Aaron Compton has lived in Pahrump for a short time, but he sees a problem that needs fixing.
“I was hearing that Pahrump Valley High School had a high graduation rate, so I wanted to see how many students are actually proficient and ready to enter the real world,” he said. So he went to the statistics. “Divide the (number of) college- and career-ready column by the (number of) graduates column,” and he said it’s 19%.
That means that, by the numbers, fewer than one in five PVHS graduates are considered proficient and prepared to enter college or the work force.
“My mouth dropped,” Compton said. “That is far more depressing than I thought it would be.”
So the Navy veteran — Compton spent four-and-a-half years on an aircraft carrier — decided to run for the Nye County School District Board of Trustees. In talking to people with kids in the system, he said he found people who feel they and their kids are marginalized, and nobody seems to do anything about it.
“They have to worry about being picked on and racially discriminated against, and that is one of the biggest concerns that I have had among issues brought up by the parents,” he said. “And they don’t want to associate themselves in the political realm because they don’t want to be targeted for speaking out.”
Compton works for an architectural firm in Las Vegas, and he and his wife moved to Pahrump last year. “I have a little bit of land, and the people here for the most part are delightful and super helpful,” he said. “It’s a better fit for us.”
And making it an even better fit motivates him. And few statistics better show where there is room for improvement than Nevada’s system of school rankings.
“Nevada is on a star system, and from 2017 our schools were up to three or four stars, and gradually for whatever reason it has drastically dropped,” he said. According to the 2018-19 district accountability report, one Nye County school — Duckwater Elementary — earned five stars and one — Beatty Elementary — earned four. Seven schools, including Beatty, Pahrump Valley, Round Mountain and Tonopah high schools, earned three stars.
The other 18 schools either received one or two stars or were not rated.
“After three years they look again, and that determines how much funding they get,” Compton said. “That budget might drop, and if $74 million (the current NCSD budget) isn’t enough it’s only going to get worse.”
From the mission statement on his Facebook page, Compton’s goal is “to make sure the Nye County School District provides every student with the quality education they deserve in a safe environment.” Compton believes that neither of those two goals is being achieved.
“A lot of these families work hard to try and help their kids to elevate themselves, and it’s hard to hear when their parents have to worry about them being called names when they’re trying to get a good education,” he said.
Getting kids and parents to focus on education is essential to success, Compton says, and he cites his own experiences.
“If you don’t truly focus, it’s hard to catch up,” he said. “I was behind overall. I’m glad I joined the Navy first and then went to college,” — he has a degree in architecture — “but if education had been my first priority I could have been an officer and had a better outcome. All these different aspects of your life revolve around education.
“I would like people to understand no matter what background anybody is part of, education should be a right for everybody.”
When Oren Hampton thinks about what he could accomplish on the Nye County School District Board of Trustees, he calls upon his past experiences.
A veteran of eight years in the Navy and three in the National Guard, Hampton also put in time as a teacher and two years as a principal at a high school for troubled girls in Las Vegas run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. One anecdote sums up one of his primary concerns about the educational system.
“Everybody says certain people will fail no matter what,” he said. “But I had an instance in my school where a girl was said to be not that bright. I hired a science teacher in the summer who gave her a college prep class. She came in crying, saying she couldn’t do it. I went to the teacher, and the teacher said she could.
“She ended up passing that course with a B. You’ve got to challenge the kids. That’s what they need.”
Applying individual measures to individual students is a concept that frames much of Hampton’s thinking. And it goes as much for discipline as it does for instruction.
“Nationwide they have a zero-tolerance policy for items when I don’t believe we should have a policy,” Hampton explained. “A kid got expelled for making a gun out of a waffle or a pancake? He gets in trouble? That’s stupidity. You need to look at these things individually.”
Hampton, a 30-year Pahrump resident, believes the one-size-fits-all approach is especially harmful for those students who find themselves existing at the margins of the school communities.
“The mandatory graduation requirements are necessary, but they can limit the ability of kids,” he said. “They put too much pressure on them. For example, you have to have so many credits to graduate. The state says you need English 1, 2, 3 and 4 in a four-year period. Some of these girls weren’t in school, and now they’re ending up taking classes like English 2 and 3 at the same time.
“Unfortunately, if you don’t learn English 2, it’s hard to go to English 3, but you’re being forced by the state. I think it needs to be adjusted a little bit.”
Hampton has made tries for public office before, a run for county assessor years ago and a 2018 run for public administrator. But he says politics is not exactly a lifelong ambition for him.
“I worked in Vegas, and I haven’t gotten involved really because I didn’t have the time,” Hampton said. “Work, sleep, back to work in Vegas. Now that I’m retired, I want to get more involved in the community.”
Involvement also means getting parents more involved in the education process.
“We can make sure parents are more involved by letting them know what’s happening and making easier access at any time of the day or evening, through email and calls, for questions,” Hampton said. “You need to get them involved. It is hard, but you have to have more personal contact with the parents. PTA meetings are great, but I’ve been to a lot of them as a parent, and sometimes it’s just rote.”
If there’s anything that bothers Hampton, it’s the concept of doing things a certain way because that’s the way it always has been done.
“As a principal, I bucked the system quite a bit,” he said with a chuckle. But don’t get the idea he’s ready to start setting off bombs everywhere he goes.
“I would bring a level head, and my background in education,” Hampton said of his potential contributions to the board. “I believe that we should make kids think instead of just learn.”
For Mark Hansen, collegiality is a big part of what he enjoys about being a member of the Nye County School District Board of Trustees.
“What I bring is patience, understanding,” said Hansen, the incumbent Area VI representative on the board. “I really like to listen to what other board members have to say, and I like to engage in those discussions.”
Sometimes those discussions can lead Hansen to change his mind.
“One of the things that we did together as a board was we allowed for more PLC time for the teachers, which I believe is an hour a day, for the teachers to collaborate and decide what’s working and what’s not working for the kids,” he said, referring to Professional Learning Community time. “By allowing the teachers to have an hour, we ended up having to shorten the day by an hour, and I know a lot of parents were concerned about their kids losing an hour, but we were looking at it from a quality versus quantity standpoint.”
Hansen said the combination of talking about it with other board members and going out and observing what teachers did during PLC time made him a believer.
“When we were first discussing it, I wasn’t on board with it and I even voted against it,” Hansen recalled. “When I went and sat in on a couple of PLCs the teachers were having, that sold me on how it works for them. That was one of the bigger things we did.”
And Hansen says those teachers are the district’s greatest strength.
“Our teachers put their hearts and souls into their work,” he said. “I’ve seen it with my kids” — Hansen has four, ages 9 to 19 — “I’ve seen it with other classes at every grade level. They really work to strengthen our kids, and they care about them.”
The Hansens have called Pahrump home for 15 years, although that was not the original plan.
“We’ve been in Pahrump since 2005, originally from Pocatello, Idaho,” Hansen said. “I graduated Idaho State University, and the Nevada Test Site (now the Nevada National Security Site) hired me out of school, and we’ve been here ever since. The plan was to be here for a couple of years, but Nevada is home now. This is where we want to stay.”
Eventually, making a home meant getting more involved, and that brought Hansen to the idea of running for the school board.
“We had noticed that there was an opening when the previous representative was terming out,” he said. “My wife and I had talked about it, and we decided we wanted to have a bigger voice in our kids’ schooling.”
Curriculum and facilities take up much of a school board member’s time, and Hansen has thoughts on both.
“I think we are in pretty decent shape,” Hansen said of the district’s physical plant. “I know our maintenance crew does a very good job at keeping our building up to date, repaired and functioning. I know we have some older schools in the northern part of the district we’ll be looking at, and I know the football field at Pahrump Valley High School is getting up to 10 years old and is going to need replacing, but I think overall we’re in pretty good shape.
“Right now we’re so focused on the hiring of our new superintendent, but we deployed a new math program, and instead of giving the teachers time to learn it and understand it and figure out how to teach it, we just dropped it into their laps. They’re trying to teach a new way. I’d really like to take a look at how the curriculum is decided on.”