Since Carolyn Goodman announced her retirement as president of The Meadows School (effective July 1), her next move has been highly anticipated. The school that she started, with the help of a devoted group of parents, has been her focus for 26 years. But with her husband, Oscar, soon to be termed out of the mayor’s office, rumors swirled that she was readying for a run. Goodman has declared that she is not interested in political office, but if she deems the candidate pool too shallow as the 2011 election draws near, she might change her mind.
The Bryn Mawr College graduate, who arrived in Las Vegas in 1964 freshly married and with just $87 in her pocket, helped turn The Meadows into a nationally renowned private school, one that has sent each of its graduates on to four-year colleges. While successful in her professional life (though she hasn’t taken a dime for her work at the school), Goodman’s family is her top priority. She and the “Happiest Mayor on Earth” have four adopted children who are now grown and who collectively produced six grandchildren.
What will you miss most after retiring in July?
Probably the students. I just love young people. I love helping them work to maximize their potential and to see life and see choices and watching them gain their independence and learn about themselves. And perhaps help them, at least in the beginning stages, look at a career path. I love people, but I really love young people.
What motherly advice did you give your children when they became parents?
The most important thing is to realize the child is going through his life, no matter what age. … The key is to help the child understand what he does, why he does it and to see his choices. If he does something that is not right, [help him] do something that is better.
Did your experience as a mother help your work at The Meadows School?
Without question, the two are integrated, and The Meadows School resulted in large part because of our children. I learned a lot about developmental and behavioral issues as they grew up and how from birth to 10 are the most critical of years. The other piece was that The Meadows wouldn’t have been here if I hadn’t seen very clearly up front that the local school system was not meeting our expectations. When my husband and I moved to Las Vegas, the Clark County School District was second best in the country. But I grew very frustrated when I realized my efforts for nine years within the district were falling on deaf ears. Everyone pointed to huge growth in student population and insufficient funds coming down from the Legislature. So the issue became, “Well, we’ll try to show them how well it can be done.” To this date, 80 cents of every tuition dollar goes back into The Meadows classrooms for faculty salary, benefits and supplies. We have concentrated on putting the money where it matters most: quality teachers. In the Clark County School District, you can’t get rid of weak or mediocre teachers. They are just relocated. At The Meadows, everyone has to be invited back every year—administration, faculty, staff and students are on one-year contracts. Not surprisingly, we have a very stable faculty, staff and student population, with a “skinny” administration.
How can the next mayor fill Oscar’s shoes?
That’s the issue, because, from my perspective, there’s only one of him. There’s no one who has the blend of brilliance, the law background and a great sense of humor. There’s no one who can replicate the draw of his personality, who isn’t frightened to speak the truth and will never compromise what’s best for the community because of some issue or someone behind them. That calls for someone to be unique and not try to replicate him. On the other hand, they do have to commit to following through with the good things on the table, because if they don’t—I don’t want to run, but I’ll have to run.
What do you say when Oscar goes too far?
We don’t even have to communicate because he walks through the door and I laugh. He’s probably one of the most brilliant people that I know. Take the cutting off the thumbs [his suggested punishment for graffiti vandals]. There had been no attention to graffiti here at all until he made that outrageous statement, knowing full well he wasn’t going to be cutting off anyone’s thumb. He’s very careful and methodical in what he says and how he says it. Occasionally he gets too cute and those are the comments they get him on. … If he wants to talk about it, he’ll say, “What do you think about this or that?” and of course, after almost 48 years of marriage, we almost don’t have to have a conversation. I can just give him a look and he knows what I’m thinking.
What is it like to be the woman behind such a powerful personality?
It’s wonderful because I trust him implicitly. You can’t be married to someone you can’t respect. You can’t respect someone who lies, so it goes back to that fundamental issue. The most important thing is that you speak the truth. I have hammered that into our kids. That’s the big drive behind Oscar and being behind him. No one has had a better life than I have. I love being a woman. I love a guy to stand up when I walk in a room. I love a man to open my door. I don’t need to have to be out there blabbing all over the place about women’s rights. I think I’ve earned the right and I certainly think women have that. I love being treated as something soft and kind and being behind him or with him. It’s been perfect.
If you’re not running for mayor, what’s next?
I haven’t a clue at this point. I’ve had a couple of job offers, but I know they want me to work seven days a week, and I’ve been doing that for the past 25 years. First off, I have to wait for my husband, the mayor, to make up his mind about what he’s going to do, then I’ll decide after that. It’s been 36 years in one house, so the first thing I want to do is start throwing things out. We’ve collected junk, and I have not attended to that.