Students, teachers and parents across the state are getting ready to head 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. 

Teri White is superintendent of Douglas County's public schools, located in northern Nevada, south of Reno and Carson City. 

DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS:

On declining enrollment:

"The cost of living here is pretty hard for families and there's not a lot of homes available," White said.

She said people are moving out of the district because of the high cost of living. That impacts teacher recruitment. 

"Recruiting teachers is difficult, no matter how you look at it, but I think probably our biggest factor is that, for young teachers, there is not an availability of apartment living," she said.

White said many teachers have to rent an apartment in Carson City and commute to Douglas County because prices are cheaper. That said, it is only a 15-minute commute.

On the new SafeVoice school safety initiative:

"It is completely anonymous," she said. "They can report maybe friends who are doing dangerous things, or making threats. They can report themselves if they need help."

Support comes from

White said the system is a state-adopted program currently being rolled out. Douglas County was one of the first districts to get the program.

SafeVoice comes with an app students can download onto their phones and use to report a student who might be threatening to harm themselves or others.

White said there were a few false reports at the beginning, but that has waned. 

When an alert is entered, White, the school resource officer and White's safety director are all notified. She said they can respond within minutes.

On the governor's school safety task force:

"I think all of us have concerns about the mental health factor," she said. "We can harden our schools and put in more resource officers and, in fact, we have done that in Douglas County, but the bigger issue is resources for kids who are struggling with mental health issues."

White said she is in full support of the recommendations made by the task force. But, she said the state, in general, does not have the resources to help all the kids who are suffering from mental illness.

On having enough mental health professionals for schools:

"We're finding in Douglas County it is hard to recruit them," she explained. "Our wages are not competitive."  

White said Douglas County had enough grant money to hire seven social workers for its schools but they could only fill four of the positions. 

She said there are not enough applicants because not enough people are going into social work and those who do get snatched up by larger districts.

On arming teachers:

"Right now, the informal conversation is that the board and the county would not be in favor of arming teachers," she said.

White said the school board has informally looked at whether it is a good idea to arm teachers with handguns to better protect kids, but so far there has not been a formal discussion.

On school funding:

"It is a little bit frustrating that when we find new revenue sources, we put them in the Distributive School Account and then we pull something else out," she said. "We have been flat funded for so many years -- it just makes it tough to compete." 

She said Nevada deals with poverty and children from diverse backgrounds just like every other state, but schools here are not funded at the same level as counterparts in other states.

White said the latest reports show Nevada schools would need another billion dollars or more to fund every classroom at the same level so that every student has the same chance at learning, but nobody knows where that money would come from.

On the district's high graduation rate:

"I think for us we have a strong belief that it has to do with student engagement and making sure that every student in our system knows there is a caring adult on the other end for them," she said.

The graduation rate in Douglas County stands at 88.5 percent, which is higher than the state's average. However, it is not enough for White, because it is not at 100 percent.

She said one thing the district has done to improve the graduation rate is to encourage kids to try Aspire Academy -- the district's alternative school -- if traditional high school is not working for them.

On optimism about Nevada's schools:

"We have great teachers," she said. "Great administrators. We're on that cusp of turning and shooting upward. It's a fun time to be educating kids in Nevada."

On worries about Douglas County schools:

"We perform well, but we're not getting 100 percent of our kids proficient," she said. "That's one of the things we're striving for. Every student needs to grow a year, if not more -- every year."

 

Guests

Teri White, superintendent, Douglas County Public Schools

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