The Washoe County School District announced Tuesday that Superintendent Traci Davis was taking an indefinite leave of absence “due to personal reasons,” according to a statement from the school district. Deputy Superintendent Kristen McNeill, who has worked at the district for 26 years as a teacher and administrator, will serve as superintendent during Davis’ leave.
The announcement came after a closed-door meeting with top Washoe County School District administrators, the Reno Gazette Journal first reported Tuesday morning. Two other top administrators, Chief Student Services Officer Byron Green and Chief of Staff David Lasic, are no longer employed at the school district, the newspaper reported.
A school district spokesman confirmed that Green and Lasic were no longer employed by the district, effective Monday, but he declined to comment further, calling it a personnel issue.
“Kristen has always been a champion for quality, accountability and transparency,” Katy Simon Holland, president of the school district’s board, said in the brief statement. “The staff and students of the Washoe County School District are in good hands.”
Davis assumed the role of superintendent, which oversees a student population of more than 64,000 and manages more than 8,000 employees, in 2014 after two years serving as the deputy superintendent. In an interview with The Nevada Independent in March, Davis touted an increase in the graduation rate as one of her achievements and said she wanted to close the achievement gap.
But Davis also faced numerous criticisms, including the district’s rollout of “digital days” — where students work from home during snow days to avoid adding days to the calendar year — as well as its investigation of personnel issues and how it communicated them to the public. More recently, Davis was the subject of an online petition calling for her resignation. But despite the criticism, the superintendent defended her record in media interviews earlier this year.
“That’s not the first petition,” Davis said. “People come and they talk about the petition and they talk about factual data, or what they think is factual. ‘Get rid of her because we are ranked the lowest in the country.’ When did I get in charge of the state? There’s so much [that is not true about] it, so I’m not bothered by [the petition], because I know the truth and the facts.”
School Board President Katy Simon Holland said Davis sent an email notification requesting a leave of absence for personal reasons without elaborating. Holland said Davis is using accrued paid leave during her absence.
“We look forward to a conclusion of that leave, but I don’t have any information about what that might require,” she said.
Holland said the board has not scheduled any other meetings to discuss Davis’ absence at this point.
The announcement didn’t necessarily come as a surprise, though, to the president of the teachers’ union.
Natha Anderson, president of the Washoe Education Association, said she has observed mounting tensions between Davis and the school board over the past few months, particularly as it relates to challenges facing K-12 education such as funding, class sizes and teacher workloads.
“I think there’s just a lot of stress right now in education period because of everything going on,” Anderson said. “I’m not sure how much they’re able to have those candid conversations about what needs to change.”
Based on how the board has handled previous leadership changes, Anderson said it appears Davis is on her way out as superintendent.
Anderson described the union’s relationship with Davis as somewhat of a mixed bag, agreeing wholeheartedly with her on some issues but differing on others. The two parties, however, always had open lines of communication and respectful dialogue, she said.
“I do think she was trying, but I think sometimes there were some other issues happening that were completely out of her control,” Anderson said.
The union president praised the school board’s decision to install McNeill as the interim superintendent.
“She knows our teachers; she knows what we need,” Anderson said. “We’ve got a really strong relationship there.”
This story was updated at 12:02 p.m. to include more information from the school district and again at 12:27 p.m. to include comments from the Washoe Education Association president. It was updated a third time at 3:07 p.m. to include comments from the school board president.