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Back To School In White Pine County


Students, teachers & parents across the state are getting ready to head back to school. 

We're talking to school district superintendents in Nevada to get a sense of what's going on in their communities, and what they're looking forward to this year. 

Discussion Highlights

On student population:

"Everything has been pretty steady for quite a number of years," White Pine School District superintendent Adam Young told State of Nevada. "And we're pretty blessed to have that, because in a small district even a small enrollment change usually results in layoffs for staff."

Young says there are about 1,200 students enrolled in White Pine County.

On capital improvements:

"Here in Ely, our most populous community, White Pine High School is our newest campus," he said. "And we did do some upgrades to that facility last school year, including a health sciences wing to serve our pretty robust CTE program."

CTE stands for career and technical education. The program offers rigorous academics along with a focus on a career path for students.

A foundation from Reno provided a donation to build the health sciences wing of the high school.

Other capital projects include a K through 12 school in Lund.

On challenges of K-12 campuses:

"The beautiful thing is the sense of community that exists within a campus that is that small," he said.

Young said students some of the district's smaller campuses love and support each other, working as mentors for each other.

A big challenge on those campuses is for teachers: students stay in the same classroom year after year. The teacher must work to diversify instruction for the students.

He said a teacher has to work at making sure students are grouped together well, and working productively, while he or she works with another grade level.

He said it takes a special kind of teacher to be able to work in that environment, which is why it can be difficult to recruit teachers to rural areas.

Most teachers that teach in the rural counties are from those kinds of communities and have embraced the lifestyle.

On equal treatment of urban and rural:

"We provide extensive professional development for all of our teachers in White Pine," Young said. "And we do that to try to get them all up to speed with where we want to be."

Young said the best way to make sure students at rural areas and urban areas get the same level of learning is by making sure teachers have great skills to teach them.

Some schools in his district moved to a four-day school week eight years ago. It has allowed older students to participate in sports without sacrificing school time. It also allowed the district to offer professional development for teachers on Fridays.

On recommendations from Gov. Sandoval's school safety task force:

"While they're all right on point, I don't think you'll find school personnel anywhere who would disagree that more resource officers are needed in our schools," he said.

Currently, White Pine County School District doesn't have resource officers, but they do work closely with the sheriff's department to have their officers at the schools.

Young would like to have full-time resource officers.

But Young says mental health services are where school safety starts. He would like increased access to mental health services for students in crisis. 

On arming teachers:

"That's not a responsibility that we want our staff to have to take on," he said. "They already do more than they ought to have to."

Young says he personally disagrees with it, and the school board doesn't support the idea either.

He wants teachers to be focused on student academic and emotional needs.

He believes school safety needs to be addressed in a way that it wouldn't be necessary to arm teachers.

On school funding:

"I think the biggest reform that needs to be made is adequately funding the base per-pupil allotment for students in Nevada," he said.

Young started his career in education in 1999. He says funding has not kept up with "inflationary factors" over time and can't cover basic costs -- let alone allow for innovation.

He believes there needs to be a wholesale revision of how schools are funded and more money needs to be allotted per-pupil if Nevada truly believes students are our future.

Young said Nevada should "say we're proud to be up at the top of what we provide for per-pupil allocation," not at the bottom.

On marijuana taxes:

"To me, it makes sense to distribute that [revenue] on an allocation type basis, so that every county is able to do something with it," Young said.

He compared the distribution of money raised by taxes on marijuana to money raised by mining taxes. While mining is only done in certain parts of the state, the money from taxes on the industry is distributed around the state.

He said students in Clark County are not more important than students in Esmeralda or White Pine County.

On the district's graduation rates:

"Our goal with our graduation rate is always [to graduate] all kids," he said. "Every single kid who comes through our door -- we want them to graduate."

He said their graduation rate of 83 percent is something the district is proud of, but it still means that of 10 children starting kindergarten this fall, only eight will walk across the stage to get a diploma.

And for Young, it is not about the diploma: it is about having students prepared for either a career or college.

On optimism about education:

"It is easy to sit and list off the things that need to change for it to be better," he said. "But there are some incredibly dedicated people."

He said the leadership in education, from the governor to individual school support staff, is excellent and they care about the students.

Young said education is not a field someone gets into unless they really want to make a difference since it is very hard work.

Adam Young, superintendent, White Pine School District

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)