Just back from a week sojourn in Ohio on a teacher/faculty recruiting trip, Carson City School District Human Resources Director Richard Stokes took a few minutes with the Appeal to talk about his new position with the district - superintendent. Stokes, 50, will officially take over for retiring superintendent Mary Pierczynski this summer.
An employee of the district since the summer of 2001, Stokes, a native of Salmon, Idaho, has been an educator for almost three decades. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Idaho State University, Stokes' career began in Wyoming as a science teacher. He went on to earn a masters in education from the University of Wyoming at Laramie.
From there, Stokes got his first job in administration as principal of Mineral County High School in Hawthorne. He was later promoted to superintendent of Mineral County School District, where he served in that capacity for three years before coming to Carson City.
He lives here with his wife, Keli, and their four children: Ryjul, 17, a junior at Carson High; Jazmyn, 15, a freshman at Carson High; Madyson, 13, a seventh grader at Eagle Valley Middle School, and Cyrus, 9, a third grader at Seeliger Elementary.
Balancing a busy home life and his new job as superintendent will be his "biggest challenge," Stokes said.
You have four children in the school district. How will this help you as superintendent? How will it hurt?
It gives me a lot of insight. A lot of insight. I hear about it all. And I hear it foremost from a kid's perspective at every level. I hear about what lunches they like. I hear about the campus (facilities) - and their condition. I think it's a unique perspective for a (superintendent to have) and I really value getting to see every day what our schools are doing - from a parent's perspective.
The state is in a crisis with education. Nevada's got a reputation for low test scores and a high drop-out rate, and is now facing budget cuts. What can the people who work in this district do to help change that?
Here in Carson City we have some really talented and professional people who are interested in making this district the flagship of the state. More than any place I've worked, they seem to go about the business of public education in a quiet and effective way. I think that reflects in our results. Our test scores have gone up. Our academic programs are getting recognized. Do we still have things we need to work on? Absolutely. We need to, as a collective, set a precedent. And I think we're starting to establish that. And how we're doing it is through the really good input from individual families. They've got the desire to improve. I also believe in the people who work here. We all want the same things. We're working toward a common goal.
So, in more concrete terms, what things will you do to help folks in the district reach this 'goal'?
I have five things: One, I want to continue to see our academic achievement increase. Two, we have to hang on to good staff - retaining people who have a lot of skill and hiring people who may not necessarily have a long background in education, but have experience. The (third) is we need to be open to the community. We need to be transparent and sensitive to what's said to and about us. Four, maintain financial integrity. And the last one - we need to maintain and improve our school facilities.
Having been the district's human resources director, what kind of educator is a good fit for this district? For Carson City?
We see two types of people who might make a good fit here. The first are those who live here or grew up here. They are committed to Nevada and staying here and helping our schools. That's a good part of our employee base. The others are usually from other parts of the U.S. - Illinois, Ohio, Michigan - that seemingly have a surplus of teachers. Maybe it's weather that attracts them, maybe it's the outdoor activities. Those are knee-jerk answers. But I've also had teachers tell me they were attracted to this district because of our investment in technology. When I say we have a 6:1 computer-to-student ratio, they're interested. When I say we work with Smart Boards and (overhead) projectors, they respond. There are other reasons. We offer competitive salary, a great retirement system and good benefits. I think we're in a position where this (district) can hire top professionals.
One immediate staffing need is filling Fred Perdomo's shoes as principal of CHS.
We've got two candidates we're interviewing Friday, but the position is still open - we're still looking at applications.
Budget cuts. This year it sounds like there's going to be major belt-tightening in Nevada schools and you're walking into it. What's your plan?
Well, based on the information we're receiving the budget cuts are very real. Kudos to (district finance chief) Bob Anderson for giving us solid financial advice. Eighty-seven percent of our budget is attributed to salaries and benefits. So we have to take a look, every year, at the number of students we're serving and how many staff we need. We'll be trying to understand if we can afford to replace positions where teachers leave or retire - or if they need to be replaced at the same level. Some positions we may not replace at a full-time level, or at all. The (enrollment) is shrinking too. So, for now, we feel we can make it through the budget cuts through attrition.
This brings up another point. School enrollment is in decline across the board and doesn't show signs of picking up any time soon. This isn't the district's problem - but is it something that's discussed - the cost of living or lack of resources preventing young families from moving here?
Do we discuss it? Oh yes. What can I say? People with young families need to move here. But, realistically, over the last few years - it's become out of reach for many.
Is this something you can relate to?
Let's just say if my family were moving here now, instead of seven years ago, it would've been a lot harder.
RS: I appreciate the confidence of the school board and the opportunity I've had to work with the (district) staff. I look forward to working with them in my new capacity. I think Mary (is) leaving the district in great shape - and that's a testament to her hard work and many years here. I'll do my best, and look forward to getting to know the community better.