Jhone Ebert, Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction who was appointed earlier this year, has made it a goal to visit each of the state’s 17 school districts and the state Public Charter School Authority.
Ebert, along with certain members of her staff, have been listening, visiting and responding to questions and concerns about the current and future status of education in Nevada. One such stop included Churchill County where she met with community members and school district employees. On her travels, she said a general feeling believes there are three school districts in the state: Clark, Washoe and the rural counties.
“Our rural districts are just as diversified as our other two school districts,” Ebert quickly pointed out. “The smaller counties are as different from each other.”
She said White Pine County, for example, is not the same as Mineral, Eureka or Churchill counties. Each, she said, has its own unique characteristics.
In addition to meeting with different groups of people during her one-day trip to Fallon, she also spent time visiting several schools. She stopped at E.C. Best Elementary School and read a book with a student and then met with Churchill County High School Principal Scott Winter. She also attended a Junior ROTC pass-in-review.
“I spoke to some of the parents,” Ebert said. “The parents love the teachers here.”
Another stop included Churchill County Middle School where Ebert met Principal Amy Word and talked with students. When Ebert met with community members in the afternoon, she talked to Mayor Ken Tedford, only the second mayor who came to one of her community listening sessions around the state.
“The mayor is very passionate about education and wants to support this community the best way he can,” she said.
Ebert said she has previously talked to Churchill County’s elected representatives in the state legislature. She said Dr. Robin Titus, who represents Assembly District 38, is passionate in supporting the children as is State Sen. James Settelmeyer. One of the issues she discussed with concerned parents and educators is Senate Bill 543, which changes the funding formula for Nevada’s K-12 schools. At this point, Ebert doesn’t know how the new formula, which was passed during the last legislature, will affect Churchill County.
“We don’t know of the work that’s transpiring,” she said. “The funding formula is not out there to review.”
Ebert said the funding formula will look at different factors when allotting money to each school district. The formula will be weighted funding for students based on learning levels such as English Language Learners, she said. Parents also told Ebert they were pleased with Northside Early Learning Center, and the education that is provided there.
According to Ebert, educators like the profile of a learner, but they also said the added requirements are making their jobs more difficult while working with students and making a shift in the type of instruction. She acknowledged, however, it’s the right work to do. Ebert said nationally there are moves to streamline more of the requirements and “move some things off their plate.”
Ebert discussed the role of communication and how the superintendent has conversations with the state. Like Ebert, Churchill County School District Superintendent Summer Stephens is new to her position, having been appointed during late spring 2018.
“Your superintendent is an amazing advocate for children,” Ebert pointed out, adding Stephens is also a leader among her fellow superintendents.
Jonathon Moore, who accompanied Ebert to Churchill County, said he talked to Stephens at a prior conference.
“She holds the vision and levels of critical thinking and pushes herself to be a leader,” said the deputy superintendent of student achievement. “I hope it won’t be the last visit to Churchill County.”
Stephens noted a parent group is reflective of what educators need to in the school district.
Ebert answered questions from trustees. She said in 2015, a proposal was made to appoint members of the Nevada Board of Education and also look at appointing local school board members. She shot down the idea.
“If you have a higher functioning board, why even have that conversation,” she said.
As a member of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s cabinet, Ebert said her position is nonpartisan. She provides information and provides data so the governor and legislators are able to make informed decisions about education.
Trustee Matt Hyde asked her if cost of living will be built into the new funding formula. She acknowledged it will be part of the formula. She also compared per pupil spending between Nevada and New York state, where she was senior deputy commissioner in the education department. She said Nevada receives about $10,000 per student compare to New York’s $23,000. Ebert, though, said more money doesn’t mean more gains.
Trustee Fred Buckmaster asked Ebert if she has any influence in increasing the number of teacher graduates from college, particularly those who teach in the career areas and shop classes. Ebert said she has been working with the Educator Licensure division to make the process easier for individuals making a move from industry to the classroom.
“Across the state is a desperate need for educators,” she added.