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Note: This story was updated on Dec. 2 to correct Justin Robertson's title.

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Contributed photo / Christopher Bernier

The Hamilton County Board of Education this week interviewed the first of three superintendent finalists, Christopher Bernier, chief of staff of the Clark County school district in Las Vegas, Nevada.

When asked to share some of his past experiences and actions to close achievement gaps, he described his success in taking over a low-performing school where exceptional education students were taught in portable classrooms while other students were taught inside the school building with no interaction.

"That is not an acceptable educational model for me," he said Tuesday. "When you looked at data from the school building ... the students were achieving fairly well, but unless we address the need of our students with special needs, we were never going to meet the state grading criteria."

Bernier said he worked with faculty on inclusion models, developed a plan for moving forward and set expectations for the following fall.

"The real critical component to it ... is about teachers having real data in real time," he said, adding that his belief in inclusion models is supported by his awareness that instructional methodologies used to approach students with learning gaps work for all children.

He and other school faculty members also took a hard look at discipline practices and disparate treatment, with a goal of getting more children back in the classroom, Bernier said.

The school was only slightly short of its goals in closing gaps with various groups, and Bernier said he was rewarded with the responsibility of starting a new middle school from the ground up.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson to join U.S. Xpress leadership team)

In response to a question concerning what he feels is the greatest obstacle to literacy in Hamilton County, he said he thinks the top priorities in an elementary school building should be pre-K and kindergarten.

"You have to intervene early," Bernier said, adding that reading and math should be the focus early on. "Social studies and science can come once a student can read."

He said he thinks the signs of a healthy school system are the diversity of its schools' clubs and programs; equity and access to pre-K, gifted programs and rigorous middle school courses; and the longevity of school board members and the superintendent.

"I want this to be my last job," he said.

(READ MORE: These are the five final Hamilton County Schools superintendent candidates)

Bernier said he also applied for a superintendent position in Lexington, Kentucky, for a school district of a size similar to Hamilton County.

The Hamilton County school board plans to interview the other two finalists this week and next before selecting a superintendent on Dec. 9.

Jermaine Dawson, chief academic and accountability officer of Birmingham City Schools in Birmingham, Alabama, will be interviewed Thursday, followed by Justin Robertson, interim deputy superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, on Tuesday. Both interviews will be livestreamed at 5:30 p.m.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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