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Nevada Education Leaders Eye Summer School As Way To Get Students Back On Track

An etching of the seal of Nevada on a window.
Brian Bahouth
Sierra Nevada Ally
The Great Seal of the State of Nevada is etched on the glass of the Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev.

Summer school will likely look a lot different this year. Lawmakers in Nevada are considering a measure that would extend optional, in-person instruction into June and July for many students around the state. It’s just one idea educators are eyeing as they work to get students back on track. KUNR’s Paul Boger spoke with Nevada’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert about what the state is doing to make that happen.

Paul Boger: Before we start chatting about the legislature, could you give us a sense of how students are doing through the pandemic and through distance learning? Because it seems like some students in the state are doing really well and a lot are struggling.

Headshot of Jhone Ebert. She is looking toward the camera and smiling.
Credit Nevada Department of Education
Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert.

Jhone Ebert: We now have a system that traditionally, we’ve been going first grade, second grade, third grade, and so on, that we’re really going to need to take a look and say, “You know what? We have Paul. He is 10 years old. He’s a fifth-grader. He loves mathematics, and he’s actually accelerated through, and he is doing seventh-grade work now, traditionally seventh-grade work. But Paul, we need to get him to wrap his arms around a book. We want him to become a phenomenal reader, literary. So we’re going to need to provide him additional resources to be able to get to the fifth-grade level.”

Boger: So, how are you addressing those particular student needs?

Ebert: We've spun up a blue-ribbon commission to look at exactly that in Nevada. We're leading the way. We've actually had competency-based learning in NRS since 2013. That allows us the flexibility to think beyond chronological age and grade of placement of students, but actually to place students and meet students where they're at so that we're looking at student mastery being more important than how much time a student has spent in a class or in a seat.

Boger: We are smack dab in the middle of the legislative session, and there are a number of education-related bills. What can you tell us about these?

Ebert: The American Rescue Plan is bringing into the state of Nevada almost $1.1 billion for K-12 education, and that money goes through September 2023. So the Back on Track Act, Senate Bill 173, which you just mentioned, is in complete alignment within the intention of those federal dollars.

So we as Nevadans, we normally don't fund summer school, but just as you set up the question earlier, you know, we have some that are accelerating [with] learning and some that have not had the opportunity to learn a year's worth of material, even though a year has transpired. How do we accelerate their learning? And so, bringing them back in if they so choose for a summer session that is inclusive of not just ... math, English, language arts, but science, the arts, all of those components that we want to see and have our students celebrate and engage in. [And] making sure that they have transportation, food service and an educational environment where they can succeed at what they're doing.

Boger: You mentioned the federal stimulus money a moment ago. Have you gotten guidance from the feds on how the state can use that money?

Ebert: There is guidance that is coming. I think the new Secretary Cardona has made it very clear in the funds being flexible in the manner that they can be used. ... So our students that are differently-abled, our students that speak multiple languages, are learning English, our students that are not on track to graduate, the funding that goes directly to the school districts, 20% of those funds must be used for learning loss.

So the summer programming that we just spoke to, they must use it. For the state of Nevada, it is roughly $192 million that's being made available, and it's not just for this summer. … Washoe County School District has done this for many years where they have extended, let's say, spring break, and those students that need additional supports, they bring them in. So that would be one avenue for learning loss. Also Saturday activities, extended school day, those are all ways that they can use those funds.

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