INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - On Nov. 7, WCSD superintendent Pedro Martinez engaged a full and lively room of residents who care about education. Many know Pedro from his two years as Deputy Superintendent under Heath Morrison (2009-11). Hired back in July from the Clark County school district, Pedro has been conducting community discussions and assessment reviews across the 93 schools that serve more than 63,000 students (including 8 charters).
JoEtta Gonzales also attended the brown bag session as our Area Superintendent for Zone 4 who is responsible for Incline's three schools along with 19 others (Galena, McQueen and Picollo high schools and feeders).
Pedro first shared his vision for Incline's schools: to become the flagship system in the district that integrates K-16 - including Sierra Nevada College. Pedro explained a key challenge faced is the size of the secondary schools. While the elementary school's 420 students is sufficient to provide effective programs, Incline Middle School's relatively small 200 student population makes is harder to serve all the student needs well (average traditional MS in district has 766 students).
Even tougher is serving Incline High School's 316 students when effective comprehensive high schools have 1,200 to 1,600 students. To serve our small yet very diverse student population in Incline, Pedro would like to see 11th and 12th graders taking more college classes while students needing interventions and extra support can get help from across the K-12 staff.
Since school buildings are all within a mile of each other, he would like to see schedules and facilities be more aligned for sharing resources. Pedro also believes that with improved Gifted and Talented screening and programming at the elementary school, more children will benefit from the program and the middle school science and math program could be enriched. Statistics indicate that if a child is not proficient in reading and math by 3rd grade, they have a very hard time catching up and graduating so early intervention and support is critical.
Pedro is very interested to see more middle schools become "STEM" schools that focus on deeper applied learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. These more rigorous programs better prepare students to get into top colleges and fill jobs at businesses that support NV economic development. (See a Carson City business owner interviewed in the CBS News 60 Minutes report entitled "30 Million Jobs in US, but Who's Qualified?")
To support such program enhancements at all grade levels, Pedro and WCSD staff are competing for large grants (such as the Race to the Top program), lobbying the legislature, and working on pilot programs at several schools.
During the Q-and-A period, participants expressed frustration and anger about declining school and student performance measures (per Data Summit report) and concern that schools are not improving. Some people expressed the perception that since IB dissolved, district leadership has been "all talk, no action." One commenter recognized that our fractured and opinionated community can make progress challenging but this was unlikely to change - a reason why WCSD leadership should define a clear vision and plan for our schools and "just do it."
Pedro said he accepts accountability for improvement but he wants to work closely with the community on how. He believes everyone agrees that local schools should be "great" - not just good - but that differences of opinion exist about what the end vision looks like and the year by year processes to get there. He wants to see a thorough process to evaluate needs and potential solutions that screen out "divisive opportunities."
JoEtta Gonzales mentioned that the Vision 2020 for education meeting (which took place Nov. 13) is an opportunity to begin such discussions. She committed to reporting outcomes from the Data Summit community review of IV performance data (Oct. 24) and to share Pedro's Action Plan for WCSD (released last Friday). Vision 2020 is looking at how all education providers can contribute to the area becoming an "education destination."
I hope all of you who are interested in education directions in IV/CB will get informed and engaged in these processes. Please review background material and contribute to emerging dialogue at the North Tahoe Education Forum: www.isaefforourkids.com/get-informed. Thank you for your caring, support and involvement!
- Mary Alber has an MBA and a PhD in Transformative Learning and Change, formerly an information and technology strategy consultant with Accenture and independent business advisor, an IV resident with two children in local schools and a passion to develop excellent education opportunities for 21st century students of all ages.