Photo: Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal
Superintendent Richard Stokes presents his annual State of the District message to the Carson City School Board on Tuesday.
The Carson City School District soon will mark a year of operating under a pandemic that changed daily school operations and academic growth in ways no one expected, Superintendent Richard Stokes reported in his State of the District message Tuesday, but he remains “confident we will be back in school this fall.”
Stokes outlined in his annual message a history of events beginning with the first emergency directives that caused the initial school closures when the coronavirus was first declared a year ago in March and gave a summative analysis on Carson City’s academic rankings, financial standings and outlook for 2021-22.
“Most people felt this school closure was going to be a short-lived event,” he said. “I know I did.”
He described the impacts of the administrative transition to remote operations, changing bus schedules paraprofessionals putting lunches together to continue feeding students and teachers providing paper packets to students to help with their daily homework. Student activities were canceled or modified.
“There was a lot of movement to accommodate things like graduation that we had taken for granted over time,” Stokes said, the ceremonies for which were modified to drive-through formats or virtual ceremonies since large crowds were not allowed to gather.
He praised staff members for helping with one of the earliest and most important tasks of instituting protocols like making sure everyone was wearing face masks and social distancing as closures were occurring.
The pandemic then led to unforeseen impacts in the district. In its wake, the pandemic left Carson City with approximately 250 fewer students, a total current enrollment now of approximately 7,574 at its 12 schools. Certain accountability indicators from the Nevada School Performance Framework that assigns school ratings based on a unique measuring system were carried over from 2018-19 to the 2019-20 school year, a trend that could end up happening again this year, he said. Assessment results and chronic absenteeism rates were waived for 2019-20. The district moved to pass/fail grades. Students weren’t even physically in class by the time school ended.
Stokes noted CCSD’s data compared to overall state numbers were fairly unique
With academic struggles going on, the administration also had questions about the future in mind. Impending growth is inevitable even as it seemed state revenues were down due to restrictions on businesses. Carson City School District’s previous considerations on the Snyder Avenue property suddenly came to a halt as COVID-19 hit, Stokes said.
“I think that’s an important concept because, as we’ve all seen, construction activity still seems to be moving quite quickly,” he said. “The Lompa Ranch and residential areas are being developed. Being able to plan for future growth is part of our responsibilities.”
The district continues to listen for directives from the state, Stokes said, and while he is optimistic for a full return to in-person learning at the start of the 2021-22 year, schools are making plans for full-remote learning should COVID-19 persist.
Meanwhile, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s nod to schools to return to 75% capacity this Monday presents logistical challenges for transportation and building occupancy.
“The difficulty we have in our system is we have cohorts of different sizes, so to bring back students in different cohorts, we would have some classrooms that are more full than others or less full than others, and that would challenge teachers at the high school level,” he said.
Keeping students on the hybrid model for now also means helping them at home.
“We want to be able to have the best possibility for success,” he said, adding there continues to be a need to budget for the replacement and maintenance of Chromebook devices.
Stokes noted changes or losses in staffing positions including coaches and paraprofessionals, the salaries and benefits for which were covered by grant funding, and the conversion of nurses to independent contractors at district sites.
The board at the end thanked Stokes for his leadership, with Stokes crediting his staff for their support through a difficult year.
“It’s been a challenging year, and you’ve been a steady hand,” Trustee Mike Walker said. “We just want to say thank you. Your job’s pretty thankless. People look at you as the leader of this district. … Even though it’s been tough times, we appreciate the job you do.”
Stokes replied, “Sometimes things don’t go as we planned. We hope if there have been any mistakes, we don’t repeat those.”