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WCSD Trustees approve new classroom tech, discuss graduation rates

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A series of bar graphs titled “Graduation Rates by Student Population” show Washoe County School District graduation rates for various student groups for the years 2019 through 2022.

In order by year, student graduation rates across the district went from 86% to 85%, 82%, and 84%, respectively.

  • Graduation rates of African American students went from 75% to 70%, 68%, and 74%.
  • Graduation rates of American Indian students went from 81% to 78%, 70%, and 64%.
  • Graduation rates of Asian students went from 96% to 95%, 94%, and 97%.
  • Graduation rates of Hispanic students went from 82% to 82%, 81%, and 81%.
  • Graduation rates of Pacific Islander students went from 85% to 78%, 76%, and 79%.
  • Graduation rates of White students went from 89% to 88%, 84%, and 87%.
  • Graduation rates for students eligible for free and reduced lunch went from 80% to 78%, 82%, and 76%.
  • Graduation rates for students with Individualized Education Plans went from 69% to 67%, 60%, and 60%.
  • Graduation rates for English language learners went from 74% to 76%, 74%, and 71%.
  • And graduation rates for children in transition went from 64% to 58%, 57%, and 59%.

One side of the graphic shows among race and ethnicity that American Indian, African American, and Pacific Islander students had the biggest graduation rate drops from the district average in the class of 2022 at minus 20, 10, and five percentage points, respectively.

Among special populations, another side of the graphic shows that children in transition, students with Individualized Education Plans, and English language learners have the biggest graduation rate drops from the district average in the class of 2022 at minus 25, 24, and 13 percentage points, respectively.

KUNR’s Jose Davila IV and host Marc Garber break down this week’s Washoe County School District Board of Trustees meeting.

Marc Garber: What should the community know about [Tuesday] night’s meeting?

Jose Davila IV: Well, firstly, the board approved spending $6.8 million in federal COVID relief funds for installing new interactive digital boards at the front of classrooms. District staff also gave a presentation on graduation rates in the district, largely highlighting gains over the past decade but also stubborn disparities across groups.

Garber: Okay, so, walk us through those active panels. What do they do for students?

Davila: Well, overall, these boards allow students and teachers to project online and digital resources to the entire class. Students and teachers can also carry out learning activities at the board itself at the front of classrooms.

Let’s listen to Area Superintendent Don Angotti as he explains how teachers use the boards.

(SOUNDBITE FROM DON ANGOTTI): To see students actually go to the board and be able to work with math problems and be able to work through different types of science and play with the board and actually interact with it was really neat to see as well.

Garber: What is the scope of this purchase and when can students expect to see the new tech?

Davila: So the district is purchasing 1,500 boards and will install them in 50 different schools. Those schools were chosen based on the age of their current interactive boards or their lack of boards at all. They will be replacing obsolete boards that are between nine and 15 years old. And the district plans to install all of the new boards by the end of the calendar year.

Garber: Okay. 

Davila: The purchase also includes the temporary support of consultants to help teachers learn how to best use the boards over that year.

Garber: Alright. What did the board have to say about the panels?

Davila: Well, they were all quite positive. Here’s board student representative Ivy Batmale on her experience with the boards.

(SOUNDBITE FROM IVY BATMALE): They’re very interactive for us students to use, and the old Promethean boards that we had, they were very faint. And so, even last year, in the middle of my AP U.S. history class, I couldn’t see the board because it was so faint. And now, I’m in the same classroom for a different class, but it’s very bright. I can very much see it. I just want to say thank you.

Davila: Trustees Adam Mayberry and Alex Woodley praised district staff for using federal dollars to complete the purchase. And the trustees ended up voting unanimously in favor of the new tech.

Garber: It’s great to be able to see the board when you’re in a classroom, right? So, let’s move to district graduation rates. What did staff present to the board?

Davila: District staff presented data to the Board of Trustees about graduation rates, diploma types, and ACT scores. The presentation is a part of an ongoing board and superintendent effort to share data about academic benchmarks in the district.

Overall, graduation rates have trended upwards over the past decade, up from about 66 percent in 2012 to 84 percent now. And about half of those graduating students earn an advanced diploma of some sort.

Garber: That’s a big jump. What does the data show about the district’s challenges?

Davila: Well, on the graduation side, still, huge disparities exist between different student groups. With an overall district score of 84 percent, only 64 percent of Native American students, 60 percent of special ed students, and 59 percent of students struggling with homelessness graduate. Likewise, those groups, as well as Black students and English language learners, drop out at least twice the district rate.

As for ACT numbers and according to standards, just over half of high school juniors are proficient in English language arts and just over a quarter are in math. Trustee Jeff Church made it a point to say that those numbers need to improve.

Here’s Chief Accountability Officer Joe Ernst on what the district will do with the data.

(SOUNDBITE FROM JOE ERNST): From an accountability standpoint, we want to use objective data. We want to pull that data apart in meaningful ways to help drive responses and strategies that we are developing and engaging to improve those outcomes.

Garber: So, there are some encouraging signs, but also a lot of work left to be done, right?

Davila: Exactly.

Jose Davila IV is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

This interview aired on KUNR FM on Wednesday, Jan. 25.

Jose Davila IV is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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