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Leading Through Excellence at the Washoe County School District

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The Washoe County School District (WCSD) covers 6,342 square miles, stretching from the California border east to Gerlach and the Oregon border south to Incline Village. It encompasses many small communities and the greater Reno-Sparks area. As the 59th largest school district in the United States, the WCSD continues to set the highest standards for education. 

Listed in the top 22 percent of school districts nationwide by Niche.com, it ranks among the three best school districts in Nevada. Another recent study in the New York Times ranked the WCSD in the top 18 percent of districts nationwide. And Ed Week declared Nevada the most improved of all states when it comes to academic achievement.

Here’s how the WCSD is preparing young Nevadans for college or for entering the workforce, and why it remains one of many compelling reasons to move to Reno.  

The WCSD’s Motto: “Every Child, by Name and Face, to Graduation”

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The WCSD motto comes alive with programs, hands on learning experiences and special attention to each student.

The WCSD is committed to providing students with the learning opportunities and resources they need. According to Dr. Kristen McNeill (WCSD Interim Superintendent), “The success of our District can be attributed to the outstanding work of our teachers, staff members, and administrators, who remain committed to the success of every student.” 

This student-centric approach prepares Nevada’s young scholars for a bright future. “In the Washoe County School District, students are not just data points, but real people with individual challenges and strengths. Fostering individual, meaningful relationships with each student, is the key to our work in schools every day. We couple this relationship-driven approach with innovative and national best practices, to create rigorous and relevant educational experiences for our students that will prepare them for the workforce of tomorrow.”

These educational experiences include the Social and Emotional Learning program. This nationally recognized program emphasizes educating the whole child. Helping students navigate the emotional aspects of their lives ensures their academic success. 

More specifically, the program aids students in acquiring knowledge and skills related to: 

  • Self-awareness
  • Social awareness
  • Successful relationships 
  • Responsible decision making
  • Self-management

The WCSD has also developed a Parent-Teacher Home visit program for many of its Title I Schools. This program facilitates structured home visits by teachers and staff trained in developing meaningful relationships with families. This support is crucial to student success in the classroom.

Supporting and Encouraging High-Level Achievement  

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Hug Graduation. Photo Courtesy of Washoe County School District

High-level achievement begins with the teachers employed by the WCSD. Approximately 66 percent of the district’s educators hold a master’s degree or higher.  These dedicated, hardworking professionals set the stage for student achievement. They allow the district to continue raising the bar by challenging students to achieve greatness. Programs include Gifted and Talented at all levels. 

Since 1991, more than a dozen schools in the WCSD have received recognition as National Blue Ribbon Schools. This coveted award honors exemplary teaching and learning. It remains a testament to the WCSD’s commitment to high-level education. 

According to Katy Simon Holland (WCSD Board President), the WCSD also prepares students for the global economy. “We appreciate our multiculturalism, value bilingualism, and understand the importance of preparing our students for life in a global society. Students who complete a two-way immersion program in elementary school and other required courses become eligible for obtaining a Nevada State Seal of Bi-literacy on their diploma upon graduation.”

Skills such as bilingualism help prepare students to enter the workforce. But the WCSD doesn’t stop there. A variety of workforce readiness courses exist, too.  

Education and Workforce Preparation

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Students presenting their robotics project. Photo Courtesy of Washoe County School District

The WCSD places a premium on career preparation. This education starts early. Robotics teams, computer programming, and coding begin at the elementary school level.

The district also offers an impressive 39 career and technical education programs. Of its 7,800 high school students, 40 percent are enrolled in a career and technical education (CTE) course. Fifty percent of CTE graduates earn honors or advanced diplomas. They enjoy a 98% graduation rate.

The WCSD also offers Signature Academies. These are themed high school programs in different areas of STEM or the arts. They let students jump-start their future by gaining real-world experience.

Other opportunities include the Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) High School. It presents a unique chance for students to take college classes and earn credit while still in high school. Motivated students can even earn a high school diploma and a community college diploma simultaneously. 

The Academy of Arts, Careers, and Technology (AACT) is an advanced career and technical academy within the WCSD. Here, students pursue specific career pathways with essential tools and technology provided. The AACT is one of the best performing schools within the district. It maintains the highest graduation rate for all Northern Nevada High Schools. The WCSD is also investing in a second career and technical academy.   

Partnering with Local Businesses to Maintain an Educational Edge

The U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) is one of the largest character development and citizenship programs for youth in the world. Here, local students stand in attendance at an event. Photo Courtesy of Washoe County School District

The WCSD actively partners with local businesses to provide real-world experiences to students. These internships allow students to gain practical experience that is valuable to the workforce.  

“We’re always looking for additional internships and job shadowing opportunities in a variety of career fields and top-demand industries,” says Holland. “We encourage local businesses to reach out to us to get involved, either by offering industry tours and visits, speaking to classrooms, or hosting an intern. We rely on industry partnerships to help us tailor our curriculum toward careers of the future.”

Exciting Developments at the WCSD

Maintaining this impressive momentum remains crucial to the WCSD’s plans moving forward. The Board of Trustees is currently in the process of finding a permanent superintendent with participation from staff, students, families, and key business stakeholders. The board will appoint a new permanent superintendent before the 2020-2021 academic year. 

Due to a bill passed in 2016, the district is engaged in new construction to meet the WCSD’s expanding needs. As Holland notes, “I am excited that we have the funding to build new schools and to repair our older, core buildings. This year we opened three new schools, and two more will open next year. Additionally, the WCSD will invest $40 million annually to upgrade older schools. This is an exciting time at WCSD, and I am honored to be a part of all of our success.”

A Bright Future for Nevada’s Young Scholars

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North Star Graduation 2017. Photo Courtesy of Washoe County School District

On October 18th, the Washoe County School District will announce its highest graduation rate in history. This proves yet another indicator of the district’s efforts to provide students with the skills and resources they need for success. 

Interested in learning more about the innovative educational opportunities offered in the Reno-Tahoe region? Or, perhaps you’d like to find out about the incredible career options available in the area? Contact us today to see what’s happening in Northern Nevada and why you and your family want to be here. 


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