Iconoclast Emeritus

Eighty-five million years ago, says the elderly man in the rocking chair.

He’s talking dinosaurs with a class of second-graders in the McCool Science Center at Frank J. Lamping Elementary School. The event is called Cookies and Books with Mr. Lamping. The old man’s name is Frank J. Lamping.

“I wasn’t even around then,” he says. “I’m old, but not that old.”

Later he’ll head outside toward the sprawling sandbox, where six kinds of plastic dinosaur bones are buried. Lamping, 81, is proud to be actively involved at a school named for him. Not all honorees get that chance, after all. “Usually,” he says, “they’re dead.”

Lamping was the principal of six different schools in the Clark County School District, from 1965 to 1994. An inductee in the CCSD Educational Hall of Fame, he is credited with bringing the middle school concept to Nevada. His namesake school opened in 1997.

It’s ironic that Lamping now plays the elder statesman role; during his career he was something of an iconoclast. In the early 1990s, then-superintendent Brian Cram visited Thurman White Middle School, where Lamping was principal. When Cram asked to see the typing room, Lamping had to admit he didn’t have one. He showed him a computer room instead. He’d also replaced the wood shop with a tech lab. Home economics wasn’t on his curriculum, either. “These girls weren’t going to be buying patterns, and sewing, and everything else. All those expensive sewing machines we put into technology.”

Cram was flabbergasted—and more than a little miffed, Lamping recalls. Lamping hadn’t sought, nor received, permission for the changes he’d made. So he reminded Cram about the school’s high test scores, the enthusiastic teachers, the happy parents. Soon the other principals were asking for the same setup, and the district took a giant step toward the future.

He admits he was taking a bold risk, but Lamping was only a few years from retirement, and he knew that this was the right decision for the students. The next time Cram visited, the usually confident Lamping broke a sweat. He thought he was being fired. Instead, he was presented a Milken Award—America’s educational equivalent to the Oscar—and a $25,000 check for his outstanding contribution to education.

It’s no surprise that Lamping is excited about the district’s new superintendent, Dwight Jones, and the incentive-based system he proposed in May. Under Jones’ plan, principals at schools that show improved student performance would gain more independence. “Right now everyone does it exactly the same,” he says. “[Jones’ proposals] give people the ability to do things creatively and make changes. So, if you’re in the west side, with kids who can’t read or write English, and you have some method of changing things, you can do it.

“It’s going to take a lot of guts, and he’s going to take a lot of flack,” Lamping says. But he’s rooting for Jones, a fellow rebel with a cause.