republican Governor Sandoval, Democrat Majority Leader Horsford and Democrat Speaker Oceguera. Catamount Fund covered the expenses. The event attracted 50+ of Nevada’s top education officials and was dedicated to education reform’s first baby step, that of developing a reliable and accessible statewide data bank of students and their achievements. The event was moderated by Washoe School Superintendent Heath Morrison.
Governor Sandoval was the first speaker and expressed his wholehearted commitment to improving student achievement and getting Nevada up among the top education states. Dr. Morrison and Education Reform Commission member Chris Cross then discussed specific education policies and goals. Aimee Guidera of the Data Quality Campaign asked groups at each table to share ideas on how to attain the goals. It was the group discussion that made clear to me that Nevada has plenty of student data, but none of it is coordinated.
Nevada Superintendent of Instruction Keith Rheault and State Department of Education Technology Director Glenn Meyer described the ten steps necessary to establish an effective longitudinal data program. Meyer has been working on this for two years and told us Nevada has attained 8 of the 10 steps and will be complete within a year.
Guidera took the floor again and described how agencies without accurate and comprehensive data are forced to make decisions based on anecdotal evidence resulting in trial and error methods and wasted resources. Teacher merit pay, curricula, and remediation are just a few examples of challenges that require accurate information to deal with.
According to Education Week, the top public education state is Maryland followed by New York, Massachusetts, Virginia and Florida. Close behind is Georgia, ranked 8th in the nation, and of considerable interest to these Nevada educators because a few years ago Georgia Gov. Zell Miller instituted education reforms that recently brought that state into national leadership. A panel of Nevada experts who had visited Georgia presented their findings on just how the Peach State accomplished its turnaround. The discussion was too detailed for this column, but Data Quality Campaign’s Guidera told the group that Nevada is now where Georgia was a few years ago.
Finally Dr. Morrison, Clark County Assistant Superintendent. Ken Turner, Nevada State Economist William Anderson and “Teach for America” Director Allison Serafin discussed a shared vision of linked data and how Nevada can serve its school districts. Also on this panel was local hero Tom Wortman who, as principal of Anderson Elementary School in Reno, brought that minority school to an “excellent” achievement rating and is now working on the same goal at Smithridge Elementary School.
The good news is this: Of all those present, Democrats and Republicans, administrators and teachers, professionals and volunteers, there was no negativity or disagreement. The governor set the tone and the participants came up with elements of a plan.
Let’s hope Mr. La Gatta continues his “gentle persuasion” leadership so Nevada can rise to the top.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee.)