Submitted by Dr. Kristen McNeill, Washoe County School District Interim Superintendent
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the ways in which we educate our students. This is true not only at the Washoe County School District (WCSD), but in districts across our nation.
When Governor Sisolak made the difficult decision to close schools statewide on the first day of a two-week spring break for most of our students, our WCSD staff immediately mobilized to focus on tasks that were –and still are— critical to our students’ success and wellbeing:
- The WCSD Leadership Team immediately began exploring ways in which the District could launch and effectively utilize a Distance Learning Program for our 64,000 students. Staff members from Curriculum & Instruction worked virtually around the clock to gather and create lessons and plans for every grade level. Upon approval from the Nevada Department of Education of our Emergency Distance Education Program application, the Distance Learning Program lessons were posted online. In addition, 50,000+ packets of printed materials were circulated to students and families by Transportation Department employees. A big “thank you” to our WCSD Print Shop, UNR, City of Reno, and Washoe County who provided crucial help with our printing needs!
- In partnership with the Food Bank of Northern Nevada and the Nevada Department of Agriculture, WCSD formed a Food Security Working Group which immediately organized meal distributions to children who rely on schools for food. As a result, thousands of meals are being provided to children at 20 sites across the county each day.
- Principals and teachers participated in professional development to learn this new way of teaching and learning, while staying in daily contact with their students. Counselors and school psychologists supported our staff and students with Social and Emotional (SEL) wellness lessons for students and families.
- Communications employees created a series of Connect Ed calls, website postings, and social media with information about distance learning materials and supports.
WCSD places a high priority on emergency preparation in our schools and offices, and an important part of that preparation is partnerships within our community. We are grateful for the resources we have received from governmental and community agencies that have offered support for our students and families. We appreciate EDAWN and The Chamber for helping us spread the word to our community about this new way of educating students.
Of course, we have encountered challenges on this journey: had we known that we would be launching a districtwide distance learning program in a short period of time, we would have had more devices available for our students, free Wi-Fi for our families, and more professional development for our teachers to ensure they were comfortable and familiar with these digital tools.
However, as educators, we are also lifelong learners, and we continue to learn as we move forward together with our staff and families. This pandemic has brought many moments of true inspiration as we combine forces to make this new learning experience work.
Every single day, I am amazed at the level of commitment our employees have shown in all their various capacities across this district. I commend our students and parents who have tackled this new challenge with bravery and dedication during such a challenging time. And I want to thank all of our first responders, doctors, nurses and health care professionals for their tireless and heroic efforts for our families and loved ones: each one of you has a permanent halo on your head in my book!
Join WCSD Interim Superintendent Dr. Kristen McNeill – and other local education experts – in a community conversation on April 30 via YouTube. “Kids & Crisis: Ensuring Education & Care for Our Children” is the third event in a year-long Speaker Series presented by Truckee Meadows Tomorrow that focuses on topics that matter most to northern Nevadans.
For more information about the Speaker Series event, visit www.nevadatomorrow.org/speaker_series.
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