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Students, teachers & 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. 

DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS:

On student population:

"Recently, we've started to see an increase in our enrollment," superintendent Dave Jensen told State of Nevada. "It has been moderate -- somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 percent annually."

However, Jensen said from a historic perspective the county is down significantly from what it was in 1998: 4,200 students were enrolled then, compared with the just under 3,500 enrolled now.

On the advantages and disadvantages of having students in grades K-12 on one campus:

"Certainly, the biggest advantage is the peer mentoring that occurs," he said. "These are students who are working together, from kindergarten all the way through 8th grade."

Jensen said the mentoring is particularly helpful for the teachers who could be working with students from several different grade levels at the same time.

"I think the biggest negative is the difficulty in providing direct support for our teachers," he said.

Support comes from

He said the district works to provide mentoring between teachers by bringing the rural teachers together regularly. That direct contact allows teachers at schools where there may be only two or three teachers to have a support system.

On equity between rural schools and more urban schools:

"The concept of equity is something we're very concerned about -- to ensure that our students in McDermitt have access to the same level of education as our students here at Lowry High School have," he said

Jensen explained that McDermitt combined is a K-12 grade school near the border with Oregon. Most of the student population is Native American.

He said it can be tough to meet that standard, because hiring teachers and funding positions that are found at larger schools can be tough in rural areas.

Jensen said when the district talks about equity it is about providing access to key educational elements not necessarily equal services.

On school safety and district size:

"If we were to have some type of a situation, it could take law enforcement anywhere from 45 minutes up to respond to that scene," he said

Jensen said the most remote school in his district is 100 miles from the district offices in Winnemucca.

He said the district has to have the infrastructure in place to respond to emergencies as quickly as possible.

On the governor's school safety task force:

"We have to recognize that every district is in a different place in regards to where they're at for school safety," he said.

Jensen said those differences are behind the term 'guided autonomy,' which he says speaks to the idea that what a large urban high school in Clark County needs is different than what a small combined rural school in Humboldt County needs.

He said it means any school safety dollars that are directed out to districts can be used in a way that fits the needs of that district.

Jensen has only one resource officer to cover the 9,000 square miles and 11 schools in the district. He said he would like to see more resource officers for his schools.

On mental health help in schools:

"I've been asked directly, 'Well, is it the responsibility of school districts to address mental health issues?'" he said. "And several years ago, the answer was probably 'no,' but as we look at what's happening on a national level, public education now becomes the front line to identifying and providing intervention services in terms of mental health needs."

Jensen would like to see an increase in access to mental health professionals in our schools. Currently, he has two school psychologists that serve the entire district.

On arming teachers:

"We are opposed to arming teachers," he said.

Jensen said there are two aspects to the discussion from the district's perspective: potential liability issues, and whether teachers & staff want to carry a weapon.

He said very few people in the school would be comfortable with training to be ready to use a weapon.

On school funding:

"I think it is essential for the state of Nevada to re-evaluate our funding mechanism," he said. "This is an antiquated modality of allocating inadequate funds."

Jensen says the funding formula used to distribute money from Distributive Schools Account is from the 1960s. He said the state needs to look at the actual costs of education in Nevada schools, including improving the weighted funding formula, which gives more money to students who require more funding to reach academic goals, like special education students or English language learners.

On marijuana taxes:

"We recognize that the majority of marijuana sales right now are happening in Las Vegas," he said.

Jensen points out one side of the argument is that since most of the taxes from pot sales are being generated in Southern Nevada, the money should stay in Southern Nevada.

However, he said that Humboldt County produces a lot of tax dollars through mining, but that money is distributed throughout the state.

On the state of education:

"I believe we have a governor right now that is very committed to public education, and as I look at the other two candidates for governor, they are making public education one of their top priorities," he said.

Jensen says the plans coming out of the state's Department of Education are setting the state up for success. He said the continued focus on students will continue to push the state forward.

Guests

Dave Jensen, superintendent, Humboldt County School District

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