By Carly Sauvageau
The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees in their Jan. 11 regular meeting agreed to minimize the COVID-19 isolation time for students following recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Beginning Jan. 12, Washoe County students who have had exposure to or tested positive for COVID-19 may return to school after a five-day isolation period as long as they are symptom-free or their symptoms are improving. That’s a reduction from the 10-day period previously required.
Public commenters focused on the district’s COVID-19 guidelines. Many parents complained about the lack of clear information provided to families on what to do when a child has been exposed or has symptoms of COVID.
Trustees also discussed 2021 graduation and retention rates, as well as student test scores. Graduation rates for 2021 did not meet projected goals, retention rates have dropped, and ACT test scores have fallen.
Board members discussed reasons for the poorer performance, including the job market in Reno and the need for some students to provide families with financial assistance and not staying in school during the pandemic.
Family engagement and in-person learning were also difficult throughout 2021, contributing to consistent absenteeism. Though regular practices for keeping students engaged are returning, educators and other district staff have had to pull back on at-home visits and traditional engagement practices with the emergence of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
“An excellent educational leader is hard to find when it isn’t a year like now,” said WCSD Board President Angie Taylor as trustees discussed the search for a new district superintendent. “There are so many positions that are open right now across the country….We know we’re a little more behind than we want to be.”
“How can you guide and administer an agency if you’ve never been in their shoes?”
Superintendent Kristen McNeill retires June 30.
The Bryan Group, a firm based in Incline Village, was hired by trustees to search for a new district superintendent.
William Bryan, who’s leading the search team, said his firm hopes to provide trustees with three to four candidates, with a final selection that can start before July 1 to allow for some overlap between superintendents.
Information on applying for the position was released Jan. 10 and Bryan Group representatives said more than 100 responses have already come in.
Trustees also said the superintendent is a leadership position rather than an educator position, but emphasized to the Bryan Group the importance of education experience in candidates.
Trustee Joe Rodriguez said someone in the role without education experience would be similar to a police chief who’d never done a traffic stop.
“How can you guide and administer an agency if you’ve never been in their shoes?” Rodriguez asked. “The idea of someone who has no classroom experience at all kind of worries me some.”
The Bryan Group is working with WCSD staff to set up a page on the district’s website to provide the public with weekly superintendent search updates.
District increases recognition for certain skills
Seals are added to the diplomas of high school students who pass proficiency tests in certain skills by the time they graduate.
One of the most popular seals for students in Washoe County is biliteracy, which recognizes students who have a high proficiency in speaking, reading and writing in more than one language.
Seals in financial literacy and civics have been added to the options of seals students can get on their diploma. District officials said they hope the addition of these seals will give students incentive to learn skills such as balancing finances and learning about citizenship test requirements.
High school students can also earn a Nevada Certificate of Skill Attainment and college credit through Truckee Meadows Community College. In the 2020-21 school year, 736 students earned these certificates with eligibility for 4,725 college credits through TMCC, a potential savings of $519,000 toward students’ higher education.
Sparks High School has recently implemented an MC3 (Multi-Craft Core Curriculum) Apprenticeship Readiness Program specific for construction jobs. The program is nationally-recognized and developed by North America’s Building Trades Unions.
Board elects officers
Taylor was re-elected as president of the Board of Trustees for 2022 after Diane Nicolet declined Trustee Jeff Church’s nomination. The motion passed 6 to 1. Trustees said they wanted someone experienced in superintendent searches in the president position as they look for a new superintendent.
Nicolet was elected vice president after a nomination by Trustee Ellen Minetto.
Church nominated himself for vice president. He said he was interested in constructing the meeting agendas and creating shorter meetings, as well as dealing with the divisive nature of the meetings over the past year.
Nicolet’s nomination passed 6 to 1. Nicolet accepted the position saying, “I hope to—no, not hope, I will make you proud.”
Minetto won the position of clerk through a unanimous vote after a nomination by Rodriguez. Minetto served as clerk the first half of 2021 and said she looks forward to the new year of serving as clerk.