KUNR 2020 Voter Guide: WCSD Board Of Trustees District E

Oct 16, 2020

Incumbent Trustee Angie Taylor is looking to keep her seat from political newcomer Matthew Montognese. Taylor was appointed to the board in 2014 and was elected to represent District E in 2016. She is the President and CEO of Guardian Quest, Inc., a diversity and inclusion consulting firm. Montognese is a Reno native, a network technician and a Little League coach with two children in Washoe County schools.

WCSD District G encompasses most of northwest Reno, including Verdi and Sun Valley. The Board of Trustees races are non-partisan.

For information on other races, visit our KUNR 2020 Voter Guide home page.

As a note: All responses in KUNR's 2020 Voter Guide have been submitted by the candidates. KUNR has not changed the answers other than to provide fact-checking as needed, indicated in the text with italics and parentheses.

Credit KUNR
Credit Courtesy of Matthew Montognese

Candidate Name: Matthew Montognese
Occupation: Network Technician

Why are you running for office?

Each student needs a complete education as ignorance creates a deficit where knowledge builds a bridge to a bright future. I Am running for WCSD to faithfully serve and sincerely administer for the good of our students, educators, and community. Our sacred educational system is our future and I was fortunate to be provided an excellent education here in the Silver State where I was born, and as a youth educated in the WCSD. I have a vision shared with many people: to reconnect our great communities with trust, to provide all opportunities to students for their future, build character back into schools, help students find their intrinsic self-effacing value, through a discovery of their inherent, gifts, talents, interests and competencies, and to help all of our children thrive. Our adversary is mediocrity which causes malaise and eventually melancholy. I have a vision and plans for forward movement. Innovations that our educators, students, families, and the whole community would benefit from. We cannot be complacent or we will sink more into the quicksand of indifferent stagnation. Our community has implicit trust in its board, but we don’t want to just merely get by anymore, we want to get better. The people will decide who will best be trusted with the future of our students. I submit, that a person of strong character and common sense will represent the community well, listen to concerns, and stay committed to kids, teachers, community, and families. The alternative is a “cookie-cutter approach” and likely more concerned with politics and numbers; I want to awaken the engine that drives these numbers upward. I am not a scholastic elite, I am a thinker, I am like you. I am a husband to my strong and beautiful wife, we have three children and we raise them to be adults with character: respect, dignity, love, humility, honor, and discipline. I coach baseball and have seen what a transformative force motivation is for a developing child and what believing in themselves can do for their confidence throughout the rest of their lives. I’d like to see our students win with purpose, our educators win with belief, our families win with trust and our district win together, 4 kids, 4 community. Every child should be provided both sides of an unbiased story in school or they face a deficit and are unable to test their own cognitive and critical thought mechanism; thinking for one's self builds common sense. It is important for children to come home to ask their parents if they have questions. We remember our children are innocent and impressionable and we will watch out for them as a community. Kids belong to the parents, educators love to teach kids and kids love to learn! Our students need to know the struggle our new Nation faced to gain independence, its documents, and how this connects us today. This freedom and the American experiment that was so sacrificed for is still a gift we are perfecting as we continue to form a more perfect union together. Our precious educators, deserve fair compensation and a reduction of inequitable burdens. Abuse from student to student and student to the teacher must be mitigated by corrective action strategy. I think it proper for the educator and family to influence and inform the curriculum. Students aren’t made to fit in a box and be set on the educational conveyer belt, but to find their value, abilities, and potential which will fulfill them and compliment the community. Our communities belong knit together and there are many waiting to provide after school programs or volunteer to support kids. As we build bridges, trust, and seek to be service-oriented together, we will see great things happen, as we champion relationships and cohesiveness we will see innovation and unity. Let’s face it, it’s 4 our kids and our students have a lot to learn from economics, civic duty, math, English, character, ”what healthy looks like,“ interpersonal communication, emotional maturity, soft skills, sports, music, art; there should never be a limit to the opportunities available and investment we make to see these kids succeed. We can make it work for Washoe. No longer categorizing by anything other than merit and character, will we develop what is in the chrysalis not assuming we know the contents by the outer shell.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing Washoe County schools?

After surveying: educators, professors, clinical phycologists, students and researching the 33 issues revealed, I found over 60 issues that fall into a smaller umbrella of about 5 items:

Future focus | Student focus - 

1- College readiness, future preparedness with an A, B and C plan after HS. Including in this option plan: college, apprenticeship, vocational training and certification. This gives the student a magnet to pull to after school. Hopefully local occupations can meet advise and encourage interested students. 

2- Understanding student competency, and the student understanding their inherent gifts, interests and talents to know how to fulfill their valuable endowment into the community and local economy; creating intrinsic motivation.     

3- Economic readiness, soft skills, relational interpersonal skills, life skills and emotional maturity. Depression emotional well being intrinsic motivation. 

4- District reputation excellence: family, community, educator collaboration, trust, dialogue, stewardship. Community represented inclusion: budget, curriculum transparency, family, educator informed  and influence. 

5- Empowered teachers: need for Educator latitude to teach, inequitable burdens removed acknowledgement and fair compensation.

Character built into students to with role playing, charity work, and community service.

How would you rate the district’s response to the pandemic, thus far?

Our whole community and the District was blindsided by the elusive nature of the pandemic. Better virus prevention standards could have been rolled out for in-person teaching eg. plexi-glass teaching shields and responsiveness to all teacher concerns before hand, not ad hoc reactiveness. Providing educators a break and having other teachers or substitutes supervising students for physical distancing during recess or lunch hour would have answered the need of the real enforcement of the distance mandate. Many professional service workers were laid off, putting all the pressure on the faithful who are still the power house, teachers were given the choice to stay home, do distance teaching or in-person, I have heard it worked out for some. Distance learning was rolled out just days before school, there was not enough information or preparation for distance educators. Many mass emails were sent out due to confusion, likely due to the need for clarification as more info was provided to educators. Though curriculum was more challenging this time around (a win for students) parents say students were not trained on the platforms and struggled to understand basic function eg. “Teams” “drop box” and are at a deficit as this caused a slow start and as a result many students started out by falling behind. Training on the teams communication/class organizing method for younger students was ineffective as the tutorial was meant for guidance, but actual hands-on training and practice of the platforms pre-launch phase was not available without special guidance from one teacher x multiple students as they became teachers/IT consultant professionals. Students are now starting to understand how to use all platforms, but the security of District devices assigned to students is questionable as security safeguards including content control off District network apart from learning platforms was not implemented. The Internet was wide open for students and I would have asked IT their take and support by suggesting stringent firewall settings to be in place or GPO set to a proxy, VPN in place for learning platforms proxy server network security policies in effect to keep kids off of innapropriote content. If we compare our students, families and educators to customers; what was provided to them by the business out of the gate and to students and parents regarding instruction on ease of use gor new platform and communication method should have been thought out for learning the tools before using them. I wasn’t too happy about how quickly NorthStar regarded by technologists as a better educational platform was not as widely available to all students. NorthStar must have had such a limited enrollment capacity which was not explained early (unless I missed something) as the application deadline closed July 31st. If a parent decided to distance learn after that, the only option was Edgenuity which has been widely criticized by students. To be fair and all in consideration I rank in-person opening a 7.5 out of 10 and distance a 6 of 10, as well as what was provided to educators and students by the district a 5.5. The District made the tough decisions and had a difficult task at hand, but the educators made the difference again and are the hero’s, but this has been explained to me overall as a real mess, I am thankful to the educators and professional staff for their ingenuity, grit and faithfulness.

Do you support/oppose the district’s decision to re-open schools with varying levels of in-person instruction amid the ongoing pandemic?

Irregardless of the decision to open or to learn remotely we have to do it right. I support the decision to allow those who choose to go back to school since our children are social beings, but I would have liked to see better over standards, dialogue and preparedness across the board. One idea I had was to use our local larger style venues that have been closed down for months like the Livestock events center, Reno events center, The convention center etc. to be used for older students with less labs and more general ed to break up the numbers of students in the schools for lecture style learning to spread students out and minimize the hybrid approach. 

Distance learning could have been better too, by consulting with technologists first to ensure the platform was effectively understood and ready for launch by all ages for ease of use by actual hands on platform education would have helped. 

Overall the win here is parents still had the ultimate choice to choose in-person or distance depending on each unique situation and circumstance. I can’t be so sure it worked out so well for educators. 

As a trustee, what would be your top priorities?

The same as the biggest challenges described above. We have a real opportunity for innovation and excellence now. I hope to correct the important challenges stated above and I have a logical vision shared with many. I have ruminated over and rendered plans from proven precedence that should elevate us out of the low overall rating we have Nationally and after speaking to many, seeking answers precedence I will continue to learn and listen.

The Washoe County Board of Trustees has, in recent years, faced criticism for a myriad of reasons including a lack of transparency and community trust. How would you work to repair the board’s reputation in the community?

We need to think things through and actualize issues brought to our attention to be responsive and proactive, not reactive. We have to get out in the schools and community and listen to people not isolate ourselves or hide away. We have to reestablish trust in the entrusted. We need to ask the parents, teachers and community about their concerns, survey more and keep open honest fair and respectful solution driven communication open online. We need to find innovation and ask for help where needed. We need to seek more role-play programs for understanding our world and ourselves as children, charity work and community service for character building as well as after school programs for mentorship. We must vet and test our leaders our contractors, and allow curriculum and budget. I have plans.

Learn more about Matthew Montognese at matthew4schools.net.

Credit KUNR

Credit Courtesy of Angie Taylor

Candidate Name: Angie Taylor
Occupation: President and CEO, Guardian Quest, Inc.

Why are you running for office?

Education has shaped my life in many ways. I have spent the last 30 plus years working in education in various ways. In addition, my Ph.D. is in educational leadership which helps me serve in this capacity every day. Finally, I am passionate about this field because education changed my life.I grew up in a very poor, single parent family in the inner city. In our home, my mother preached that the key to having a better life is education. Consequently, I was the first in my family to graduate from college. Having a degree changed my life. However, it didn't stop there. After I finished, my mother went to college and got her degree. Then my sister went back to college and finished hers. Now, the next generation all either has a degree or are currently pursuing one. Education didn't just change my life; it changed my family. I am passionate about education because I know there are students out there that just need an opportunity to achieve their best educationally and that has the potential to change their world. This is my "why". 

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing Washoe County schools?

The most pressing issue for this school year begins with keeping schools SAFE, clean and open. This includes having continuing success with the five mitigation strategies as outlined by medical experts across the county. But it doesn't end there. It also include drastic improvement to the Distance learning program so that the technology gap is closed, teachers have a platform and curriculum they can manage and build upon, and support for families teaching at home is provided and available.

How would you rate the district’s response to the pandemic, thus far?

It depends upon the lens. If you consider that Distance Learning has had some issues, there are not enough teachers or substitutes to fill in when staff is excluded for COVID pre-cautions, and the technology gap is serious, the grade wouldn't be very high.

However, if you consider that this is an unprecedented situation that has never happened before and the staff has been diligent about working to correct the  issues as they arise, and that the coronavirus has been kept under control with little to no school spread, and more families feeling good about enrolling their student in school the mark would be much higher. 

Do you support/oppose the district’s decision to re-open schools with varying levels of in-person instruction amid the ongoing pandemic?

I support the decision. It was very important to provide a distance option for all families who would be more comfortable with that learning environment.  District staff did an outstanding job by providing the five mitigation strategies outlined by medical experts:

1. Self-checks before leaving home in the morning

2. Mandatory masks for everyone in the buildings and on the buses

3. Regular/scheduled hand washing throughout the day

4. Regular circulation of air via HVAC systems

5. Social distancing

As a result, we have had little to no school spread of the virus. There have been cases but there have not been outbreaks. This is due to the successful mitigation efforts and the tremendous job done by staff and families to follow the protocols.

As a trustee, what would be your top priorities?

Keeping schools safe, effective and open - Not only is it important for the schools to BE safe but people must also FEEL safe in them. A part of this is for learning to be effective - in person and via distance. And this will allow schools to stay open.

Funding must be increased for sustained progress to occur. As a state that is 46th in per pupil funding, it isn't difficult to see how this is inadequate. Nevada is funded at approximately $3,000 per student below the national average. For Washoe County, that is over $192 million dollars. A lot can be done if that gap is closed.

Equity is an issue at the majority of schools in our country and Washoe County is no different. I still believe that the Washoe County School District is a good District. But it isn't always that way for every student every day. There are gaps in curriculum, diversity of staff, restorative justice, achievement and more. The Board of Trustees has prioritized this work but there is much to do. We must continue the work to give EVERY student a full opportunity to be their best academically.

The Washoe County Board of Trustees has, in recent years, faced criticism for a myriad of reasons including a lack of transparency and community trust. How would you work to repair the board’s reputation in the community?

I've learned that time plus test equals trust. My goal would be to work on passing each transparency and accountability test as they occur. I would continue to always be willing to openly discuss where we've fallen short and what's being done to get back on track. It's also important that we build upon the increased opportunity to receive staff, student and family input so that they are a part of the decision making process. I would also continue to talk about the things that are going well (they don't usually make the media) and to share what's being done to increase transparency and accountability (community oversight committees checks and balances for EVERY dollar spent by the District available on line, etc. Overtime, the needle can be moved as it's happened before. But we need to do better at staying on track once we're able to get there. 

Learn more about Angie Taylor at FriendsofAngie.com.

For information on other races, visit our KUNR 2020 Voter Guide home page.