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Reno middle school using robotics, sports, cheerleading to reengage students post COVID

Plus, the state unveils a new fund dedicated for charter school facilities, and Clark County schools review an audit report.
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 and highlights interesting educators, students, programs and other events and resources throughout the state. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter and receive it each Tuesday via email.

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

News briefs

Exterior of Futuro Academy Public Charter on Thursday, June 8, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

🏫 $100 million revolving loan fund for charter school operators Gov. Joe Lombardo and Treasurer Zach Conine announced last week that the Nevada State Infrastructure Bank, which provides low-cost financing to Nevada state agencies, local governments, tribal governments and nonprofit organizations for infrastructure projects, has approved a $100 million revolving loan fund for charter school operators to expand their existing facilities and build new schools in the state. 

The Nevada Facilities Fund (NVFF) is part of a public-private partnership between the state, Opportunity 180, an education nonprofit based in Las Vegas, and the Equitable Facilities Fund (EFF), a national social impact fund that has provided more than $1 billion in financing to charter schools across the country. The fund includes $80 million from EFF, $15 million from the State Infrastructure Bank and $5 million in privately raised philanthropy.

Officials estimate the NVFF will create an additional 7,500 public charter school seats in Nevada’s most disadvantaged communities, and make loans to charter school operators through at least 2042. 

❄️ Tahoe-area high school students receive grant funding for invention – Engineering students at Incline High School in Incline Village, near Lake Tahoe, have received a $7,500 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grant as part of a program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) geared toward invention education. The Incline High School InvenTeam will work to create a detection system to address the problems created by heavy snow loads on rooftops. 

Incline High School is one of only eight high schools nationwide to be selected as an InvenTeam this year. After conducting its research, the team will build a working prototype that will be showcased at a technical review in February, and then again as a final prototype during EurekaFest, an invention celebration taking place next June at MIT.

School Spotlight

Caitlin Rock, an engagement specialist at Billinghurst Middle School in Reno, plays basketball with a student. (Courtesy of Jason Mattick)

Billinghurst Middle School staff focusing on forming connections with students

Principal Jason Mattick prides himself on the welcoming, inclusive environment that he and the staff at Billinghurst Middle School in Reno have fostered. 

But he said students’ connection to Billinghurst eroded during the pandemic, when schools were forced to shut down and conduct classes virtually. He credits students’ inability to connect with their school to some of the issues schools across the country are experiencing with student attendance and engagement. 

“We really have this hot pot of kids who just aren't finding a reason to come to school,” he said. 

Mattick and his staff have been working on getting students excited about school again through the help of grant funding over the past two years from an anonymous donor. Billinghurst is one of six Washoe County schools  splitting $500,000 from that grant to create and fund new student clubs and sports opportunities in an effort to reengage their students. 

Billinghurst has been able to use the money to create new clubs such as robotics and mountain biking, offer intramural sports and cheerleading opportunities and buy supplies for these extracurricular activities — something that Mattick said he wasn’t able to do easily prior to receiving grant funding.

In addition to expanding extracurriculars, Mattick said Billinghurst has also made it a point to connect with new students and their families from their very first day, interviewing them on what brought them to Billinghurst and what the school should know about the student to prevent them from getting lost within the system. 

Billinghurst was recently recognized by the Washoe County School Board for its work on student engagement that’s contributing to increases in math proficiency and decreases in suspensions. 

“I believe that we've created a climate and culture here at Billinghurst, where no matter where you come from, the trauma or the background you bring to campus every day, there's an opportunity for you to fit in,” Mattick 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

Speaker Steve Yeager calls on Clark County schools boss Jesus Jara to resign

Saying he is frustrated by issues plaguing the Clark County School District (CCSD), including the lack of a new contract between CCSD and its teachers union, last Monday Nevada Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) called on Superintendent Jesus Jara to resign. After Jara refused his call, Yeager sent a letter to the Clark County School Board asking trustees to terminate Jara's contract. 

Nevada revives DonorsChoose school supplies grant program for teachers

Last week, officials with the Nevada Department of Education launched a $10 million state-funded grant program that will provide resources to 20,000 classrooms. 

Five charter schools addressing retirement contribution delinquency

Five Las Vegas-area public charter schools are taking corrective action after they were found to be delinquent on their contributions to the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System .

Parents file lawsuit against Clark County schools over cybersecurity breach

The lawsuit states the recent cybersecurity breach was the result of the “negligent and/or reckless failure by the Clark County School District to adequately protect” the personal data of current and past students, parents, employees and others associated with the district. 

Extra Credit

How a small town in a red state rallied around universal preschool

American Falls, a one-stoplight farming community on the banks of the Snake River, has seen marked improvements in family engagement, preschool access and kindergarten readiness in just the last few years — the result of a grassroots effort to support children and families in this enclave of southeastern Idaho, EdSurge reported. 

The rise of the four-day school week

NPR reports that as of this fall, around 900 school districts — that's about 7 percent of all districts in the U.S. — now have school weeks that are just four days long.

Schools get serious about a different kind of bully: cybercriminalsThis timely article by former Indy education reporter and Christian Science Monitor reporter Jackie Valley looks at what’s being done to address cybersecurity at school districts.


🍎 Washoe County State of Education address — Tuesday, Nov. 7, 5:30-6:45 p.m.

The Washoe County School District is inviting the community to its annual State of Education address, which will be held at Procter R. Hug High School in Sparks. Attendees will get to tour the school’s classrooms and speak with students and staff members about district programs, services and resources ahead of the address.

🍎 Student protest on Clark County teacher contract — Thursday, Nov. 9, 4 p.m. 

Students are planning a protest before the Clark County School Board over the ongoing contract negotiations between CCSD and the Clark County Education Association. 

🍎 Clark County School Board meeting — Thursday, Nov. 9, 5 p.m. 

The agenda includes presentations on dual enrollment efforts (classes taught by high school teachers aimed at getting high school students college credits) and Advanced Placement classes as well as an annual independent auditor’s report for the past fiscal year. 

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Best of luck, Elizabeth!

This story was updated at 2:58 p.m. on 11/9/23 to clarify that six Washoe County schools are benefiting from a grant from an anonymous donor.


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