Education officials usually aren’t keen on interrupting learning time, but on Monday morning, they had good reason to burst into Richard Knoeppel’s classroom.
He’s the 2019 Nevada Teacher of the Year. Knoeppel teaches architectural design at Advanced Technologies Academy, where he has worked for 23 years.
Gov. Brian Sandoval and the state’s top education leaders, including Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara and State Superintendent Steve Canavero, surprised Knoeppel inside his classroom, temporarily pausing instruction time to share the news. The Nevada Department of Education works with the Council of Chief State School Officers to select the teacher of the year, who will be considered for the the National Teacher of the Year designation.
“I am quite taken aback,” Knoeppel said immediately after hearing the news. “It is so cool.”
The governor, who also provided a glimpse into education priorities he will leave for his successor, said it seems appropriate that Knoeppel works at Advanced Technologies Academy (A-Tech), which U.S. News and World Report ranked as the best school in Nevada this year.
“You certainly are an example for all the teachers in our state to follow,” Sandoval said. “I think you got this nationally.”
The school’s principal, Jonathan Synold, said Knoeppel has been an important presence in the school, encouraging students to take on ambitious projects such as re-designing the library into a media center and developing solar-powered phone charging stations in the cafeteria.
Liberty Leavitt-Roberson, who previously taught at A-Tech, described Knoeppel as an innovative teacher with a magnetic personality who allows his students to take risks while learning.
“He’ll do anything,” said Leavitt-Roberson, who’s now the graduation initiative coordinator for the school district. “He’s the guy who stays past 5 o’clock so his kids can work on their capstone projects.”
Former student Jamie Centeno said he’s also the guy who helps his students with their scholarship applications and listens whenever they need life advice. Now a freshman studying architecture at UNLV, Centeno still keeps in touch with Knoeppel and attended his surprise event Monday.
Her reaction to him being named the Nevada Teacher of the Year: “I think it was about time.”
Building an education budget
Sandoval also spoke to a Nevada Independent reporter and offered insight into his forthcoming education budget for the next biennium, which he called a “substantial work in progress.”
The term-limited governor said his proposed budget would continue funding for all his education priorities, including Zoom and Victory schools, Read by Grade 3, pre-kindergarten programs, all-day kindergarten, and career and technical education, among others. The budget will also feature more funding for the so-called weights, which funnel more money to students with extra needs.
Lawmakers started down the path of funding a weighted formula in 2017 by giving an extra $1,200 to the neediest students in the most underperforming schools — a legislative compromise given the hefty price tag surrounding the long-term goal.
Sandoval said his budget will also reroute the marijuana tax revenue directly to the Distributive School Account as he originally intended. Last-minute maneuvering during the 2017 legislative session led to some of the marijuana tax revenue temporarily ending up in the state’s “Rainy Day” fund; however, schools received the same amount of money because there was a separate appropriation made to the education budget.
Still, the situation led to confusion — and outrage — among community members, who argued they voted to legalize recreational marijuana to help education.
“I would rather there be a straight line,” Sandoval said about his decision to route marijuana revenue directly to the Distributive School Account, which is the state’s main funding pot for education.
Another one of the governor’s priorities is school safety. Earlier this year, Sandoval convened a school safety task force, which just concluded its work and will submit a final report to him. Sandoval has budgeted upwards of $60 million for the purpose of school safety.
His proposed budget could be altered by his successor, though. Sandoval’s last day in office is Jan. 7.
Sandoval said he hopes both gubernatorial candidates — Republican Adam Laxalt and Democrat Steve Sisolak — sit down with him to review the proposed education budget. Neither candidate has done so yet, he said.
“The door is always open,” Sandoval added.
One of Sandoval’s education reforms has led to friction between him and Laxalt, who states on his campaign website that he plans to repeal the Commerce Tax. The popular Republican governor championed the business tax as a way to help pay for his bevy of education reforms.
Sandoval has not endorsed Laxalt in the governor’s race.
But Republican state Sen. Michael Roberson — who’s running for lieutenant governor and attended the Nevada Teacher of the Year ceremony — said Laxalt doesn’t have any plans to undo Sandoval’s education accomplishments.
“You’re going to see with Governor Laxalt a continuation of those programs,” Roberson said, noting that he would be alongside Laxalt as lieutenant governor with the same plan.
The midterm elections are next Tuesday.