Carson City Superintendent Richard Stokes always believed education should never prevent his students from doing what they truly wanted, and he’s made sure to adhere to that mantra even if it took time from home to help them.
But as Stokes nears retirement in July, he’s eager to invest his time back into his four grandchildren in two states and returning to family life.
“I am looking forward to doing some projects at my home that have taken a second seat to my job and spending more time with my wife,” Stokes told the Appeal. “I think I owe her that for the years that maybe I’ve been doing school things instead of accompanying her. But I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on school-related things.”
Stokes has helped the district navigate some of its toughest challenges since joining CCSD’s staff as its associate superintendent in 2001 and becoming its superintendent in 2008, a recent rarity in tenure for Nevada school oversight. Stokes is preparing to leave after 14 years in the position, outlasting the mean tenure of approximately five to six years, according to a study by the American Association of School Administrators.
Certainly nothing ever hindered him from doing what needed to be done for the students and staff who came to Carson, even as the difficulties mounted or the dollars waned.
“I think all of us can look back on time spent in any job and recognize there were times we could have done more,” Stokes said. “I don’t think anybody does their job if we’re not reflecting. In general, we have done some tremendous work very well … working together with other educators that have that same desire that they want their students to move from a high school setting to go out into the world with the knowledge, skills and abilities to be productive in whatever they want to do.”
He takes pride in helping Carson City earn its place in the nation as the top applicant for the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top funding, chosen above New York, Boston and Los Angeles public schools with its Learner Centered Model project designed to reform and support students with an aligned system. The proposal provided an implementation of curriculum maps and assessments as well as a student mastery tracking system. Stokes said receiving the grant also kept the district’s staff members gainfully employed and its programs intact by working with members Transformation Office director Dr. Steven Pradere and grants and special projects director Valerie Dockery.
“I’m really pleased with what we’ve done,” he added. “There’s always room for improvement. Carson City School District can continue moving forward with so many of the individuals who have that same desire for students just to be able to do what they want to do when high school’s over, and I expect that will continue long after I’m gone just by the nature of the people that work here and the type of community we live in here and the expectations we have here.”
He’s also watched the district improve substantially in its physical form.
“I can’t think of any of our buildings that haven’t been touched in any way,” he said. “Carson High School, that building began in 1975 and over time, it just kept getting added on to, but every time they did that, the electrical and heating parts were impacted because they would add on to it.”
One of his proudest achievements in improvements was removing the district’s 22 portable classrooms and providing some permanence in more secure structures at the elementary and middle school levels. That work is reflected in today’s environment with the pandemic as administrators and crews work on giving students proper heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, gyms, roofing and carpeting. Most recently, he said the new square footage at Eagle Valley Middle School now makes the district’s two middle schools comparable, and the recent district’s administrative building renovation itself has been “60 years overdue.”
“Our students are in better, more secure, more efficient, better climate-controlled classrooms, and even with the pandemic, we had great ways to ventilate,” Stokes said. “The internal air is filtered through high-level ventilation systems. We were able to build a world-class athletic facility down at Carson High School. We added on a wrestling room in the past; our students and coaches had to go to another location because we didn’t have one on site. The track and field complex, the football complex – all those athletic programs. We’ve also been able to add on and improve and improve Mark Twain and Fremont elementary schools.”
Creating the strategic plan is another one of his joys, he said, in which he collaborated with his employer – the board of trustees – and received feedback from his staff and constituents – the community – to set a vision and direction for Carson City’s schools. The plan itself now has seen its second cycle and enters its third iteration in school year 2022-23, he said. With thanks to the various Professional Learning Community group meetings, the plan has established five goals guiding what happens in school classrooms, he said.
“We’ve had increased graduation rates, we’ve been able to develop a strong CTE (Career and Technical Education) program, we’ve had a model AP (Advanced Placement) program in our high schools and we’ve seen the advanced implementation of our JumpStart program, so we’ve had some tremendous opportunities,” Stokes said.
But perhaps one of his greatest challenges came when COVID-19 erupted in March 2020, and everything changed in a day.
“We had to finish the 2020 year by remote learning,” he said. “We had to send all those folks home. We had 1,000 staff members that now their jobs were changed overnight when the governor said, ‘School’s closed and you can’t come back.’ We had 1,000 people we had to change how they did business in just a short amount of time. It was tremendously challenging.
“The federal government still demanded we feed kids even though they weren’t coming to campus,” he said. “We had to provide instruction for two months when staff had one week to figure out how that was going to look. They said, ‘Yeah, we want to you have this remote learning system, but we also expect you to take attendance even though the kids are staying home.
“All those really challenging educational processes had to be built from scratch,” he went on. “We had no former events or processes we could draw from – everything for answering questions about what counts when you work from home to, ‘What happens if I get a sore throat?’ and how to deal with all the conditions associated with a pandemic and public health.”
Stokes expresses gratitude for the ability to have worked cooperatively with many others at the helm and insists it wasn’t merely his leadership actively at work in times of success.
“I think educators by nature nurture others, and I’ve seen that done tremendously here in Carson City, and I’ve seen it done not only on a schoolwide basis but on an individualized basis,” he said.
“I have known many situations where an individual family or staff member or student was facing some kind of a negative event in their life. Maybe someone’s home had burned down. Maybe there was illness or death, and staff, students, school board members have all reached out in various ways to give a little bit of themselves to those situations. And then you’ll see all these teachers who go to a Little League baseball game or they’ll go to a student’s baptism or they’ll go to a class recital of former students, a sporting event. There’s just community support.”
He called it inspiring to see educators and community members alike take up a cause for the benefit of students, calling Carson City’s outreach especially motivating.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s been the right fit for me.”
Asked how he felt about incoming fiscal services director Andrew Feuling taking on the role of superintendent as his successor, Stokes expressed his confidence.
“Mr. Feuling will do everything in his power to assure that not only his children but all of our students will be successful,” Stokes said. “His heart is in the right place. I’ve worked with him for eight years. I’ve seen the kind of man he is. I am grateful we have a local, internal candidate to carry our school district into the next phase of its existence, and I have great confidence that our staff will respond well to him, which they already have. … I am more than comfortable with Mr. Feuling taking over as a superintendent. I wish him every success.”