As Nevada students prepare to head back to school this fall, we're taking a look at school districts throughout the state.

Each of Nevada's 17 districts has a set of unique challenges.

Althought the Washoe County School District is the second-largest in the state, with just over 64,000 students, part of the district's challenges come from geography in some of Nevada's smaller communities. Take, for instance, the community of Gerlach (population: around 200). Gerlach has one school with one teacher, but it's most well known for being the community closest to the Black Rock Desert, home of the annual Burning Man festival. Gerlach's school campus was often overrun with Burners making their way to and from the playa, impacting school performance.

School officials asked the district to not hold classes around the festival, and Davis said WCSD agreed. It's part of what she sees as a more holistic approach to addressing the needs of individual schools in her district.

"What happens in Gerlach doesn't happen in Sparks or in Reno," Davis said. "We have some pretty prescriptive starting points with all schools, and their needs. Then based on size and maybe some demographics, or some particular elements of that school, we make adjustments accordingly. [It's] definitely not one-size-fits-all after we look at the needs of the particular school."

Support comes from

Capital improvement projects are also a priority for Davis, as the average age of buildings in the district is 55 years old. She said that the passage of WC 1, a dedicated sales tax to build & repair schools, has helped bring in new money to assist WCSD in these measures. Davis said she likes to talk to parents, teachers and students at each school about what they need for repairs in order to spend that money most effectively.

But even with that funding, WCSD has faced a budget deficit.

"What had happened in the past, the district had spent some of its savings, and hadn't really been fiscally responsible for how ... we go forward with the money that we receive through the Distributive Student Account," she said.

Davis has since worked with the budget to cut costs in central office spending, and to work with state officials on how use bridge funding to help offset some of those losses. But, she says the property tax cap -- which critics say limits the amount of money available to school districts -- should be reformed in order to bring in more money for Distributive Student Accounts.

She also questions whether national rankings, which place Nevada at the bottom of performance for public education, are truly valid.

"Part of the ranking system is comparing apples to oranges," Davis said. "Alabama doesn't take an exit test. They don't have to pass a test. Nevada does. So, when you compare, people have to be knowledgeable about what that truly means."

Davis thinks schools statewide are on the right track, and are improving.

"I'm always optimistic," she said. "I'm a Nevada graduate."

Guests

Traci Davis, Superintendent, Washoe County School District

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