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Washoe County Trustees select Joe Ernst as next superintendent 


Joe Ernst was selected Tuesday by a unanimous vote of trustees as the next Washoe County School District superintendent. Ernst most recently served as the district’s chief continuous improvement officer.

Ernst was selected from a pool of five final candidates, two from out of state and three from within WCSD. Ernst has been an employee of the district since 1996, serving as an elementary school teacher, an assistant principal, an elementary school principal, and a co-lead area superintendent. 

Joseph Ernst
Joseph Ernst

While trustees agreed it was a tough decision, they each continued to put Ernst forward as their first choice. 

“Out of the candidates, Mr. Joe Ernst moved me the most,” Trustee Adam Mayberry said. “He has progressed in his career in the classroom as a teacher, to an executive in our central office. … I appreciate his vision of a school system.” 

Trustee Alex Woodley said he was impressed by what Ernst brought to the district and his volunteerism on his own time. 

“I was impressed with each and every candidate,” Woodley said. “I really wanted to feel a passion, enthusiasm, positivity with knowledge, excellence and experience in a classroom and as a principal. I’ve seen him volunteering in the community, which is very important to me; if you’re not putting out the sweat and equity out there, I don’t want to hear it.”

Trustee Colleen Westlake said she wanted to find a superintendent who would love and grow with the district, a quality she identified as important in February as trustees discussed the hiring process. 

“I kept saying ‘I want someone to love us,’” Westlake said. “I know what we want from a candidate, but I want to know what the candidate wants from us and I want them to fall in love with us. Someone who is going to grow with us as a district.”

Trustee President Beth Smith said she believes Ernst will be in the position for the long haul. “Mr. Ernst embodies commitment to me: commitment to the kids, to academic outcomes, and to our community,” she said.  

Trustee Jeff Church said he has concerns about the district’s current statistics and that he expects to see results from Ernst. 

“Joe came up through the ranks, and is so energetic with his speaking — I have no problem endorsing him,” Church said. 

The decision comes after months of work finding, interviewing and meeting with candidates. The McPherson & Jacobson hiring firm was brought on in January to lead the candidate search, despite a free option available.

In April, the search was narrowed to the final five candidates, three of whom were internal district employees: Ernst, Chief Academic Officer Troy Parks, and Chief Student and Family Supports Officer Paul LaMarca. The public met with the candidates on April 25 at Wooster High, followed by formal interviews with the board earlier this month. 

“I’m humbled by your faith in me as a leader and I’m looking forward to doing this together because that’s where the strength is,” Ernst said. “We have extremely talented people, we have wonderful students, and we have a community that embraces us and is willing to help us. I’m looking forward to tapping into them together to do what’s best for our students.” 

The district will move into contract negotiations now that Ernst has been selected. A final contract is expected to be put before the board during the May 28 meeting. 

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.




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