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Community interviews McNeill to fill superintendent vacancy

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Tuesday’s virtual town hall presenting Dr. Kristen McNeill as the lone candidate in Washoe County School District’s superintendent search was equal parts job interview and coronavirus response. District officials and McNeill spent time addressing community concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on education, providing McNeill opportunity to communicate how she and the WCSD will help students, parents and district employees move ahead.

Presented by the district’s Board of Trustees, the event was live streamed on the WCSD’s official YouTube channel and included questions submitted to Dr. McNeill from the community, both prior to the meeting and in real time.

Before the question and answer session began, the district aired several public service announcements including tips and strategies from the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) department for positive behavior and home education experiences. The message focused on routines, structures, coping and positive reinforcement tips.

Dr. McNeill started the meeting by deviating from the normal structure to announce formally that as per Governor Steve Sisolak’s directive, schools will not be reopening this school year. The disappointment by McNeill was apparent, as was her concern for and pride in the 8,000 employees and 64,000 WCSD students and their families. McNeill also expressed the concern of the teachers in the WCSD that they all held for their students before introducing herself.

Who is Kristen McNeill?

Dr. McNeill described herself first and foremost as a mother, sharing a brief description of her children who are currently a graduating high school senior and TMCC student. She moved on to highlight her experience as a WCSD employee with a long list of accomplishments and involvement with the district, in schools as both teacher and principal, and in various roles within the administration.

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A screenshot of McNeill’s presentation during a virtual town hall.

McNeill touted her familiarity and experience with her pending position, then proceeded to share her personal “core value system” which she explained provided her the components that “drive her every single day.”

“Every single decision I make are based on these four characteristics: honesty, integrity, kindness and transparency,” McNeill said. “This is how I am going to be leading the district,” she added, making clear her core values are ones that she expects the WCSD leadership teams to adhere to. She also emphasized the need for kindness and integrity among employees and her willingness and ability to resolve issues and problems for which she may not have the answers.

During her introduction, McNeill touched on a number of priorities, including employee morale and expanding the Employee Rewards Suggestions Program, the special education and school services program, educator workload, increased pay and benefits, internet technology strategic plans and class size and allocation processes.

COVID-19 impacts

Reiterating discussion from the past few WCSD meetings, McNeill touched on the impacts of the COVID-19 situation. The second phase of distance learning launched April 20 and McNeill admitted, “there are a lot of questions about grading and what that’s going to be looking like,” and announced the third phase of distance learning which will begin May 11.

Describing employees as “heroes,” McNeill said staff has had a “96 percent contact rate” with students, what she says is a direct result of WCSD’s teachers, principals and schools.

McNeill also expressed gratitude for the partnership between the Food Bank of Northern Nevada and the district’s own Nutrition Services Team in ensuring that students and their families had adequate nutrition.

She also relayed what she said were unfortunate new measures schools are considering for reopening in the fall, including staggered start times and social distancing implementations. Identifying safety as a principle concern, McNeill’s leadership vision moving forward “as a mom, the interim/permanent superintendent” will revolve around her core value system.

Answering to the public

The most frequent question from the community during the question and answer session focused on cancellation of graduation ceremonies and possible alternatives. McNeill passionately acknowledged the life achievement for graduating students, but made it absolutely clear there would be no compromising the health or safety of the students for a live ceremony.

Other questions presented to McNeill included reopening procedures, employee group morale, previous mandated attendance policies based on federal guidance policies, and possible Deputy Superintendent nominations.

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Wooster High School graduating seniors visit Vaughn Middle School, stressing the importance
of education. Photo: Carla O’Day

Perhaps the most controversial question presented was in regards to the WCSD public hearing for the removal of the previous superintendent, including parent and teacher witness testimony claiming direct experience with “supervisory personnel of the Washoe County School District exerting pressure to graduate students who were obviously deficient in their scholastic achievement and should not have received diplomas.” McNeill acknowledged the concern, but explained the school’s graduation rates are audited by the state.

“I stand behind our graduation rates. It’s more important for me as a superintendent to make sure that our students are ready and prepared to go on for what’s coming next,” she said. “And whether they are serving their country in the military, whether they are ready to go into a career, or whether they are going into post-secondary education. The most important thing for myself and my team is that the students are prepared to do that.”

The board officially suspended the national search for superintendent March 31, voting to name Dr. McNeill as permanent superintendent at the upcoming April 28 meeting and citing her as “the best person to serve as our superintendent, for a number of reasons.”

The meeting is available for public view on the WCSD archive at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWL2pZc8mXM

Eric Marks
Eric Markshttp://ericmarksphotography.com/
Born in 1971, Eric Marks was fortunate enough to grow up in a time and family where photography and literature were normal parts of his life. His parents were always enthusiastic and supportive of his photography as a child, and encouraged him to read and write as much as possible. From 2005 to 2012 he owned an award-winning, international, high definition video production company, and has produced video and photography in over 14 different countries on four continents. Eric majored at the University of Nevada, Reno in English/Writing and Art, graduating with English and Photography degrees in 2013, and again with an Art degree in 2018. He teaches all genres of photography at Truckee Meadows Community College, is a freelance photojournalist for several publications, and offers private photography instruction.

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