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Back To School In Churchill County

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Students, teachers and parents across the state have started heading 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. 

 

Summer Stephens is superintendent of the Churchill County School District, to the southeast of Washoe County and northwest of Nye County. 

 

She joins us from Fallon. 

DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS:

On student population:

“It is running about even with what we’ve had in the past.”

Stephens said some of the elementary school classrooms are getting a little bit more overcrowded because of how things are configured. But she said increased enrollment is a good problem to have.

On reimagining the school experience:

“We live in a very different time. And if we think about what traditional school has looked like it has really looked the same if you’re 19 or 109… We live in a time where the world doesn’t look the way it looked even 10 years ago.”

Stephens said reimagining the school experience means having a focus on what it means to be a learner in the school system and what it means to be ready for life after school.

She said that means having a school system that is agile and can adapt to how the world is changing.

On changes to school programs:

“This next school year we are starting a school within a school called the blended learning community. So, we’re going to have about 130 middle schoolers, who were going to take on a different learning experience from what was the traditional classroom experience.”

Stephens said that program was already in the works before she arrived as superintendent this year.

The students will also be part of the competency-based learning pilot, which goes beyond number and letter grades and instead focuses on what a student has mastered and what she needs to work on.

On recruiting teachers:

“I think it can be a challenge and certainly we have some critical areas of need that we are struggling to fill but I think it speaks not even necessarily to the rural communities but probably just to the state of things in general.”

Stephens said the district wants to be enticing to teachers. One of the ways they’re doing that is by being innovative in education. She said teachers want to be in a place that is forward-looking when it comes to educating kids.

On mental health personnel:

“In the rural communities, it is critical that we continue to engage our other community partners and work together because we have needs for young people but in our community, we also have mental health needs for our adult citizens.”

She said getting enough mental health professionals is a challenge in rural communities. That is why those resources need to be shared with the community-at-large not just students in need.

On the school safety task force:

“I think they are definitely moving in the right direction. One of the critical pieces that is going to come out of the recommendations is any funding that is attached to those recommendations has to be provided to schools in a flexible nature.”

Stephens said schools in Reno and Las Vegas are going to have different needs than schools in Churchill and Nye County. She believes the task force is on the right track.

On arming teachers:

“I don’t think the board has specifically talked about that. So, that’s a conversation as things continue to come up…I think that will be something definitely that our board will talk about as an item not necessarily to do it but what does it mean to be a secure physical plant.”

Stephens did say the safety and security of students is a priority for the district. And she said the district has a good relationship with the Fallon Police Department and the Churchill County Sheriff’s Department. She said those departments have worked to create a plan so they are responsive and available to the schools.

On school funding:

“I do really support that the state would go out ask communities, ‘what are the things that are meeting your needs, what are the things that are not?’”

She said funding models need to be flexible. Stephens pointed out that communities change, and the needs of the children change.

On marijuana taxes:

“When we think about our state, we’re educating all kids. So, I think those are parts of those funding conversations that you come back to ensure that it is equity of opportunity.”

Stephens admits that since she is new to the state she does need to do more research on the issue of marijuana taxes.

Some people argue that tax money generated from marijuana sales should stay in the counties where the sale of pot is legal and not distributed to all counties, including those that don’t allow marijuana sales.

On graduation rate:

“We need to ensure that we have pathways and opportunities to engage all of our students and that they can be life ready and that our policies and procedures don’t prevent them from moving forward in the next stage in life.”

Stephens said a new high school principal in the district is highly focused on making sure the students graduate. She said they do know they are not meeting the needs of all kids.

Currently, the graduation rate in Churchill County is at 60 percent, which is lower than the state average.

She said it might be easier to enact the changes she has in mind with a lower graduation rate because with a higher graduation rate it might be harder to explain to people that things need to evolve.

Summer Stephens, superintendent, Churchill County 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.)