10 candidates make District F most crowded school board primary
Nine candidates have signed up to challenge incumbent Danielle Ford in District F school board primary.
May 15, 2022 - 10:23 am
Ten candidates will run for a seat representing District F on the Clark County School District Board of Trustees, the most crowded trustee race on the primary ballot.
District F, which encompasses southwest Las Vegas, has 48 schools serving approximately 40,000 students, according to numbers from the district.
Incumbent Danielle Ford, who was elected in 2018, is running against nine challengers, including a former state assemblywoman, several parents, current and former educators, and her opponent from the 2018 general election.
The school board race is nonpartisan and open to all voters. The two candidates with the most votes will advance to the general election in November, unless one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, in which case they are elected outright.
Ford was elected to her first term on the board in 2018 but says she hasn’t had the opportunity to do the job of a trustee fully.
“I feel like all of the things that I ran my campaign on still exist,” she said. “I just can’t walk away from it knowing how bad it is right now.”
A Las Vegas native, Ford attended eight schools throughout the district before dropping out of high school and obtaining her GED. She owns an online marketing company and has two children in the district.
Ford won her first bid for the board in 2018 as a first-time candidate with no endorsements, something she credits to parents in the community relating to her and trusting that she would represent them.
“It’s not my seat; it’s the people’s seat,” she said.
If re-elected, Ford says one of her top priorities will be to replace Superintendent Jesus Jara. Ford has repeatedly clashed with Jara during her first term on the board. She filed an ethics complaint against him in 2020 and was one of three board members who voted to fire Jara and vote against reinstating him.
Ford expressed a desire for a new type of leadership style, saying the district deserves a “heart-centered” superintendent who leads with integrity and knows the community.
“(Jara) has not been, and I don’t think he ever will be, the person to turn things around,” she said. “I think things have gotten worse under his leadership for a plethora of reasons.”
Her other campaign priorities include re-establishing electives like band, theater and physical education programs in schools and speaking out about the privatization of public schools
“Even though I don’t have experience in education, I feel like I’m really good at figuring things out and connecting dots,” she said. “That’s really what I’ve been doing the whole time is making relationships with everybody that I can … and just trying to remain very solution-oriented.”
Irene Bustamante Adams
Former Democratic state assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams is running to improve equity and access for students of color throughout the district, and because her 2-year-old grandson will soon enter the public school system.
Bustamante Adams served as assemblywoman from 2011 to 2019 representing District 42. She was part of a group of women who were the first Hispanic female legislators elected in the state.
“I feel like I have a really good shot with my past experience to add some great value to the table,” she said.
Bustamante Adams currently serves as the deputy director and chief strategy officer for Workforce Connections, a local workforce development board in Southern Nevada.
Workforce Connections was one of the community organizations that expressed support for Jara as some criticized his performance and called for his removal last year. Jara currently sits on the board of Workforce Connections, the first superintendent who has been a member of the organization’s board.
Bustamante also chairs Jara’s Equity and Access task force, which analyzes whether every child in the district has the same access to education.
“Through that effort I realized that there are systems that need to be put in place in order to give every child the same access,” she said.
Bustamante Adams said she supports Jara and that trustees should provide the superintendent with constant feedback and direction on how to improve.
Regarding the district’s handling of school violence on campuses, Bustamante Adams said it’s easy for people to play “Monday morning quarterback” about decisions made in the district.
She said she supports a combination of no tolerance toward violence, in addition to a holistic approach that helps children and parents address issues that are occurring behind the scenes in their households
“It needs to be all of us,” she said. “It’s got to be the county, other local municipalities, other community based organizations looking and taking a deeper dive and saying, ‘What’s going on with that individual?’ ”
Jaylon ‘Coach’ Calhoun
A former football and soccer coach, bus driver and computer technician for the district, Jaylon “Coach” Calhoun says he knows the ins and outs of the district.
“I’ve seen the things that were missing, I’ve seen the frustrations of the teachers, I’ve seen administrators not caring, and a whole lot of kids being passed on without getting the proper tools to go to college and be successful,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun ran as a Republican for Assembly District 35 in 2020, losing to Democrat Michelle Gorelow. As a father of four children who attend district schools, Calhoun said he considered another bid for state office but ultimately decided against it, instead hoping to effect change on a local level by running for school board.
“I see something that needs to change, and instead of waiting for the change, I want to be the change,” he said. “I want to make sure that my kids have the best education that they can get coming from a Nevada school. … I just want to be that change for kids.”
Calhoun said teachers and other district employees aren’t getting the proper tools and resources to do their jobs and they aren’t being heard by district officials and administrators.
He hopes to improve district communications with parents and even establish a parents’ bill of rights so that parents feel more empowered in their children’s education.
“At the end of the day, that’s their kid,” he said. “A lot of people are taking their kids out of the district due to the fact that they feel like they can’t trust the district because they feel like their voice is not heard.”
Calhoun said he doesn’t support Jara, saying nothing has changed in the district under his leadership. Jara was appointed to the board in June 2018 and has had a contentious year that saw his firing and subsequent rehiring.
Calhoun described the district as top heavy, with Jara and administrators making six-figure salaries, while teachers and other district employees remain underpaid. “They have to focus on survival instead of focusing on their job,” he said.
Regarding the recent spate of school violence, Calhoun, an Army veteran, said he would like the district to partner with Nellis Air Force Base to create an alternative military school for repeat offenders to get the structure, discipline and accountability that they need.
“An idle mind is a dangerous thing,” he said. “I feel like a lot of kids, once they get bored, they’re not challenged … they start doing foolish things, especially if they don’t have guidance at home. Start making more alternatives for kids that are repeat offenders.”
David Coram owns a video production company and taught video production and journalism at Western High School. Before that, he was an educator for 12 years in California, where he also served as a public/traffic safety commissioner in Temecula.
“There’s been something cooking inside me for the last 10 years to give back to the kids in the community,” Coram said. “I’ve always had a heart for kids.”
Coram said he was inspired to run after noticing dysfunction on the current board, saying there was a disconnect between board members and the community. “I don’t think any of them really visit their schools, talk to their students, talk to their parents,” he said.
Board members have repeatedly clashed with one another — and with Jara — in recent months.
Coram said the current trustees, and other candidates in District F, don’t have the background that he does in business, education and finance that could help move the district forward. “I can work with anybody,” he said.
When it comes to school safety, he said there needs to be a re-evaluation of the policies and procedures currently in place and an effort to involve parents more in their children’s education.
Coram, who worked in law enforcement for 17 years, said he believes disciplinary measures should be adjusted accordingly depending on the age of the student and the severity of the offense.
“When I think of restorative justice in the elementary schools, to some extent we’ve always done that as a culture,” he said. “But if you get into high school … you can’t use restorative justice on a victim that just got beat up by somebody else.”
Coram said if he could only accomplish one thing in the district it would be to unify parents and gain their support and participation in the process of running schools.
“Organizing the community, the parents to be part of what they say they want … holding us all accountable for our kids and what they turn out to be,” he said.
Liam MacCaul is an operations manager for a local medical group who has lived in Las Vegas for 20 years. MacCaul, a district parent, decided to run for school board after an outbreak of violence at his oldest daughter’s high school, Desert Oasis.
“Our kids shouldn’t have to live with that fear,” MacCaul said. “Their job right now is to go to school and learn and become the best person they can be. We need to be able to give them the best educational experience possible.”
Desert Oasis is just one of several district schools that has had to contend with increased violence in recent months.
MacCaul also wants to prioritize improving the district’s literacy rate and increasing pay for “severely underpaid” teachers in order to stop the exodus of classified staff.
When it comes to the superintendent’s performance, MacCaul said principals are given five years to turn around a school and Jara should be given the same amount of time to complete his performance in the district before he is evaluated by trustees.
“I can’t say he’s doing anything wrong, but I can’t say he’s doing much right,” MacCaul said. “I would have to support him now until I saw more of the facts, because I always have to put my trust in the person that he’s doing it for the right reasons until I don’t know any better.”
Ultimately, the district father says the one thing he hopes to bring is a more open and collaborative environment between parents, teachers and students to be able to create a better district.
“Not one person can do it all by themselves,” he said. “It takes the entire community to make sure that we have the best educational experience for our kids, and I haven’t seen that living in that district.”
Kali Fox Miller
Kali Fox Miller is making her second bid for school board after losing to Ford in the 2018 general election. She says morale in the district has tanked and the current school board is “at each other’s throats.”
“We are in a position where certain members of the board treat being on the school board as a joke or a game,” she said. “I think that when you have 300,000 children to account to and 40,000 employees to account to, you should go out of your way to set an example.
“I chose to run because I once again feel that, in a very convoluted pool, I’m the best candidate for the job,” she said.
Miller is the director of Regulatory Legal, a financial technology company, and president-elect of the Nevada Parent Teacher Association.
Miller says she hasn’t seen any changes when it comes to District F and that there is less professionalism on the board and less talking about student outcomes than even four years ago. When it came to student enrollment, Miller says the only thing that meaningfully lowered the number of students in district schools was the rezoning that coincided with the Census in 2021.
Miller’s campaign priorities include prioritizing school safety and retaining teachers. She called the recent outbreak of school violence a “ticking time bomb” following a rapid return to school following the pandemic and the district’s lack of social workers and psychologists.
“Children without adequate support are going to act out,” she said.
“They’re having emotions, feelings, frustrations that they don’t know how to cope.”
Miller says she hopes to leave the district having doubled literacy throughout the school district. “I am a firm believer that literacy is the foundation on which to build education,” she said.
Tim Vicario is a social studies teacher at Innovations International Charter School whose daughters attend school in the district, the same school where his wife is a teacher.
He hopes to bring the voice of an educator who has firsthand experience inside Las Vegas classrooms to the school board.
“I want to join and I want to run because I want to try and work with the other board members and give them a point of view of what it’s like to be in that classroom,” he said.
Vicario says there is a disconnect between schools and the district, and that teachers can sometimes feel like they’re on an island alone.
His campaign priorities include school safety, retaining teachers, lowering classroom sizes and increasing parent engagement. “We have to have buy-in from the families,” he said. “It’s really a team effort.”
Vicario said he disagrees with the way the board ousted and rehired Jara. “He’s our leader, and you have to give him a chance to lead,” he said.
Vicario said if he could accomplish one thing during the end of a four-year term on the school board, it would be for the district to have enough teachers and substitutes.
“I’d like to have that problem,” he said. “That’s a problem our district could use. Enough licensed teachers in the classroom.”
Jamil Bey, who worked as a school bus driver in the district until 2019, did not return calls for comment and does not currently have a campaign website. Tammi Musemici, a real estate agent, also has no website and didn’t return calls.
Erica “Mama Neely” Neely, who also didn’t return calls, is running on a platform of school choice, reducing school overcrowding and reversing “damaging” policies such as critical race theory and restorative discipline, according to her website.
Contact Lorraine Longhi at email@example.com. Follow @lolonghi on Twitter.