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New Vegas middle school teacher turns son’s death ‘into something positive’

Plus: Why Lyon County is the last district to start its academic year, and a message on traffic safety near a new Reno school.
Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationK-12 Education

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Education newsletter. I’m Rocio Hernandez, The Nevada Independent’s K-12 education reporter. 

This newsletter provides a recap of the latest education stories as well as highlighting interesting educators, students, programs and other events and resources throughout the state. 

I want to hear from you! Send questions, comments or suggestions on what I should be covering to [email protected]

The exterior of the new JWood Raw Elementary School in Reno as seen on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. (Washoe County School District/Courtesy)

News Briefs:

🛑Officials remind drivers to watch for pedestrians near new Reno school The City of Reno, Washoe County School District and the Reno Police Department are teaming up to raise awareness of pedestrian safety at the new JWood Raw Elementary, which opened at the beginning of the school year. Reno City Councilwoman Naomi Duerr recently donated money from her discretionary funds to the parent teacher organization at JWood Raw to cover the costs of safety vests, hand signs and two crosswalk flag systems.

“Some South Reno drivers might not be aware of the new school zones in that area and we need to make sure the crosswalk monitors are more visible,” Duerr said. 

🎒First day of school at Lyon County School District — Tuesday marks the first day of school for Lyon County students. Lyon is the last of the 17 Nevada school districts to start its school year (the first was the Clark County School District on Aug. 7). Lyon County Superintendent Wayne Workman said the decision to push the first day until after Labor Day was, in part, driven by concerns over the loss in average daily enrollment funding that the school district experienced in previous years from some students not coming to school until after the holiday, as well an anticipated savings in air conditioning costs.

“We decided to really get into our data regarding temperatures in August vs. temperatures in June and how they correlate to higher costs of running our facilities …,” Workman said. “I’m sure you can imagine what we found … June is a much better month for temperatures in Northern Nevada."

With those changes, Workman said the school district estimated it could gain approximately $200,000 to $250,000 per year.

💻 Google donation to Washoe County middle schools — Google has donated $135,000 to Shaw, Mendive and Sparks middle schools in the Washoe County School District to enhance the schools’ science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) labs. The funds will be used to buy computers, computer stands, servers, software licenses and robotics equipment. 

School Spotlight:

Mother becomes teacher at Vegas school that supported her through tragedy

Suzan Smith, eighth grade teacher at Faiss Middle School, in her classroom on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

It’s been four years since Suzan Smith’s youngest son, Jonny, then a 12-year-old Faiss Middle School student, was killed as he was crossing the street

Smith described Jonny as ​​a sweet boy who loved making new friends, hated to see people sad and brought sunshine everywhere he went. 

Her son’s death launched Smith into advocacy work focused on road safety, and even led to the installation of a signal light at the intersection of Fort Apache Road and Arby Avenue where Jonny was hit. But it also inspired her to pursue a career as a teacher, something she said she had put off for her kids’ sake. 

“After he passed away I realized I needed to do something with my mind or I was gonna go crazy, and so I decided to go back to school and become a teacher,” Smith said. “So I turned something negative into a positive.”

Last month, Smith returned to Faiss as a new teacher. Faiss was also where Smith completed her student teaching, and she credits part of her success to Faiss’ principal, and now boss, Roger West, who offered her family support after Jonny’s death and later became a good friend and resource when Smith went back to school to become a teacher. 

“I’m more invested in the school because of all the kindnesses that they showed me and my family after Jonny died,” Smith said. “That's probably a great hiring point — is somebody who's just truly invested in your school before they even work there.” 

In addition to teaching eighth grade English, Smith offers an elective for seventh and eighth graders called literature and film and runs the school’s creative writing club after school.

Smith said coming back to Faiss has been bittersweet. Smith’s whiteboard features a memorial for Jonny. Some of his former teachers still work at Faiss, and some of the younger siblings of Jonny’s friends attend the school.

But she said the school has been welcoming and warm to her, so she’s not usually sad. She’s also enjoyed working with her students.

“It's the hardest job I've ever done, but it's also the most rewarding and the most fun,” she said.

Have a student or staffer who we should feature in the next edition of School Spotlight? Share your nominations with me at [email protected].

Reading Assignments

CCSD lawyer urges court to deny records release of officer who used force against student

The district’s attorney argued that the report should be kept confidential because the officer wasn’t disciplined over the February incident caught on video.

Union leader: CCSD teachers ‘firm’ on pay raise demands, want Lombardo’s opinion on them

Other next steps can include more protests, potential complaints and a class action grievance over forced overtime.

Clark County teachers union president confirms strike off the table

During a Monday Facebook Live broadcast, Clark County Education Association President Marie Neisess assured parents that the teachers union would not go on a strike over its contract dispute with the school district. 

Extra Credit

Mental Health Crisis: Carson City School District enters mass lawsuit against social media companies

The Carson City School District will be entering a “mass action lawsuit” against several social media companies, joining districts nationwide in blaming the companies for a mental health crisis, Carson Now reported. 

The first day of preschool, according to some 4-year-old Coloradans

Colorado Public Radio’s report on the first day of preschool goes straight to the source — 4-year-old students. Their responses are adorable. 


🍎State Board of Education meeting — Wednesday, Sept. 6, at 2 p.m. 

The agenda includes reviewing draft regulations for school start times and a discussion on teacher licensing and the teacher pipeline. 

🍎 Clark County School Board work session meeting — Wednesday, Sept. 6, at 4 p.m. 

The agenda includes the appointment of four members to the district’s Audit Advisory Committee and the approval of an agreement with the Council of Great City Schools. 

🍎 Back to School Community Conversations — Saturday, Sept. 9, from 2-4 p.m. 

The event, which will be held at the Parkdale Community Center in Las Vegas, will be hosted by Clark County School Board Trustees Lisa Guzman, Brenda Zamora and Linda Cavazos. 

Featured Tweet

C.C. Ronnow Elementary School Principal Michelee Cruz-Crawford and Assistant Principal Erin Nguyen put smiles on staff’s faces a few eggs at a time. 


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