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Jeff Church’s ‘facts’ still don’t add up (opinion)


Submitted by Richard Jay

As promised, I said I would be the watchdog for Jeff Church and nothing has changed in his messaging to the public in the nearly year-and-a-half since my last check

Let’s analyze his claims from his “WatchdogJeff” website where he says, “This site is dedicated to Washoe County Educational Issues…”

1. He keeps talking about Critical Race Theory (CRT).

Jeff, can you explain CRT to the public in your own words?  

Secondly, CRT is NOT being taught at Washoe County School District (WCSD) nor is it planned to be taught. Facts matter and this seems to be a focal point of a new group looking to replace the recently-appointed trustees. 

Church has offered to host events and has said he would campaign against his fellow trustees. How does this build a sense of teamwork? Remember, when elected he clearly stated he would be a “team player.”  Has he been calling elected officials campaigning against his fellow trustees?  Direct quote from his website: “I’m affiliated with various groups and will update you on events.”  

A quote as to his tactics, from a story on an interview with Jeff Church for a local TV station: “Instead he’s doing what he can to recruit candidates who share his views and encouraging them to run for the school board.”

2. New expensive building.

What new building? Hug High School is coming in “comfortably under budget” according to the district’s Adam Searcy, and once open will address several critical issues, including overcrowding in the North Valley high schools. Once the new Hug High School opens the old Hug, now Debbie Smith CTE Academy, will become a badly needed career and technical education school. We all know we need to train electricians, plumbers, carpenters, chefs and more, and this will allow WCSD to step into the 21st century and address the needs of students and our community.  

Guests toured the new Procter R. Hug High School during the “Topping Out” ceremony on Feb. 26, 2021. WCSD’s Adam Searcy said the project is coming in under budget. Image: Isaac Hoops / This Is Reno

3. Jeff continues to berate Nevada’s education quality.

Church needs to remember he is a WCSD Trustee, NOT a State of Nevada Board of Education elected official. He refuses to acknowledge that Nevada is now ranked 18th in K-12 academic achievement. He hasn’t acknowledged that three of the top 10 Nevada high schools are in WCSD according to a report from US News. Why?

4. Education Brigade-Workshop, he is a speaker and the information is not true.

Church says WCSD test scores are 17.4, lower than Mississippi. But WCSD reports ACT scores in the district average 18.2 per a data report released in May 2021. Nevada’s statewide average score is 17.8.

He also does not explain that all states use different criteria for who is tested and when.

Nevada uses the 11th grade ACT exam as its federally required measure of high school proficiency and requires 100% participation. Not all states require participation, and many students in other states take the ACT exam during their senior year. 

Nevada adopted its own College Readiness Standards on the ACT, using adjusted cut scores that are slightly different from ACT’s (intended to acknowledge students in Nevada complete it halfway through 11th grade):

  • To reach “Nevada-adopted college-readiness” for ELA, students must score a 17 or higher.
  • To reach “Nevada-adopted college-readiness” for math, students must score a 20 or higher.

ACT scores have also been dropping nationwide. According to a release from ACT, for the 1.3 million high school seniors in the 2021 ACT-tested graduating class, the national average composite score was 20.3, the lowest average in more than a decade.

That same ACT report shows the number of students who took the ACT in 2021 declined by 22% from the previous year. In addition, 32% of the ACT-tested graduating class took the standardized exam more than once in 2021, compared to 41% for 2020.

Many colleges are no longer requiring ACT test scores for admission. It is a well-known fact that some WCSD students not going to college will take the test and compete with others for the lowest score. They brag on social media as to their low scores (the ABBA CADABBA game). 

Why does Nevada mandate all students take the ACT test? What about students attending trade schools? Over the past five years, the number of states that administer the ACT statewide has more than doubled. There are now 13 states that require every junior to take the test and eight more that either require the test in some districts or offer it as a free option for students who wish to take it.

There is an important detail to the context of these scores in relation to other states that also test all or nearly all their students. Nevada tests its 11th graders halfway through the 11th grade, as opposed to near the end or at the end of the 11th grade like the other states. That gap in classroom instruction time is known to yield lower results between Nevada and other states, and it means comparing us to them is not apples to apples. 

Nevada requires the writing test, which is an additional layer of testing that affects overall scores. Not all states who test 100% or nearly 100% of their students do the writing test, like Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. What would WCSD or Nevada’s score average be without that additional phase of writing testing? That would be the most balanced way to compare our scores with those states who do not require the writing portion.

Why doesn’t he talk about our success with our students, many of which were presented at the Jan. 11 board meeting? 

Here are a few of the points that Church doesn’t mention:

  • Graduation rates have risen steadily over the past decade, excepting for 2021 when students were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Nearly 70% of graduates completed at least one AP/IB/CTE/dual credit course
  • Three high schools ranked in the top 10 in the state: AACT, Incline and Reno high schools. Two more – Galena and McQueen – ranked in the top 20.
  • Intervention supports are offered in schools at all levels: Intersessions, Saturday School, Before/After School Tutoring, Grad Boost, Boot Camps
Incline High School's 2021 We the People team placed eighth nationally in the civics competition.
Incline High School’s 2021 We the People team (pictured) placed eighth nationally in the civics competition and Reno High School’s team placed third. Image: WCSD.

5. Chronic absenteeism is over 50%.

It was. COVID-19 was a big factor in the number, but what is the number now?  In a public WCSD report from Aug. 9, 2021 to Nov. 2, 2021 the absenteeism rate was as follows:

  • Elementary Schools 2.24%
  • Middle Schools- 4.96%
  • High School- 7.02%
  • District overall- 4.36%

Far cry from 50%. 

6. One third of students are using marijuana.  

Let’s see the source. Data from the Youth Behavior Risk Survey, a bi-annual survey, shows teen use of marijuana in the last 30 days (any use at all) from the date of survey is 22.6% statewide. 

7. Third party vendors are selling student data to China.

Let us see the verified source. There is no actual verifiable evidence of this allegation. There was a data breach incident in 2019:

Pearson notified the WCSD on July 24, 2019, that it had experienced a data security incident involving an older version of the Pearson Clinical Assessment’s program, AIMSweb that was accessed by an unauthorized third party.  The compromised information includes students’ names and dates of birth, alongside a limited number of staff names and email addresses. The incident impacted nearly 114,000 students who attended Washoe County Schools between 2001 and 2016.”

From his RenoTaxRevolt website: “A little bit about the WCSD, the school board and the budget”

He alleges “lack of safety.” Let’s see specifics. NICHE ranks WCSD high in student safety. A district presentation in January showed 89% of students said they feel safe at school, a 10% increase from the year before.

He says “no new school funding.” That’s the 2000 lb. elephant in the room no one acknowledges! Again, what specific?

He asks, “Did WCSD lose out on $500,000 in federal lunch money due to incompetence?” Can we get a link to prove this comment? 

He says the WCSD has a “failed plan for free lunches!” From the School district:

“Thanks to a waiver issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees school lunch programs, the Washoe County School District (WCSD) has joined with a majority of other school districts throughout the country and will now provide free meals to all students at all WCSD schools through December 31, 2020.  The free meals will be distributed to students who are engaged in classroom learning, Hybrid A-B schedules, and fulltime Distance Learning.”

Community members toured the new Marce Herz middle school in Arrowcreek in July 2020 before it opened in fall 2020. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno

He says, “Feds (sic) deny Arrowcreek MS plan!” Marce Herz Middle School, in Arrowcreek, is up and running.

He decries, “the massive increase in school costs and the lack of oversight/audits on capital improvement program (CIPs).”  

WCSD received an upgrade from SP and Moody’s for credit rating, stated due to financial strength and financial management.  

There are yearly CAFR as mandated by Nevada Revised Statutes. In November 2020 he sent an email to Superintendent McNeil complimenting her on a successful audit. 

An independent consultant hired by the Washoe County School District said the district has not mismanaged WC1 funds raised as the result of the 2016 passage of Washoe County Ballot Question 1 (WC-1).

He says Nevada is “LAST in Education!” That’s no longer accurate.

As an elected official, Jeff Church needs to represent all sides of the story, good, bad or indifferent. Why doesn’t he publish the good news? Why doesn’t he post the date and source of his data?

Richard L. Jay

Richard Jay has lived in Reno since 1967, attended local schools and was in the 100th graduating class from Reno High School. He earned a BS in Economics from University of Nevada with emphasis in accounting. He’s been involved with the WCSD since 1999 in as a coach, FBLA instructor, JA instructor and helped with other academics groups. Jay was also chair of the WC-1 Business Advisory Board, a member of 1999 Bond Issuance committee and assisted with rewriting the Nevada High School Business curriculum, and currently serves on the City of Reno Financial Advisory Board, Reno Tahoe International Airport Board and several other local non profit boards. Jay is a First Vice President-Investment Officer of a major brokerage firm and has one son, Jonathan.

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