Martinez addressed some of the things he will be looking to advocate to the Nevada Legislature during its upcoming session, citing the Capital Projects budget as being a major concern. Working opposite WCSD’s operating budget, which encompasses the “day to day budget” according to Martinez, the capital budget maintains the facilities housing the students.
“We have about half a billion dollars worth of need for those buildings (that are very old and in disrepair),” Martinez said. “We have so many structures in the district that are so old we are anticipating over the next five years alone about $100 million in repairs are going to come due. We run the risk of waiting and possibly having these things break down and having to pull money from the operating budget.”
Martinez said he will be looking for advice and advocacy help from the City of Sparks and the Sparks City Council in pushing for Capital Projects funding and protection, an area Martinez stated “is one of the biggest challenges we have in the district.”
Councilwoman Julia Ratti said maintaining the school district’s buildings has an immediate impact on the students attending Sparks schools.
“The environment in which students learn is so important to their education and that is particularly true in Sparks,” Ratti said during a phone interview Tuesday. “There is an equity issue in the school district and while technology and science labs evolve so quickly, we are still having problems with windows and boilers and things needed to keep the schools running. That needs to be a big part of what we present to the legislature.”
In his time spent as Superintendent, Martinez has stressed closing achievement gaps in lower grades in order to boost graduation rates at the high school level. He told city council he has been focused on stretching Kindergarten classes to six hours each day, rather than the current two and a half hours, and reducing the class sizes for more effective learning.
“Imagine being a Kindergarten teacher and having 30 or more children, 5 year olds, in your classroom and you have two and a half hours to teach them the Kindergarten standards---which are likely going to be more difficult with the Common Core (Curriculum). I just find that unacceptable,” Martinez said. “One of the unpleasant surprises I found when I came to Nevada three years ago was that we do not have a universal preschool program for ages 3-4 and we don't have public kindergarten programs. Our best shot at closing achievement gaps for our children are during those early grades.”
Martinez said several obstacles, in addition to the aforementioned Kindergarten strains, stand in the way of children successfully graduating from high school in Washoe County. Martinez said half the children in the district “are living in high poverty, are English Language Learners or have disabilities,” which inevitably leads to a higher cost of education.
Councilwoman Ratti, who oversees Ward 1 in Sparks, ranging from the city’s limits on the west and south sides north to Greenbrae Drive and east to McCarran Boulevard, said her ward is in the high-poverty range almost throughout.
“My ward has the lowest income in the city and many of the children in my area are English-language learners and we have to do a better job of getting those kids ready for high school,” Ratti said. “I think the entire council is supportive of closing those gaps by enhancing lower grades. When we hear and see that students are struggling in the third grade, it is highly unlikely they will make it through high school.”
Martinez said high schools in Washoe County will also be strengthened as continually more Signature Academies open for students. The programs allow for students to study a specific career path during their years in high school, and Martinez said every high school in the district will have one beginning next fall.
“I am a big believer that today’s children are learning very differently than they have in the past,” he said. “The goal of the Signature Academies is that they will be directly aligned with higher education and careers. At the end of this year we will have agreements with UNR and TMCC and we will have the curriculum of the programs mapped out for our students.”
Councilwoman Ratti said the institution of the Signature Academies across the district will help boost not only graduation rates, but interest in higher education or technical training. Readying students for post-graduation opportunities, according to Ratti, is very important to student’s high school outcomes.
“I think the school district has done a great job in creating smaller communities for students to learn in,” she said. “I think that is particularly helpful to keeping students engaged and keeping them on track.”