Carson’s own Santa " Mike Mitchell |

Carson’s own Santa " Mike Mitchell

Abby Johnson
Special to the Nevada Appeal

Job performance is based on results. Take St. Nick for instance. Tonight is the one night that his job performance is rated, despite the other 364 days and nights of planning, preparation, and personnel (elf management).

Then there’s Mike Mitchell, the soon-to-be-retired director of operations for the Carson City School District. Mike has been working magic and miracles for Carson City’s children, parents and taxpayers for 16 years.

Trained as an architect, and gifted with communication skills and common sense, Mike had what the school district needed to remodel its facilities and build credibility with taxpayers. If you think it’s hard to deliver toys to the children of the world in one night (and not just any toy will do) then you know Mike Mitchell and Santa Claus have a lot in common.

Mike has delivered every day for Carson City’s schools and students. Mike has cared for the facilities of the school district by making buildings more energy efficient, cost effective and conducive to education. He earmarked money for capital improvements to replace roofs, resurface parking lots and remodel bathrooms. He has made the best use of Carson’s aging school facilities by extending their life through scheduled

maintenance and extreme makeovers.

He has had a love-hate relationship with portable classrooms. Portables expand school capacity without the cost and permanency of bricks and mortar. But they drain precious dollars that could be used for a permanent solution, and are susceptible to mold and weather damage. Mike now knows more about mold than an insurance claims adjustor, after dealing with the portable classroom mold crisis that ultimately resulted in an innovative expansion to Bordewich-Bray Elementary School.

Mike has been especially effective at communicating these problems and solutions to parents, community groups and taxpayers. He’s been on the front line of explaining school district bond issues, patiently answering questions and telling it like it is.

“I could depend on Mike to deliver the bad news as well as the good. If there was a problem, he’d tell me right away,” said former Superintendent Mary Pierczynski. That straightforward style also earned him the respect of his colleagues, the community and voters, who supported every school district bond since 1997. He involved the expertise of bond proponents and opponents to serve on committees. From facility master planning to deciding the replacement turf for the football field to developing a district-wide safety plan, Mike used a collaborative approach to educate and build consensus.

Current superintendent Richard Stokes remembers the masterful job Mike did to develop a safety plan in the wake of the Columbine, Colo., school massacre. Mike recruited a Community Safety Committee to ensure that teachers, parents and the city’s public safety personnel were involved in the development of the plan.

“Mike’s strengths are in organizing people, leading discussions and facilitating ideas,” said Stokes.

From evacuation planning to ensuring that each classroom in the district could be locked down, he covered it all. The goal for the safety plan was the same as his primary mission as operations director: To ensure that children are safe, in an environment where they can learn.

It’s a testament to the magic that he brought to the job that when he retires, the school district is not going to replace him. Some of his responsibilities are being delegated to members of his operations team. But like St. Nick, Mike Mitchell is one of a kind, irreplaceable, and has done an impossible job to perfection for the good of the


– Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.