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The Nevada Independent

Nevada’s only Space Force JROTC program charting its own path

Plus: Another Nevada superintendent is departing and Clark County School District provides an update on how it spent federal COVID relief dollars.
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.

Note: The newsletter will be taking a break for the next two weeks but will be back with more stories in 2024. 

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

News briefs

Storey County School District Superintendent Todd Hess during a presentation to lawmakers on March 25, 2023 in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

💼 Storey County schools superintendent announces retirement — The Storey County School District announced Thursday that Superintendent Todd Hess will be retiring after the 2023-24 school year. Hess has lived in Storey County his whole life, and has worked in the district for 30 years as teacher, coach, principal and superintendent, the district said in the statement.

Hess is the fourth Nevada superintendent who has departed from the role or announced a departure this school year.

In October, former Douglas County Superintendent Keith Lewis resigned from his district following months of tension with his school board. That same month, Lyon County Superintendent Wayne Workman announced he would resign at the end of June 2024 to spend more time with his family. 

Last month, Washoe County Superintendent Susan Enfield announced she would be resigning in February to return to Washington state to spend time with her family and pursue other opportunities. 

💰 Clark County schools have spent 84 percent of third installment of COVID relief funds   During a Thursday school board meeting, Clark County school officials announced that as of October 2023, the district has used or committed about 84 percent of the $777.8 million it received from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Act (ARP ESSER III). A large percentage of the funds, $509.5 million, went toward efforts to improve student success. Another $243.5 million was directed to district teachers, principals and support staff. 

School Spotlight

Durango’s Space Force JROTC program setting up students for success beyond high school 

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. and Durango High School senior aerospace science instructor Jason Kimbel holds up a student-built payload prototype in his office on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Rocio Hernandez/The Nevada Independent)

It’s been two years since Durango High School’s JROTC program became the first of 10 nationwide to convert from an Air Force program to a Space Force program. (The U.S. Space Force was established Dec. 20, 2019, as the sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces. Its mission is to secure the country’s interest in, from and to space.) 

Senior aerospace science instructor Jason Kimbel, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel whose speciality was in astronautical engineering, has been designing classes on aerospace history and engineering since arriving after the transition was announced. 

Durango’s Space Force students have already made their mark. Earlier this year, Durango was among the 60 middle and high schools to win the second annual NASA TechRise Student Challenge where students designed and built payloads that collected data during high-altitude balloon flights over the summer. The program also partnered with the Aldrin Family Foundation to design and build a CubeSat, a miniature satellite. 

“It was a pretty big deal,” Kimbel said. “We had to teach the kids how to solder, how to program electronic boards and breadboards and stuff.”

Kimbel said one big misconception about JROTC is that the program aims to recruit students into the military, which he said is far from true. 

In addition to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, Kimbel said the program teaches leadership, communication and financial management skills. The program is also well-known for its award-winning drill team, whose numerous trophies adorn the JROTC classroom. 

“We tell (students) we are using this program to set the kids up for success after graduation, and that’s not just academically,” he said. “We do as much as we can to get them through that transition from a high school student to an adult in everyday life, and again, there’s nothing to do with the military related to that.” 

Kimbel said his hope for the future is to grow the number of students in the program, and continue building out the curriculum. 

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

Lawmakers dole out extra funds for educator raises, delay decision on Clark County schools

During a meeting last Wednesday, the Interim Finance Committee authorized more than $15 million to support pay raises for teachers and support staff at five school districts across the state through a $250 million matching fund created during the 2023 legislative session, but deferred requests from Clark County and three other districts. Days after the meeting, confusion remained on why the committee chose not to consider Clark and Lander county schools’ requests. 

Douglas County schools’ legal budget set to rise 266% under Joey Gilbert’s fees

The Douglas County School Board increased its annual budget for legal fees from $123,000 to $450,000, according to materials for the board’s Dec. 12 meeting. The 266 percent increase reflects the school district’s skyrocketing legal fees under new counsel Joey Gilbert, a far-right politician and attorney based in Reno who last year finished second in the Republican primary for governor. 

Extra Credit

School board president on Church's account of harassment charge: 'He's lying'

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports Washoe County School Board Trustee Jeff Church has called for an investigation after he says board leaders falsely accused him of sexually harassing two district employees. But Board President Beth Smith, in a statement, accused Church of lying, and said she has never accused him of sexual harassment. 


🥪 Food Bank of Northern Nevada’s Kids Cafe — Dec. 26-Jan. 7

The Food Bank of Northern Nevada’s Kids Cafe program is offering free meals to students at various locations across Washoe County during the winter break period. The distribution sites’ locations and hours of operation can be found here

🎉 Kwanzaa Celebration 2023 — Tuesday, Dec. 26, 3-8 p.m.

The West Las Vegas Library is hosting its annual Kwanzaa celebration, which includes a marketplace that begins at 3 p.m. and performances that begin at 6 p.m. The celebration will take place at the library’s theater. 

Featured social media post

Staff at Walter V. Long Elementary School in Las Vegas showed off their next-level holiday spirit on the last day of school before the start of winter break. 


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