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Trustees choose three finalists for school board District E vacancy (updated)

By Kelsey Penrose

Additional reporting by Kristen Hackbarth

The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees on Tuesday heard from six candidates wanting to fill the seat vacated by School Board President Angie Taylor, who recently won her bid for Nevada Assembly. The candidates were narrowed down to three: Alex Woodley, Meghan Beyer and Kellie Crosby-Sturtz.

The finalists will be interviewed by trustees at their Dec. 6 meeting before a final appointee is selected.

While seven candidates were scheduled to be on hand, only six candidates appeared before the board. 

Most public comment given revolved around candidate Joey Gilbert, who recently lost a bid for Nevada governor. 

Those in favor stated that Gilbert had “rolled up his sleeves” and was “ready to fight” for Nevadans – common visuals Gilbert himself has used in touting his law practice. Those against Gilbert said he was too divisive and cited reasons such as the fact that he was once suspended from boxing after testing positive for methamphetamine, fined $10,000 for taking steroids and that he was present at the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

He has also threatened numerous lawsuits against the school district.

One commenter responded to Gilbert’s suggestion to “burn it all down.” 

“I’d ask Mr. Gilbert: If we burn down the house, where do we all live while it’s being rebuilt? It’s cold outside, and I really don’t want to burn the house down today.” 

The second most popular candidate for commenters was Alex Woodley, the city of Reno’s code enforcement director. 

Trustee Jeff Church, in discussing following the candidates presentations, alleged that 70% of the comments provided by email – 300 emails that came in to him, he said – were in favor of Gilbert.

“Thirty percent, roughly, in favor of Woodley. Nobody else got a single email of support individually for them,” he claimed

He supported narrowing the field of candidates to two – Gilbert and Woodley.

Emails to provide public comment included in the meeting’s record show, however, that of the 54 submitted, the largest share – 21 total or 39% – were against the appointment of Joey Gilbert. Nineteen emails were in favor of Gilbert, 16 in favor of Woodley, eight for Crosby-Sturtz and three for Beyer. 

Trustees had a list of criteria they were using to rate each of the candidates, including completeness of the resume and cover letter and how each candidate responded to the questions included in the application packet. Those questions focused on experience, priorities and an understanding of the role of a trustee.

Trustee Beth Smith, who was also appointed to the board to fill a vacancy, said she couldn’t support two of the candidates through the process because they didn’t turn in a complete candidate packet. Both Gilbert and John Reyes left out their resume, which was half of the required materials. 

“I do believe that this is something important…Ours is a straightforward and clear process. It’s fair. And expecting our candidates to submit the required materials is a basic test of candidacy,” Smith said. 

Trustee Joe Rodriguez agreed. 

“I’ve said this before. If you don’t do your homework, you don’t get a grade,” he said.

About the finalists

Meghan Beyer 

“I’m hands on and in the trenches – I walk the walk in that regard.”

Beyer has been involved with the district in a variety of roles during the past five years, including as a substitute teacher during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the president of her Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), and by volunteering in classrooms.

“I’ve heard and experienced many challenges [for] both teachers and students,” Beyer said. “These experiences compelled me to get involved in a more influential way, and I hope that I can bring a fresh perspective to the school board.” 

Beyer said she is a “passionate mom trying to create the best situation for your children and mine in which to learn. I’m hands on and in the trenches – I walk the walk in that regard.”

Trustee Smith said she appreciated that Beyer included her time raising children on her resume, which she said shows representation for stay at home mothers. 

Beyer said she has “no agenda” other than to help students be successful. 

In her previous work within the Nevada Department of Wildlife, Beyer said she once worked with the U.S. Navy base in Fallon during plans to expand the base, and compromises had to be met on both sides. 

“Resolving conflicts takes respectful dialogue,” Beyer said. “It’s important to seek understanding of opposing or alternate views. These may require compromise.”

Beyer went on to say that she is a “terrible liar” and the community can be confident that she will always answer questions in an open and honest manner.  

In her work as a substitute teacher, Beyer said she chose positions across the school district as a way to seek out areas other than her own. 

“Washoe County consists of a very diverse population, just like in the classroom,” Beyer said. “Each school needs a plan specific to their needs – one size doesn’t fit all. I also realized that children, no matter their background, can learn if given the right tools and attention.” 

Beyer said the way to improve the district’s quality of education is through teachers and support staff. 

“Whether retaining or recruiting, they are one of the strengths in the district,” Beyer said. 

Beyer also said it was important to eliminate barriers and provide flexibility to licensing requirements, which would allow more industry experts to enter the teaching field and help address personnel shortages. 

Relaxing rigorous standardization of teachers would also increase education equality, she added,  by allowing teachers to set their own lesson plans and instituting supplemental resources of their choosing. 

“They’re bogged down with too many assessments, too much testing, and not enough time in their contract to meet the expectations of a classroom teacher.” 

Alex Woodley

“I try to give representation for others, with the understanding that I have been blessed.”

Woodley, a City of Reno employee, began his introduction to trustees with his past. He said he grew up in poverty, relied on government aid and was “blessed” with teachers at his Title 1 school who saw potential in him. 

“I am not a public education expert, but I am a public education success story,” Woodley said. 

After graduating high school, Woodley joined the U.S. Marines and learned the trade of aeronautical engineering. Following eight years of military service, Woodley then went on to graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno while working full time, as a single father. 

Woodley’s professional background spans from community development to working with high risk youth. 

“I’ve been with the City of Reno now for about 20 years,” Woodley said. “This is my home.”

Woodley said he has served on a variety of boards within the community, all of which serve underrepresented, at risk, or vulnerable populations. 

“I try to give representation for others, with the understanding that I have been blessed, and have the duty to give back and serve this community,” Woodley said. “I have an idea of the hard work, sacrifice and dedication this board provides for our kids, our educators, and our community. I would never presume to understand the heavy lifting you do, but I can help with that lifting, and I can help to make sure no kid is ever left behind.”    

Woodley said that he understands what it is like growing up without the traditional support of both parents, of living in poverty, growing up in an unsafe neighborhood, and what it feels like to see school as a safe haven and a place to learn – not only education, but important, collaborative social skills. 

His biggest privilege, he said, is being able to traverse through three different minority groups: as an African-American, a bilingual Latino and a veteran. 

Trustee Smith noted that his “lived experience is remarkable. You are the success that I see for this community.”

Kellie Crosby-Sturtz

“My support of the children of Washoe County has been of the utmost importance to me.”

Crosby-Sturtz is a librarian and testing coordinator at the Honors Academy of Literature, who said both of her children graduated from the Washoe County School District, which benefited them greatly. 

Crosby-Sturtz has served eight years on the Nevada Council for Academic Standards, as well as the Parent Involvement Council and Gifted and Talented Council. 

“My support of the children of Washoe County has been of the utmost importance to me,” Crosby-Sturtz said. 

Within the education system, Crosby-Sturtz said she worked in early childhood education, special education, including a program in which she took “the kids that no one else wanted” due to multiple expulsions caused by disabilities. 

“I’m very well versed in the fact that we have such a wide range of students we need to serve in Washoe County,” she said. 

Crosby-Sturtz stated she also has a child on the spectrum, who was served “very well” by the district, and can offer perspective as both an educator and a parent.

She added that not all students will go to college after high school, and the district must provide opportunities to make sure that students are career ready. 

While growing up low-income in a Hispanic community, Crosby-Sturtz stated that she did not fit in and the library became her refuge, and later became a refuge for her own child on the spectrum. 

Crosby-Sturtz said she is also a trainer of restorative discipline, which she believes is of best interest for students and schools alike. 

“I have the unique perspective of being an educator, and knowing how to speak to teachers, knowing what it’s like to be in the classroom, to try to budget monthly – all the fun things you get to do as an educator, I want to bring to the board.” 

About the candidates not selected

John Reyes

“I can be a liaison to close the generational gap between the board and students.”

Reyes is a 2021 graduate of Reed High School, and while has not yet served on a board, he said he makes up for it by having recently been through “the system.”

“I can offer a unique take on what the students feel, and I can be a liaison to close the generational gap between the board and students,” Beyer said. 

Reyes attended groups such as “Men of Color” and “Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates,” which he said were very helpful in turning him into a young adult. 

“I think they are quite successful projects and programs for people of my age and background, and I think they could be expanded and be implemented in every other school,” Reyes said. “I’d like to return to them and show them that the sky is the limit if I am selected.” 

Reyes said that having a younger person on the board is important, not only for his perspective, but also for his ability to gauge what his peers need more so than someone of an older generation. 

“I have no bad habits to break, only good ones to make,” Reyes said. 

Joey Gilbert 

“If we truly care about the kids, then we’ve got to talk about the problems.”

Joey Gilbert is an attorney and politician who recently lost his bid for Nevada Governor and was sanctioned by a court after he frivolously challenged primary election results that, he alleged, showed he should have advanced to the general election. 

Gilbert began his introduction by alleging that Washoe County School District has “the worst schools in the nation,” that 70-90% of students are testing at a “functional illiterate rate” and on “any given day” half of the district’s students are “missing” from the classroom. 

This Is Reno has repeatedly debunked many of these allegations.

Gilbert also went on to say that there is “lethal disrespect” toward teachers and other students, which includes “mass rioting” in schools, both of which are “increasing exponentially.” 

To date, there has been one incident of violent student death on school grounds in Washoe County, which occurred in October 2013 at Sparks Middle School. A teacher and the 12-year-old shooter were killed. 

There has been no “mass rioting” to date in any Washoe County schools. 

Gilbert then went on to cite an attack on a teacher by a student at El Dorado High School, a school in Las Vegas. 

Gilbert also said he is a “product of [the Washoe County School] system” by attending Bishop Manogue High School and Our Lady of the Snows – neither of which are within the Washoe County School District, but are instead private Catholic schools. 

“If we were to run this like a business, which is what should be done, we would have to give the entire board an enema, as tough as that sounds,” Gilbert said. “We’d have to start with a clean slate.”

Gilbert later went on to say that the schools are now experiencing the highest levels of abuse and sexual violence to date, which he states is caused by “restorative justice.”

“If we truly care about the kids, then we’ve got to talk about the problems,” Gilbert said. “You never hear anyone talking about the problems.” 

The Nevada Legislature in 2019 passed a bill requiring school districts to use restorative justice systems in place of zero tolerance methods previously used.

Gilbert said in order to fix the district, he would go through administrative staff playing “Duck, Duck, Goose,” and “lose about a third of them.” 

“They’re not necessary,” Gilbert said. 

He also said he would “take a blow torch to it,” although he did not elaborate on what “it” was. 

Cody Johnson

“One of the things I know about teaching is that they put in more hours than any of us can imagine.”

Johnson was raised by teen parents in an immigrant mining town in Utah, which he said gave him a perspective of how to appreciate different members of a community, and how they can help lift you up.

The local community–including other families, teachers, school staff and administrators– assisted Johnson’s parents, which provided Johnson many opportunities. 

“I can’t tell you enough of how much they did for me, so I know the importance of my education,” said Johsnon. “I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. That was because of my dad, my mom and the community around me.”

Johnson received an athletic scholarship to the University of Nevada, Reno and graduated with a degree in engineering, and now runs an insurance brokerage. 

He later became a coach, including coaching at Galena High School, and is married to a district teacher. 

“One of the things I know about teaching is that they put in more hours than any of us can imagine,” he said. 

Johnson’s children attend McQueen High School, and he said they have felt supported by the district.

“My experience in the business community, having an educator in my household, having children in the [district], and having been a coach, and having been named the most influential educator in a young man’s life…that was one of the best things to ever happen in my life, to be named that,” Johnson said. “I look forward to being able to serve with you.”

Updated: This story has been updated to note that Alex Woodley served in the U.S. Marines, not the Navy.

Additionally, following the publication of this story, WCSD updated the PDF of emails submitted as public comment for the meeting. A total of 89 emails are now included in public record. An even larger percentage now oppose Joey Gilbert — 40% or 36 total comments. Twenty two comments or 25% were in favor of Gilbert, 31 comments (35%) in favor of Woodley, 12 (13.5%) in favor of Crosby-Sturtz, and 4 (4.5%) in favor of Beyer. Percentages do not add up to 100% because some comments mentioned more than one candidate.

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