After a Department of Justice audit recommended the Carson City School District do more to help English-language learners succeed, the district is creating a full-time director of the English as a second language program.
"One of our main goals is to start with the elementary level and follow them right through high school to offer as many resources as possible," said Superintendent Richard Stokes. "We want to see them all walking across the stage with high school diplomas."
Although the district has for years had an ESL director, it has always been shared with another position, like Laurel Terry, who has been serving in that capacity as well as the professional development coordinator.
Under the reorganization, Terry will work full-time in professional development as well as working more with associate superintendent of instruction Susan Keema.
Chris Butson will leave her post as principal of Eagle Valley Middle School to take over as ESL director.
Butson, who began her career in 1992 as an ESL teacher at Empire Elementary School, is happy to lead the program.
"It's something I advocated for years ago," she said. "Now, it's coming full circle."
She went on to become a dean of students at Carson High School in 2001 and vice principal at Empire in 2005 before taking over as principal of Eagle Valley in 2008.
She will bring her professional expertise to the job, as well as her personal experience. As a senior in high school, she spent a year in Mexico as a foreign-exchange student.
Although she had taken the language in school, she said, actually speaking Spanish turned out to be a "real challenge."
She remembers asking her host family on her first day in the country where she could buy stamps.
"Everybody just looked at me," she recounted. "That's when I knew I was in trouble."
She eventually mastered the language, but not without obstacles, like the teacher who kicked her out of class for her lack of speaking ability.
That experience, she said, helps her relate to students who come to schools in Carson City from other countries.
"I have that empathy for them when they walk into a classroom and the instruction is not accessible," she said. "Or when they feel they are not welcome."
She said it's easier for younger children to pick up the language in school because there is less content they are trying to learn simultaneously. As they get older, she said, they not only have to learn the language but the subject matter of the class as well.
That's why it's important to have programs available to assist them.
"It's not about coddling," she said. "It's about access."
Lee Conley will take over as principal of Eagle Valley Middle School, leaving vacant his position as principal of Seeliger Elementary School, where he has been since 2005.
The district is in the process of finding a replacement for Conley.