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WCSD to implement restorative practice training and new growth assessment

A man in a black sweater sits at a beige desk and speaks into a microphone. There are two people sitting behind him.
WCSD Board Meetings via YouTube
District chief strategies officer Paul LaMarca answers a question from Trustee Jeff Church at the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, Apr. 11, 2023.

KUNR’s Marc Garber and Jose Davila IV sat down to discuss Tuesday’s Washoe County School District Board of Trustees meeting. They discussed a range of topics including student discipline and standardized testing.

Marc Garber: Welcome, Jose. 

Jose Davila: Thank you for having me, Marc.

Garber: Jose, it seems like topics varied during the meeting. So, let’s begin with one of the hottest topics statewide: student discipline. What action did the trustees take around so-called restorative practices?

Davila: Well, Marc, the short of it is that the trustees voted to approve a $209,735 contract with the International Institute for Restorative Practices to train teachers and administrators on how to carry out restorative practices at district schools. The vote was five to one in favor, with normally conservative Trustee Jeff Church against and Trustee Joe Rodriguez absent.

In introducing the contract, Superintendent Susan Enfield said that restorative and exclusionary tools must coexist in the school district in order to keep students safe and address student behavior concerns.

(SOUNDBITE FROM SUSAN ENFIELD): Restorative practices and exclusionary discipline, and exclusionary discipline is out-of-school suspension, expulsion, not only are not mutually exclusive, they can and must coexist.

Garber: So, Jose, what’s the statewide context on this issue?

Davila: The approval comes as a handful of bills in the Nevada State Legislature hope to address similar concerns. In some cases, those bills look to give more leeway to schools in suspending and expelling students. Those changes represent a rollback of parts of 2019’s restorative discipline bill that tried to cut the school-to-prison pipeline and reduce disciplinary inequities between ethnic groups.

While the district has spoken in support of some of those bills, the district’s chief strategies officer Paul LaMarca told trustees that the implementation of the current policy has been severely restricted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the district had hired the institute to do this same training in 2019, but then the pandemic hit and the training was interrupted.

(SOUNDBITE FROM PAUL LAMARCA): Restorative practices is a lightning rod word at this point like some other words, but the success of that or the failure of that is largely a result of proper implementation. And there has not been an opportunity statewide to properly implement this.

LaMarca promised that this contract could be voided if the Legislature passes rules restricting the use of restorative discipline, but he said that’s unlikely to happen.

That didn’t stop criticism from Church, though. Church called the policies a “dismal failure” despite the implementation concerns.

Garber: Alright, so let’s switch gears now from discipline to the trustees’ approval of a new growth assessment for students, you mentioned. Walk us through that, ok? 

Davila: Of course. Since Enfield’s arrival, the district has looked to cut down on the testing it does for its students. Teachers, especially, have shared concerns about the amount of testing the district does. However, they and others see the value in providing teachers with an assessment of how students are growing within a school year.

Sandra Aird, the district’s director of assessment, said this.

(SOUNDBITE FROM SANDRA AIRD): Our office sought to find an efficient and effective assessment and intervention tool that can provide timely, actionable as well as streamlined academic growth information and achievement data for our students.

Students in kindergarten through eighth grade will take this test three times a year and the software will assist teachers in preparing lessons to help each student improve from test to test.

Aird did share some concerns that she’s heard from teachers and administrators. One, there must be professional training for successful implementation. And, two, any online learning available through the new tech, called i-Ready, cannot replace the teachers in the classroom.

Garber: So, then how is the district planning to cut down on other assessments?

Davila: Well, in a corresponding move, the district will cut some of the redundant tests it does, including removing district finals in some math subjects. Trustee Diane Nicolet questioned why that was a good thing.

Chief academic officer Troy Parks explained that the district’s finals and their teaching practices have not lined up for a long time. Therefore, the data gathered from those tests wasn’t helpful.

(SOUNDBITE FROM TROY PARKS): In my mind, it’s good news because we have stopped trying to make it fit and make it work.

Enfield also shared that statewide finals in those subjects would be coming back, so it didn’t make sense to test students twice on the same content.

Garber: Anything else we need to know about from the meeting?

Davila: Yes, one quick thing. The district transferred the old Natchez gym to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. The gym is some distance from WCSD’s Natchez Elementary and so the school has only been using the gym for storage recently.

Pyramid Lake chairman James Phoenix said the tribe has a much more immediate need for it.

(Soundbite from Phoenix): “Back in the day growing up, playing ball you know everyone always went to the gym and we had to find a place to play whether it was outside or inside. And so this will be another asset, as old as it is, that we would have immediate use for.”

Garber: Interesting. Thanks for this reporting, Jose. 

Davila: Thanks for having me.

The image included in this story is a screenshot from the Washoe County School District’s Board of Trustees livestreamed meeting on Tuesday, Apr. 28, 2023. Click here to view the recorded video on YouTube.

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

Jose Davila IV reports on K-12 education with a focus on Latino students and families in Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra. He is also a first-year Report for America corps member. Es bilingüe, su familia es de Puerto Rico, y ama los tostones de su padre más que nada.
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