Submitted by Shelley Buchanan
On Feb. 9, the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees approved the district’s proposed anti-racism resolution “to create a system-wide commitment to creating an unbiased, inclusive and anti-racist society through education.” While this is an admirable goal, other actions that WCSD is taking suggest this may be mere political rhetoric.
Since the beginning of the year, the school district has proposed making significant cuts to two separate programs that directly benefit minority students: the English Language Development (ELD) and Gifted and Talented (GT) programs.
Cuts to the ELD program would remove extra supports for non-English speaking students and place them in general classrooms. EL (English Language) teachers working directly with students will be replaced with “teaching facilitators” who primarily coach teachers. Multiple times, EL teachers appeared before the board, begging them not to cut their positions, stating this change will have a lasting negative impact on EL students. And yet, only a few trustees expressed concern regarding how the superintendent’s proposed action would affect these learners.
At the previous board meeting on Jan. 26, the district proposed cuts to the GT program. In addition to significant reductions to the GT Magnet program and the elimination of the GT High School Institute, cuts would limit the GT SWAS (School Within A School) program to one school. This action would disproportionately impact minority students and students from low-income households whose families may not be able to drive their children to school.
Just as proposed cuts to the ELD program provoked outrage, proposed cuts to the GT program resulted in parents, teachers and students speaking out en masse during the board meeting. While some trustees were critical of the superintendent’s recommended changes, the issue was merely tabled instead of canceled.
The Feb. 9 resolution specifically imposes mandatory professional development. Our teachers are already overwhelmed and overworked. (See MJ Ubando’s opinion piece, A Teacher’s Defense of Teachers.) As a result, more training will require them to leave their students to attend these trainings. Unfortunately, due to a long-standing substitute shortage, other teachers must then cover their classes. Consequently, teachers lose the small amount of preparatory time they have for lesson planning. Even with the early release schedule on Wednesdays, meetings and administrative tasks often fill the extra time.
If the district has its way with proposed cuts to the GT and ELD programs, teachers will have even more students in their classes with highly diverse needs and abilities. The district thinks that classroom teachers can effectively teach all these students, but they take away their time to create effective lessons.
If the resolution seeks to add even more mandated training while ignoring looming class sizes, one must ask, what good is the additional training if teachers have less opportunity to apply their newfound knowledge?
The district cites a lack of funds as a justification for cuts to the ELD and GT programs while paying for administrative staff to carry out what the recently adopted resolution requires. Recommended actions include more committees, a task force, digital programming, implementation specialists, and leadership teams, but no additional classroom teachers for our children.
The public has repeatedly asked the district to reduce class sizes and eliminate administrative bloat. (See the WCSD 2019-20 Community Budget Survey results.) Parents want more teachers working with their children, not extra bureaucratic layers. Teachers also want smaller class sizes. They know that large classes and less preparatory time make meeting every student’s needs more challenging. And students themselves want smaller classes that cater to their specific needs, abilities, and talents.
And yet, WCSD seemingly intends to increase class sizes and hire more personnel that do not directly work with students. The results of such measures will disproportionately affect minorities and students from low-income families. While the board of trustees’ efforts at addressing racism and bias in our schools is commendable, the district’s proposed changes to essential programs prove that actions do speak louder than words.
Shelley Buchanan has been involved in education in Nevada for 21 years. She has developed English as a Second Language programs as well as worked as an English teacher, adult literacy tutor, library media specialist, and school technology advisor. She is the proud parent of two children in the WCSD.