Principal returns to Whittell |

Principal returns to Whittell

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Mario Gatto is back.

The 36-year-old Whittell High School principal is going where few in his position have gone — returning to the school for a second year.

Gatto, who made a three- to five-year commitment when he began his position last year, has a full staff and a year’s experience behind him, giving the affable yet humble educator reason to smile.

“If this school year goes like I think it should, there should be no problems,” he said a couple days before kicking off the school year this week.

In 1991, Dick Brownfield retired after being the Whittell principal for 16 years. Then came Dave Sheets for five years, Larry Snyder for two and Howard Bennett for one year starting in 1999.

Brownfield returned for the 2000 school year to give Douglas County School District officials time needed to find a more permanent hire.

They found family man Gatto, who was the principal at Virgin Valley Junior/Senior High School in Mesquite, Nev.

This year, four new teachers have been hired in the areas of math/science, ESL/drama, Spanish/English and culinary arts. A new counselor and dean of students have also been hired, giving Gatto the time he wants to visit classrooms and interact with students.

“I want to be out in the classrooms and have an effect,” he said. “It lets the kids know I’m out there.”

Last year, Gatto was faced with misgivings rarely experienced by a principal in a long-term career.

They included a student who brought a gun to a basketball game against an Incline Village team; upperclassmen beating and locking a freshman inside the trunk of a car for talking to a junior girl; and Jeremy Brice, who would have been this year’s varsity football coach, being arrested on charges of having sex with a minor.

The principal acknowledged he had some tough incidents during his first year and moved past the topic with a wave of his hand.

Gatto referenced the 2001-02 Terra Nova Test results that cover reading, language, math and science for grades four, eight and 10. Last year’s sophomores in Douglas County had the highest scores in the state in all four subject areas, according to Gatto.

More than 40 percent of Whittell sophomores received scores in the top 25 percent in reading, language and math. Science was the lone tough area for the students. Thirty-three percent of sophomores had scores in the top 25 percent.

Only six Nevada high schools, including Whittell and Douglas High School, received top scores in three out of the four areas out of nearly 100 Nevada high schools, Gatto said. “We have high standards for our students,” Gatto said. “We’ve prepared them for whatever they want to do.”

In a move Gatto said will save thousands of dollars by forgoing paper, he plans to use e-mail to send students and parents a general newsletter.

In addition, he hopes to schedule a roundtable discussion with parents, similar to the one he held last September, after the fall sports schedule is set in stone.

Haley Shaw, a junior at Whittell and the social commissioner for the executive council, said it’s encouraging that Gatto is returning.

“He seems very enthusiastic about the upcoming year,” Shaw said. “He has a lot of ideas. He’s really involved with students and the student council.”

— Contact William Ferchland at

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