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WCSD Trustees Appoint McNeill Superintendent

Kristen McNeill standing at a podium during a press conference.
Paul Boger
The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees voted to appoint Kristen McNeill as the district’s permanent superintendent on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.";

The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees has named Kristen McNeill the district’s permanent superintendent. But the appointment comes at a tumultuous time. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools and projected budget deficits threaten potential cuts. Officials said they’re confident that McNeill’s the person to lead the district through the storm.

When Kristen McNeill took over as the interim superintendent last July, the district was facing a number of issues.

The former superintendent, Traci Davis, was fired for allowing sensitive material to be used against the district, schools were still operating under a structural deficit from the previous recession and employee morale was in the gutter.

In an interview with KUNR last July, McNeill said her job was to mainly provide stability. 

“That's the job of an interim superintendent," she said, "to make sure that people know that there is somebody at the helm. That somebody is experienced, and that we're going to be moving forward.”

Ten months later, it seems that stability may be what trustees want most during the pandemic, which has forced the shutdown of schools across the country. Districts have wholly shifted their attention away from in-class instruction to distance learning, a step meant to help students retain what they’ve already learned and not to serve as a replacement for being in the classroom.

There’s also the looming threat of budget cuts. Sales and gaming taxes are the largest sources of income for the state and revenues have screeched to a halt due to the closure of all non-essential businesses.

In a virtual town hall with students, parents and teachers last week, McNeill laid out an agenda to lead schools forward by focusing on her core values.

“When we’re talking about what’s in the best interest for the district, what’s in the best interest of students, we need to be honest. We need to have integrity. We need to be kind to one another ... especially during this time of physical distancing, and then transparency.” McNeill said.

In some ways, McNeill may also be the beneficiary of timing.

The district was in the middle of conducting a months-long, national search for a new superintendent when schools closed in mid-March. During the Board of Trustees' meeting on March 31, the board voted to abruptly end the search and officially name McNeill to the post.

“I think it would be really bad for our district to change leaders at this time," Trustee Andrew Caudill told his fellow board members during the meeting. "I believe her dedication and commitment to the school district has invigorated our staff and our community in a way that we haven’t seen in a really long time.” 

It’s a move that’s been largely supported through the community, even though planned events for public feedback were also canceled.

In a letter, the teachers' union, Washoe Education Association, said McNeill has always been upfront and honest with the community about the district. 

“This is about people, and I can really see that she loves education, period, and helping our kids. So, that makes me very excited about it," said WEA President Natha Anderson. 

That opinion of McNeill seems to be fairly common. In fact, a vast majority of the public comments published ahead of the board’s decision supported McNeill’s appointment. As for the handful of comments opposing the decision, they either cited issues with ending the search early or hiring from within the district. They didn’t take issue with McNeill herself. 

But for some, that's an asset.

'“I think it is important for not only our staff, but our community, to know that the person in place as superintendent of Washoe County School District has the history of knowing how we got to where we are today, but also the vision for where we can go from here," said School Board President Malena Raymond.

The specifics of McNeill’s contract are still under negotiation. However, it’ll likely be a full three-year contract.

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