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State of Education discusses Washoe's goals, short on specifics
by Jill Lufrano
Feb 01, 2012 | 672 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RENO — Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison delivered a State of Education speech Tuesday night at McQueen High School in which he talked about five goals he wanted to focus on.

The goals are to provide continuous academic success for all children, recruit and support highly effective personnel, engage families and community partners, value and strengthen a self-renewing culture and align performance a management systems.

The district will struggle reaching these goals in the upcoming years as it faces tight funding, Morrison said. A loss of local, state and federal funding will result in an estimated $40 million shortfall for the next fiscal year, he said and an $80 million in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

The district was forced to cut $123 million over the last five years and $50.6 this fiscal year.

“We need to engage the community,” Morrison said. “We will go out into the community and solicit advice.”

Morrison said he plans to turn to the community and community partners to make up some of the shortfall.

Morrison spent the majority of his second-annual speech lauding the “Envision WCSD 2015 — Investing In Our Future” strategic plan that he created after arriving. However, he failed to say whether that plan was actually making progress by reporting few hard numbers about programs, classes and numbers of teachers hired or milestones met.

One fact often cited by Morrison during his time with the district, including Tuesday night, was the improvement in graduation rates. The district’s graduation rate has jumped from 53 percent to 70 percent since Morrison arrived.

“We celebrate that improvement,” Morrison said. “That is to be celebrated. But we still have far too many not graduating.”

To this end, 300 drop-out students were brought back to the district through “re-engagement centers” that were instituted in the district in May of last year, Morrison said. This was paid for through a “High School Success” grant.

The superintendent also talked cited an increase in the past two years of test scores with 87 percent of district student showing gains. Achievement gaps were narrowed “in many instances,” he said. The percent of eighth-graders proficient in algebra increased from 26 to 37 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Morrison also said he plans to see more advanced technology in all classrooms in the future, with every child having access to a personal learning device.

“That is where we’re going,” Morrison said. “I promise you. Washoe County is going to be a leader.”

Morrison also talked about the latest district initiative to change the school calendar, something President Barack Obama has spoken about in the past. Morrison suggested that the current school calendar, with long breaks in the summer months, allows children to lose their knowledge quickly. If breaks were longer in the winter and springtime, children would retain more of what they learned during the school year.

“We are looking at time as a resource,” Morrison said.

Morrison cited several issues the district would focus on in the next year, including measuring proficiencies, training leaders, hiring teachers, nutrition services, working with higher education to better prepare students for college and more efficient transportation.

“There is a wave of change coming. Are we ready?” Morrison asked. “I want to tell you folks, we are.”
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