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And the reform beat goes on
by Jessica Garcia
Aug 02, 2010 | 989 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Washoe County School District is to be commended for its efforts in writing the state's application, “Nevada’s Promise,” in pursuit of a share of President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top federal funding for school reform.

Last week’s announcement that the Silver State, and specifically Washoe County, did not make it as a finalist — thus missing out on about $80 million of a $4.35 billion pie — was indeed disappointing not just for the district but for the Reno-Sparks community.

However, the fact that Race to the Top was advertised as a competition in the first place is somewhat detestable since all public schools deserve an equal shot at improvement.

After the news broke last Tuesday, the blame game began immediately between Sen. Harry Reid and Gov. Jim Gibbons, certainly a juvenile and unnecessary act that lent no support to districts like Washoe County.

As a side note, the bickering is also a turn-off during an election season.

Barring the accusations that neither one did enough to help Nevada be as competitive as it could/should have been, Nevada schools already had too much stacked up against them. The ban that had to be lifted by the Nevada Legislature in February prohibited the use of students’ test scores to be used as a component of teachers’ evaluations, a notion that received mixed reactions from the educators themselves.

Because the Legislature didn’t meet until February, Nevada couldn’t apply for the first round of funding, consequently losing out on an opportunity to get feedback from the feds about how to improve its application and resubmitting for the second deadline in June.

Nevada grant writers still won’t know how many points the state earned in which areas and exactly where its weaknesses lie until later this month after the “winners” have been revealed.

It’s a true blow for Washoe County, whose staff of grant writers and consultants gave up likely far too many hours even before February in anticipation of creating a robust application for the state.

But that should not change the district’s mission of reform and Superintendent Heath Morrison is determined that it won’t.

Washoe school board trustees moved ahead in their usual and refreshing good spirits at their board meeting, discussing updates on the district’s strategic plan because, as they’ve said before, “it’s the right thing to do.” They have been nailing down those critical points for assessments. They are considering how to identify much earlier those students who are falling behind and provide extra support before and after school and, most likely to their dismay, on Saturdays, if necessary — all on a limited supply of federal funding based on grants the district is now turning its head to for financial assistance.

As talks of this strategic plan continue, which appears to be on the cusp of becoming actionable, hopes linger that it will set a clear direction for rising above a series of stagnant graduation rates and help motivate children to perform better in school for themselves. Unfortunately, funding can be a factor with these things, but it doesn’t always have to be.

Of course, if district officials still intend to make good on “Nevada’s Promise” and succeed without federal dollars, shouldn’t that set a healthier pulse for local and national education?

Jessica Garcia is the education reporter for the Sparks Tribune. She can be reached
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