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Washoe County students are learning Paiute language thanks to Native programming 


Washoe County School District’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday heard a presentation by staff from the district’s Indian Education Program about Native American culture and education programming. 

One way that the local Paiute culture is being made accessible in schools is through Paiute language courses available at some high schools in the district and an annual Paiute Bowl language competition, hosted earlier this month. 

In the 2020 school year, classes were offered through Reed High School, North Valleys High School and Spanish Springs High School. 

Since 2020, classes have grown in popularity, especially at Spanish Springs High School, which has seen an increase from 12 students in 2020 to 39 this school year. Next year, there will be two classes offered to allow for the growth. 

With the success of the classes, Wooster High School has also decided to pick up the class for their students as well. 

“This class is very important to our community and what we’re supporting in our community,” Fawn Hunter, Indian Education Program specialist, said. “It’s created a sense of belonging in the Washoe County School District.” 

The classes are not only offered to registered Tribe members; in fact, the majority of students are students who do not hold 506, or formal tribal, registration.

“I think it’s great that we have non-506 students attending these classes,” Trustee Joe Rodriguez said. “It’s very cool.”  

The full presentation, which discusses even more aspects of the Indian Education Program, can be viewed here. 

New employees offered full benefits on day one

Trustees voted unanimously to limit the current 90-day benefit eligibility waiting period for new employees. 

Beginning July 1, benefit-eligible employees and their dependents will receive a full benefit package on their first day of work within the district. 

“This change to the benefit eligibility period will deliver the message to employees that the Washoe County School District cares about their staff and families and that the District believes their employees’ and employee families’ health is valued,” wrote WCSD’s Kristina Mason in the executive summary. “This message encourages the elevation of the district’s brand, and the benefit change supports recruitment and retention.”

Traditionally, employees only became eligible for benefits on the 91st day of employment. More than 25 team members from multiple departments worked together not only to achieve the zero-day wait, but also to create a better onboarding process for all employees. 

“We want the word on the street to be this is a great place to work,” Superintendent Susan Enfield said. “I’m well aware there is a price tag attached to this but I think there’s a cost not to do it. There’s a cost to not having teachers in the classrooms on the first day of school. 

“I have to believe that knowing they have health care is going to make a difference about where they want to come work. Every decision we make communicates our values. We have to be communicating we value our people, that we will invest in them and take care of them, and that we want them here.” 

The cost to the district for expanding benefits eligibility is about $1 million per year.

Strategic planning continues 

Trustees heard a presentation regarding the ongoing district-wide strategic planning process being conducted by Performance Fact, Inc. The process began in October 2022. 

This is the third meeting trustees have heard from PFI. The group has been holding pre-planning meetings with department chiefs and directors, compiling data from stakeholder meetings and working to determine the next steps for the Strategic Plan. 

Highlights from the presentation include providing equitable learning opportunities to help students succeed, providing opportunities for students to advocate for themselves, and achieving at least one year’s worth of growth each academic year, among others. 

Goals include increasing the percentage of kindergartners who participated in a pre-K program, increasing the percentage of students who are logging into Infinite Campus to review grades and decreasing chronic absenteeism among students. 

Specific strategies to meet these goals have yet to be provided, but will be included in the final presentation in June, according to Mutiu Fagbayi, president and CEO of PFI. 

“We really want to start with putting the emphasis on student outcomes,” Fagbayi said. “There will be metrics of detailed strategies — we’re just not there yet.” 

“This is wonderful,” Trustee Beth Smith said. “I’m really happy to see the foundation … of safety and connection.” 

Smith said that teachers and community members have approached her to say how excited they were regarding the Strategic Plan. 

The next update on the plan will be held in June, during which it may be formally adopted. 

Other items

  • Trustees adopted a resolution recognizing May 21 – 27 as National Public Works Week in the school district. 
  • Trustees approved a three-year agreement with the Lawlor Events Center to host graduation ceremonies for high schools in the Truckee Meadows. According to the agenda, the contract will allow the district to provide future graduation dates to staff and families ahead of time. 
  • The total contract cost for the three-year term is $760,452. Graduation costs are budgeted in the General Fund. The district has traditionally held commencement ceremonies at the events center and this is a continuation of that usage. 
  • Trustees approved a purchase of 84 replacement school bus camera systems estimated at $250,000. This is part of the ongoing fleet equipment refresh, according to the agenda, and 81% of buses still have camera systems that were installed in 2009. 
  • Tennis court facility improvements were approved at Reno High School for $417,392 and will be completed by Spanish Springs Construction, Inc. 
  • Trustees approved an application to the Nevada Department of Education to allow high school students who successfully complete “Principles of Agriculture Food, and Natural Resources; Plant Science; and Animal Science” which is a Career and Technical Education (CTE) course, to receive the science credit requirement for graduation. 
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.