Election: 4 take on incumbent in Washoe County School District A
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — While much focus is going to be centered on the presidential race this year, local elections will also be taking place, including five candidates vying to represent Washoe County School District A.
The district spans a large chunk of the county, from Hidden Valley to Galena, up to Incline Village, with more than 20 schools.
The Tribune spoke with the five candidates, including the incumbent, about what they could bring to the position.
Incumbent Scott Kelley
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Kelley is a veteran of the school board. He was elected to District A in 2016 and also served in District E from 2009-2012.
The former Army paratrooper serves as the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Corrections.
Kelley identifies himself as a community leader. Not only has he served on the school board but he’s also served on several boards and committees, including but not limited to, the Sierra Arts Foundation, Regional Transportation Commission Citizen Advisory Committee, and the Renown Health Community Advisory Committee.
“I’d like to continue to bring the can-do attitude to the board,” Kelley said.
Being the incumbent, Kelley said he’s the only candidate, “with a proven track record,” and during these uncertain times, experience is what’s needed on the board.
Kelley prides himself in getting to know the schools in his district and said he’s had over a dozen site visits in Incline schools alone. During these visits, he can not only hear from teachers and staff, but see first-hand the successes and areas of improvements for the schools.
While Incline schools have been very successful, including winning We the People, taking the state championship in women’s basketball and having one of the top-rated high schools in the state, Kelley sees a great need for capital improvement projects.
“It’s important we get those projects going when we can,” Kelley said, adding his priority is to keep students safe and warm in their schools.
Another issue that is near and dear to Incline residents is the fate of the old elementary school. The school district is selling the property and Tahoe Transportation District has put in an offer to buy the property. TTD plans on using the property into a mobility hub but many residents are against that.
Kelley said he’d like to see the property be used for something that the residents would like but that school district could get a good dollar amount on the sale.
While Washoe County schools have done well in the last four years, Kelley said there is still a lot he’d like to see done.
“I’d be honored to serve the Incline residents for another four years,” Kelley said.
To learn more, visit scottgkelley.com.
One candidate taking on the incumbent is retired Reno Police Department sergeant and USAF Lt. Colonel Jeff Church.
“I’m passionate about the issues in the community,” Church said.
During his time with RPD, Church worked with kids and his passion is working with at-risk youth. However, he’s been tracking WCSD for a while and describes it as, “highly dysfunctional.”
“I’m amazed by how many Washoe County students are homeless,” Church said.
He thinks no incumbents should be reelected and he would overhaul the administration if he wins the seat.
One of Church’s first areas of focus would be on improving the county’s ACT scores. He said the scores are too low for students in the district to be able to get into good colleges. While he said he doesn’t pretend to have all the answers on how to solve the problem, he looks forward to being a team-player and working with the board to come up with solutions.
He also said the district should utilize the bright minds of the UNR and UNLV education majors for creative solutions.
In addition to improving test scores, Church said he wants to work on providing better support for teachers.
“A happy teacher equals a happy student,” Church said.
Church said with all the new schools the district has built, they haven’t raised the number of teachers working for the district and class sizes haven’t gone down.
“We have to be better at training and retaining teachers,” Church said.
Finally, as a former police officer, school safety will be top of mind.
Church used to live in Incline Village and knows how involved members of the community are.
“Unlike the incumbent, I would not ignore them,” Church said.
To learn more, visit http://www.renotaxrevolt.com.
As a parent of WCSD students, Genasci sees the day-to-day impacts the district has on its students.
“My life was shaped and improved by my teachers, fellow students, and administrators, as well as the quality of programs available,” Genasci said. “I want to be a part of a school board that will lift the quality of education available to all our students, and I want the community to be involved in that process every step of the way.”
Genasci is the chief grants officer for Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada and has a master’s degree in nonprofit management with expertise in fundraising, grants/proposals and leadership.
She volunteers with Reno Arts and Culture Commission, RACC Community Engagement Committee, Sidewalk Talks, Reno Art Spot, Awaken, and Embrace Nevada. She has also been involved with the school district and was on the naming committee to help name WCSD’s five new schools.
Genasci’s main issues include access to mental health; diversity, inclusion, and equity; safe, healthy, energy-efficient and technologically modern classrooms; programs that encourage students to build on their strengths and increase their achievements; STEAM; and fiscally-mindful decisions so that we can use resources to recruit, retain, and support our educators.
“Our district lacks stronger access to mental health, as well as technologically modern classrooms that also meet the disparities of our teachers and students,” Genasci said. “In order to accomplish these, I will help the district by looking at alternate and sustainable forms of funding, while encouraging our legislators in Carson City to bring more federal funds to Nevada in order to increase statewide funding.”
She also wants to see stronger relationships with trade schools, community colleges, universities and the business community. Finally, she wants to see the district take the lessons they’ve learned from the coronavirus pandemic to help inform the way education is delivered in the future.
“We must transform the way we are evaluating teachers and information for students,” Genasci said. “Suddenly teachers are teaching parents and guardians and together we are trying to model non-cognitive skills like perseverance, adaptable problem solving, humility, and patience while balancing stress and preparing for a new normal. We must take these lessons forward as I believe our district needs to adjust in two ways: equitable online learning and active parent and guardian engagement.”
To bridge the gap between Incline and the rest of the district, Genasci promises to visit Incline schools at least once a month or do virtual visits if weather is inclement.
To learn more, visit http://www.lisagenasci.com.
The youngest person on the school board ballot is 19-year-old Jack Heinemann.
Heinemann, who graduated from Damonte Ranch High School in 2019, says the experience he would bring to the board comes from attending WCSD schools for the last 12 years and seeing first hand the successes and failures of the district.
Despite his young age, Heinemann has already dipped his toes into politics, serving as the student body president, interning with the city of Reno and becoming a field director for a local political campaign. He was also awarded the Hearst Foundation’s United States Senate Youth Scholarship.
Heinemann said we need to push back against what makes someone most qualified to serve.
“I think our definition of qualified is off,” Heinemann said, adding that none of the other candidates have been a student since technology has changed and school shootings have become more prevalent.
While student safety is top of mind for all of the candidates, Heinemann is taking a different look at the issue.
“An area of focus would be advocating for students’ mental health,” Heinemann said. When addressing the issue of school shootings, Heinemann added, a lot of the response focuses on outside shooters or reacting once a shooting starts.
Since a lot of school shootings are perpetrated by students, Heinemann believes adding more mental health resources for students could be the first line of defense.
Another issue for Heinemann is improving communication between the district and Incline Village.
“The school board is treating Incline Village like the red-headed stepchild,” Heinemann said. “Look at the old elementary school site. Why isn’t the board reaching out to residents about what they want for the site.”
Heinemann is studying criminal justice with an emphasis on law, and a double minor in religion and economic policy at University of Nevada, Reno.
“I know I’m not your conventional candidate but I don’t think the school board needs a conventional candidate right now,” Heinemann said.
To learn more, visit http://www.jackwh.com.
Also throwing her name in the hat is retired WCSD teacher Terese Huerstel.
Huerstel taught music in at-risk schools in Washoe County for 22 years. She retired in June 2019 but she’s not ready to be done with the district.
“I’d like to be involved with the decisions that affect the educators, support staff, bus drivers, school nurses, secretaries, custodians, and anyone who actually interacts with students on a daily basis,” Huerstel said.
One of Huerstel’s areas of focus is fiscal responsibility.
“I’m going to make sure tax dollars are being used how they are supposed to,” Huerstel said. As a music teacher, Huerstel knows what it’s like to be on the chopping block because of lack of finances.
Another one of Huerstel’s concerns is teacher burnout saying the district keeps adding more and more to teachers’ plates so they have less time and energy for teaching.
“Let the teachers teach,” Huerstel said.
Another way teachers could be successful is if they had more ability to discipline students. In recent years, there has been a backlash about discipline but when students are out of line, it impacts the learning environment.
“Teachers should have the support of parents and administration,” Huerstel said.
Huerstel also said students and parents should have more school choice. Whether it be private school, trade schools or public schools, the students should be able to go where they have the best chance for success.
“We all want our students to be successful,” Huerstel said. “We need to do whatever will put that student on the pathway to success.”
Finally, Huerstel is concerned about school safety, especially when it comes to data privacy. With more and more education taking place using technology, especially during the pandemic, Huerstel believes data confidentiality needs to be top of mind.
As it concerns Incline Village, Huerstel said Incline is very important to the district.
“If I get elected, I will definitely have an open line of communication with the parents of Incline Village and the taxpayers about their concerns about the school district,” Huerstel said.
To learn more, visit teresehuerstel.com.
Because of the pandemic, Washoe County is encouraging voters to vote using the mail-in ballot sent to their homes. There will be in-person voting allowed only at The Office of the Washoe County Registrar of Voters.
Early voting is from May 23 — June 5 and election day is June 9.
To see the schedule or to learn more about changing your registration, visit http://www.washoecounty.us/voters/elections/index.php
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