KUNR 2020 Voter Guide: WCSD Board Of Trustees District G, At Large

Oct 16, 2020

In this race, Diane Nicolet and Craig Wesner are vying for the seat being left vacant by Trustee Katy Simon Holland, who announced earlier this year she would not seek a second term. Nicolet is the Director of the E.L. Cord Foundation Child Care Center at Truckee Meadows Community College. She was previously appointed to serve on the Washoe County Board of Trustees in 2016, following the resignation of Trustee Barbara McLaury. Wesner is a civil engineer and businessman who is looking to give back to his community.

WCSD District G encompasses most of western Washoe County and includes North Valleys, Hug, McQueen, Reno, Galena and Incline high schools. 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 Diane Nicolet

Name: Diane Nicolet, PhD
Occupation: Educator

Why are you running for office?

My experience, education and desire fuels my desire to run for WCSD school board.

EXPERIENCE: I have 35 years in education, birth through higher education.  I have been a substitute teacher in WCSD, instructor in higher education, volunteer and board member.  I was appointed for 9-months to Washoe County School Board, District G.  I have been elected, appointed and volunteered to serve on local, state-wide and national governing and regulatory boards. I have written educational curriculum, grants, improvement objectives and programs.  I have been an active participant in educational governance, fiscal management, accreditation and community engagement.

EDUCATION: BA in early childhood education and family studies; MAT in the art of teaching; Education Specialist in administration of public schools and a PhD in Educational Leadership.  I believe in Life-Long Learning and Educating Our Children for Life.  I can do the job, I want to do the job and will do the job to the best of my ability while representing our WCSD community.

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

We must: 1) Provide our students with well-developed and diverse career pathways to graduation. 2) Manage and balance the school budget during this time of diminished tax-dollars. 3) Continue to develop, implement and assess distance learning programming. 4) Support the needs of parents as we recognize that they are the newest WCSD teaching faculty. 5) Engage in dialogue in the effort to recognize, understand and respond the needs of our community. 6) Work with the superintendent to identify, develop, implement and assess future strategic planning.

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

Responsive, caring, informed with much work remaining.

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, with one difference.  I would have worked hard to convince the superintendent and administrators that we needed more time. More time to prepare students, teachers, parents/families, the community and WCSD administrators and staff. A September 14 reopening would have provided 30 additional days to prepare, practice, work-out the kinks while obtaining broad community input and support (Fact Check: This would have provided 28 days).  Everyone needed more training, tools and time to assimilate into a new way of providing education to our students. The community (business) needed more time to work with employees (especially parents) to design business frameworks that support learning and business success.

As a trustee, what would be your top priorities?

1) Provide our students with well-developed and diverse career pathways to graduation. 2) Manage and balance the school budget during this time of diminished tax-dollars. 3) Continue to develop, implement and assess distance learning programming. 4) Support the needs of parents as we recognize that they are the newest WCSD teaching faculty. 5) Engage in dialogue in the effort to recognize, understand and respond the needs of our community. 6) Work with the superintendent to identify, develop, implement and assess future strategic planning.

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 would not use the word "transparency."  I find that word means- "that which others' want you to know." I would use the concept of building a mutual understanding of where the dollars originate, how the dollars are spent, identify the gaps while working as a community of collective stakeholders to ensure a safe and successful next step in the lives of our students: aka-our future voters and taxpayers. We must build trust in and among our community partners, families and students via asking, listening and working together toward a successful educational journey for ALL STUDENTS. Currently WCSD students, teachers and families are voicing their worries related to distance learning - we must dig deeper to understand and address those concerns. I will spend time in the diverse arenas that make-up our community.  I will do the homework, ask, listen and work hard to understand others' ideas, perceptions and dreams.  It is through understanding and hard work that we make great things happen. 

In the words of Henry Ford: "Coming Together is a Beginning, Keeping Together is Progress, Working Together is Success."

Learn more about Diane Nicolet at dianenicolet.com.

Credit KUNR
Credit Courtesy of Craig Wesner

Name: Craig Wesner
Occupation: Civil Engineer

Why are you running for office?

I am getting ready to retire from my professional career, and I have the time and energy to give back to a community that has been so great to my family and me these past 40 years.   I am choosing to focus my efforts on Washoe County School Board as a Trustee, as I believe it is where I can make the biggest difference.  

I have lived in Washoe County since in 1978 when I moved here to attend UNR after graduating from high school in Virginia City.  My kids went to Washoe County Schools so I know firsthand the positives, and the negatives, of our school system.  My business and leadership experience will help keep our district moving forward in a constructive direction.

There is no reason we cannot be an outstanding school district; but it takes strong leadership from a board who is determined to seek excellence and stand up for our kids.

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

When I filed for office I had my list of priorities but obviously those have changed with the pandemic,  Right now the top two priorities its how do we get back to a normal classroom environment during a pandemic and keep people safe and second is how to handle budget cuts. 

Challenges that existed prior to the Pandemic still exist,  the board is lacking leadership, leadership is not just being in a leadership position, to be a leader you need to work with people to accomplish the organizations goals.   Having Board experience is important as well, understanding the role of the board and understanding how to effectively bring a board to a decision is important.  This is lacking on the current board.

The working culture in the school district has been toxic, created by a top down dictatorial type of leader.  Our new leadership is improving the workplace culture but much more needs to be done.   Creating a good work culture is key to great organization and great school districts produce well educated child, ready for college or a career.

The School District needs to work on equity in education, the quality of our students education today will differ based on your zip code and that should not happen.  Older schools in older neighborhoods are not keeping up with newer schools in newer neighborhoods in regards to technology.  Career and technology training may not be available in your school zip code  and thus you may not be able to seek this track of education unless you can find transportation to a career academy. 

Funding is still an issue regardless of recent budget cuts due to the pandemic.  we need to fund our K-12 education to a level that is par with the national median.

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

I think there has been a good effort in developing the plans but, there has been poor implementation of those plans at the school sites.  There seems to be a systemic problems that has impacted the role out of the administrations plans. There is a definite disconnect between the administration and the individual schools sites in terms of responsibility.  It appears the administration is not effectively communicating the plan and/or the school principals are not effectively managing or implementing these plans effectively at there individual sites, I am not sure which. 

It is clear to me from talking to teachers and principals that the old administration exercised centralized control.  If you were a school principal you were told what to do, you were not allowed to exercise your own discretion.  It is clear to me that the new administration operates under a distributive control model and where you are allowed to exercise discretion and do what is best for your school site.  The problem may be that this new operating model has not been fully implemented or understood by all

I think the plan has been shared, we just have principals who aren't aware that they can exercise their discretion on how they will implement it.  They need to take more control over the administration of their schools.  I don't think this is necessarily their fault, its just a change in philosophy that takes time to trickle down.

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 to re-open schools with the opt out home school alternative.  Not doing so is going to leave a lot of kids behind the power curve in their education.   This is particularly important for the kids who do not have an adult at home to help with home studies or for those children without internet access.

As a trustee, what would be your top priorities?

There are two primary goals that need to be achieved right after I take office, the first is to get to know the other board members and work on development of a common vision for the school district in the eyes of the trustees.  The second would be to work with the Superintendent to conduct a climate survey of the employees to assess employee engagement.  Once this is completed we can start identifying how we can improve the work culture within the school district. 

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?

The best way to to gain public trust it to make good decisions.  A lot of times you loose trust when a the spotlight is on you for something you as a board or one of the board members has done as we have seen recently.  It difficult to control the actions of one board member, that should lay at the lap of the voters but collectively as a board, you need to make good decisions based on good data with a vibrant discussion that appropriately balanced on the benefits to the students, parents and the district's teachers and employees.  If the board can do that, the confidence problem will cure itself.

Learn more about Craig Wesner at craigwesner.com.

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