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Governance Team of the Year

By Steve Ranson Nevada News Group
The Nevada Association of School Boards recognized Churchill County as Governance Team of the Year. From left are trustees Kathryn Whitaker, Phil Pinder, Matt Hyde and Tricia Strasdin; Superintendent Summer Stephens; and trustees Fred Buckmaster, Amber Getto and Carmen Schank.
Robyn Jordan Photo

Stephens, school board receive recognition for improving student achievement

The Churchill County School District has received a collective award from the Nevada Association of School Boards that commends the superintendent and trustees who are headed in the right direction with the future of children’s education.

The NASB Governance Team of the Year actually had its roots for the school board and Superintendent Summer Stephens more than two years ago. She was hired in 2018 to become leader of more than 3,300 students and about 400 certified and classified staff. Within that small amount of time, the school district said Stephens and the school board have accomplished many objectives for the county to begin meeting long-term goals.

“The superintendent and board members are working together to achieve outcomes for the district and our team,” Stephens said.

Before the trustees hired Stephens, they wanted to match strategic plans with a leader who will lead them to the desired outcomes. Stephens said the board wanted to continue moving forward and develop strategic plans for improvement with measurable goals.

Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert saw this first-hand when she visited Churchill County School District in November 2019 and praised the Churchill County governance team for their innovative efforts to support student engagement and achievement through the Profile of a Learner, Learner Centered Framework and personalized learning.

“Your superintendent is an amazing advocate for children,” Ebert pointed out to trustees at that time.

She said Stephens is also a leader among her fellow superintendents.

Jonathon Moore, deputy superintendent of Student Achievement, also addressed trustees and discussed Stephens role as superintendent.

“She holds the vision and levels of critical thinking and pushes herself to be a leader,” Moore said.

The school district’s goals in developing success in Churchill County means educators aren’t satisfied with the status quo. Board president Matt Hyde offered comments on behalf of the other trustees after the NASB Governance Team of the Year award was presented.

“We are continuously looking at ways to enhance learning opportunities for students,” Hyde said. “Every student learns differently, and at a different pace.

He said the school district’s job is to ensure each student has the best opportunity for success in the learning process although situations are always changing.

“I’m extremely proud of our governance team, and I’m just as proud of how our staff embraces change,” Hyde added. “They are a big part of what makes this award attainable for the board and Dr. Stephens.”

With the coronavirus pandemic, Stephens said the school district needs to ensure students are on the right track with their learning and the district functions as team with the community. As with other school districts facing a pandemic in March, Churchill County moved to online instruction, but Stephens and the board also realized their lines of communication with parents and the public had to remain transparent. Through online announcements and involvement with local media, Stephens said the community had a better grasp of the school district’s plans. This also carried over to the district’s plans of opening with a hybrid model of instruction for the fall semester.

“We stay in touch and also ask for input,” she said. “We shared our plan with 36 parents, and we were happy with the response from the community.”

As Stephens put it, “We are all members of the same team.”

Stephens re-emphasized the transparency and how it helps the district strengthen its partnership with all stakeholders.

The NASB Governance Team of the Year also focused on other Churchill County achievements, especially the Profile of a Learner, which she said represents a shift in thinking. Stephens said the board looks at it as a Profile of a Graduate.

“All decisions about teaching and learning must now support the Profile of a Learner focus of helping students become critical thinkers, inspired innovators, collaborative learners, effective communicators, global citizens, and lifelong learners,” the school district said. “This strategy aligns seamlessly with successful schools at the national level.”

Hyde said the district sees results with the new strategic plans.

“The most immediate result, as a board member, is witnessing all of the schools adopting the profile and looking at curriculum and standards much more critically,” he said. “Most of the questions that are being fielded from staff are evidence of a student-centered framework and Profile of a Learner.”

Stephens and trustees began the plan within her first year and continued developing life-ready learners through her second year. Within the Learner Centered Framework, the school district’s teachers and students “develop a partnership to determine which skills each student needs to achieve and then a plan to help the student reach the necessary mastery and skills.”

From there, the district developed strategic plan goals that also allowed students to learn at their own pace and in different ways. Stephens said students are achieving and matching up to be more proficient at learning standards and matching local, state and national assessments.

“The Learner Centered Framework is most effective in the way that it generates learner agency,” Hyde said, adding the framework forces students to become active participants in their own learning. “That is not to say that we aren’t at the beginning of this journey, or that there aren’t still some things that need to get ironed out — but the train has definitely left the station and we are confident that it is on the right track.”

Stephens said the framework eventually provides citizens who can work within society once they leave the community.

Furthermore, the superintendent, her team and trustees overhauled the budget into a new policy that addresses student achievement first. Stephens said all school district budget decisions now justify the funding supports student learning and engagement.

With its involvement in the Silver State Governance workshop, Churchill County made a public commitment to develop skills and strategies — goals the district had begun to develop or refine.

“When we went to a national school board conference, our board felt validated,” Stephens said about strategic planning and individual learning.

By being the leaders in the community, Stephens said the district can get everyone moving in the same directions.

“If we don’t, you start to fray and get off-track and not hold accountability,” she said. “We want to keep going. Our next step is important to personalize learning for our kids, keep on the right track and stay the course.”

Stephens said teachers are seeing results with what the district and trustees are accomplishing.

Although COVID-19 has provided some delays to learning in general, Hyde said the trustees are still committed to the Silver State governance model.

“COVID has presented some speed bumps,” he said. “The training we went to was positive and got us really thinking, but in order to move forward there is more work to be done. It will involve additional training which has not been available due to the pandemic.”