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Safety, successes the focal point of State of Education

By Eric Marks

The Washoe County School District’s annual “Sate of Education” meeting was Wednesday at one of the area’s newest elementary schools in South Reno. School board members and district leadership used the opportunity to highlight the district’s plans to place a greater emphasis on technology and sciences and its continued focus on student safety.

The meeting also touched on community partnerships, new facilities and the ongoing search for a permanent superintendent.

The new Nick Poulakidas Elementary School was not just a backdrop for the event; it allowed the district the opportunity to showcase the design and facility capabilities of its newest schools. One of these features, a hydrothermal window, illustrates the school’s progressive design and allows students to study “energy actually happening.”

McQueen High School Culinary Arts students serve refreshments for the crowd.

Students from several area high schools were also on hand. They showcased student projects from culinary, art, music and science programs during a general meet-and-greet prior to the program.

With many state, county and public officials in attendance,Interim Superintendent Dr. Kristen McNeill delivered a passionate and focused testimony on the district’s efforts to provide safe learning environments and passage to schools.

Touching on “one point entrances” and the family environment the school district provides, she emphasized that, “multiple different types of programming, including Paiute language programs in four of the high schools, are all programs that 8,000 dedicated professionals wake up every single morning wanting to give the very best of their time and effort to our students.”

Included in these programs topics were: speech and language pathology across the school district, career education, agricultural science, information technology and the International Baccalaureate Program offered at Wooster High School.

Dr. McNeill also touched on the services provided to “over 10,000 special education students” in the district.

With over 2,000 students currently in Gifted and Talented Program, technology and community partnerships with technology based companies, such as Tesla, were key points of her opening remarks. The school district presently offers 24 robotics programs in Washoe County schools, from the elementary to high school level. They are also pairing with several companies for internship and apprentice programs in these fields.

Celebration and success

Board of Trustees President Malena Raymond acknowledged problems within the district, but conveyed a message of positivity.

“There are certainly challenges we face as a district, but tonight is really about celebrating the successes across our district, and what we are doing to support all of our 64,000 students.”

This was a sentiment emphasized by Board of Trustees member Dr. Angela Taylor as well.

“We are so much better than people think we are. This is a time for celebration. When issues or challenges come up, that’s what is in the media. When things are going well and there are successes, it doesn’t get as much coverage.

“So, these opportunities give us a chance to really appreciate and celebrate the hard-working teachers, librarians, administrators, nurses and the school aids that are getting it done every single day with limited resources.”

Prioritizing student safety

Fernanda Cardenas
Student Fernanda Cardenas talks about students’ “areas of concern,” including safe passage for students to and from school.

Raymond also shared her concerns for student safety with This Is Reno, a topic that was part of the meeting’s overall focus.

“Our number one concern is student safety. We have had a number of pedestrian incidents with our students walking to and from school. It’s a community effort. We have a great deal of support with local leaders across the community, but we cannot stop talking about this until the numbers go down, and unfortunately they just keep going up.”

The safety concerns for students were also shared by the students themselves. Fernanda Cardenas, a TMCC High School junior, addressed the issue at great length, noting “26 reported cases of students being hit by cars,” including one fatality. Representing her school for the WCSD Student Advisory Council, she articulated how the “Student Voice” program was the main objective of the council.

“It creates a safe space for our students to be able to voice their opinions and viewpoints on things that affect them every single day. For the current school year, one of our focuses has been traffic safety.”

Embracing community

Although the WCSD faces many challenges, ranging from a permanent Superintendent to handling a rapidly growing student population, one point was continuously highlighted throughout the meeting: the WCSD is placing a great deal of emphasis on structure and the sense of inclusion throughout the community.

With new technologies, including WCSD apps that allow monitoring of school activities, concerns and schedules,Interim Superintendent McNeill made sure to reiterate the sense of community, and the importance of cohesion it plays in the district’s future.

“WCSD is truly a family,” said McNeill excitedly. “We have over 3,000 students that are either homeless or in foster care across our school district. We have over 14,000 students who are English language learners, and offer over 230 classes through our Parent University. Our staff and our community wraps our arms around them all every day; every single student gets the highest quality education.”

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