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New Middle School in Spanish Springs to be Named for WWII Airfield

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A sketch of a possible design for the new middle schools in Sun Valley and Spanish Springs. Image: WCSD.

The new middle school in Spanish Springs will bear the name of a World War II-era airfield, Washoe County School District trustees decided Tuesday.

A groundbreaking for the school is scheduled Thursday, Dec. 14.

The 1,400-student capacity school will be on a 31.84-acre parcel between David Allen and Kiley parkways in the Kiley Ranch North development. About 20 acres will be used for the middle school with the remaining acreage available for a future elementary school. It’s scheduled to open in fall 2019.

Sky Ranch was a 1940s auxiliary field that closed in the early 1970s. It was home to the 126,000-acre Rocketdyne Nevada Field Laboratory and it was used for testing the space program’s rocket engines.

“A place name is in order for this particular school,” trustee John Mayer said. “I like place names.”

Other finalists were Michael Landsberry and Debbie Smith.

Landsberry taught at Sparks Middle School and was shot dead in fall 2013 while trying to protect students from a 12-year-old who opened fire on campus. He was also a Marine veteran and member of the Nevada Air National Guard.

Smith, a former state lawmaker who represented Sparks, advocated for education as a legislator and served as past president of the Nevada Parent Teacher Association. She died in 2016 from complications associated with brain cancer.

Trustee Katy Simon Holland said she spoke with Smith’s husband, who asked his late wife’s name be withdrawn and possibly considered for another school in the future.

Debra Feemster. Photo: WCSD

Trustee Debra Feemster suggested the personnel files of former employees be reviewed before schools are named for them. She initially suggested the board delay a decision until Landsberry’s file could be reviewed but other trustees disagreed citing concerns of privacy and potentially setting a dangerous precedent.

Naming Committee Chairman Frank Perez said he didn’t hear anything negative about Landsberry — a name the committee ranked No. 1— and that his name wouldn’t have advanced forward if that were the case.

Holland asked if the district had gotten feedback from Landsberry’s family. The communications staff said attempts to reach the family have failed despite his name getting more public support than any other school name.

Another thought was that it was too soon to name the school for Landsberry.

Feemster said she knew teachers in a grief support group who had a hard time coping with Landsberry’s death.

“I’m wondering if students would have any PTSD or something from the name, even if it’s honoring him,” Feemster said.

Sparks middle school math teacher and former Marine Michael Landsberry, 45.  (AP Photo/Nevada Air National Guard)

Trustee Veronica Frenkel said she’s spoken to staff at Sparks Middle and to a counselor who raised questions about the timing.

“When is it appropriate to name a school after a deceased person?” Frankel asked.

Sky Ranch passed 4-3 with Holland, Scott Kelley, and Malena Raymond dissenting.

Groundbreaking for Sky Ranch Middle School is scheduled at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. The school will house sixth through eighth graders and be modeled similarly to Depoali Middle School in south Reno with safety, security, technology, and efficiency updates. It’s expected to relieve crowding at several area elementary schools once sixth graders are moved out of elementary schools and into middle school.

A total of 35 naming suggestions were submitted online or by mail and the Naming Committee narrowed the list to 10 last month, then to three last week.

The 11-member naming committee is made up of one district representative selected by the superintendent, seven members of the public (one from each trustee district), one high school student, and two at-large members.

Construction of the new middle school is being funded by a voter-approved sales tax increase from 7.725 percent to 8.265 percent that is expected to raise funds during the next nine years to build 15 new schools.

CLARIFICATION: The story lead was changed to more accurately reflect the naming of the school. Thanks to our reader for pointing this out. -Bob

Carla O'Day
Carla O'Day
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.

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