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40 brave weather to speak at school board

by Linda Hiller

More than 40 teachers, parents and students braved the first winter storm of the season Tuesday night to speak before the Douglas County School District’s February school board meeting.

The attendance was precipitated by the Feb. 5 student walk-out at Douglas High School, where an estimated 200 students assembled in the school’s gym to protest the second cancellation of a homecoming pep rally.

Rocky Walling, a contractor and volunteer youth coach, spoke first, saying he was concerned that the athletic program at the high school was lacking the support it should have.

“Sports has so much to offer our kids,” he said. “They are going to learn life lessons on the ball field.”

Douglas High School teacher Phyllis Bateman, a 20-year veteran of the school, expressed concern about the new graduation competencies. She said in her 20 years teaching at DHS, she’s seen many changes.

“I’m not afraid of change,” she said. “We get tired of being told that our anxieties about the competencies are based on our fear of change. We aren’t afraid of anything but being unprepared.”

DHS teacher Randy Green, 21 years teaching at the school, said he was concerned about the competencies in regard to two specific areas – giving a “2nd diploma,” and not counting anything below a “C” in the final analysis of the “raised graduation bar.”

“I think we’ve got a great staff – we can pull off anything we put our mind to,” he said.

Green, who has coached athletics, also said that athletics in school is invaluable for students.

“All athletics is, is (the opportunity) to practice adversarial situations for life,” he said. “Using athletics is a lot better than giving a student 400 problems to pound out.”

Another teacher, Jeanette Turnbeaugh, 27 years at DHS, said she, too, is concerned about the new competencies. She worked on the original draft of the competencies, she said, and told the board the task was not only “daunting,” but that she’d “never worked harder.”

Turnbeaugh said some standard English errors on the achievement level tests gave her pause, and she urged the board to consider adding a reading specialist to the task of implementing the competencies, specifically in high school.

“When these kids, in 12 school weeks walk through the door, who will know their reading level?” she asked.

Another self-acclaimed “old timer,” Mary Roman, also at DHS, said her main concern regarded the implementation of the competencies. She took issue with one option under the new graduation standards, was for a DHS student to attend more advanced classes at Western Nevada Community College.

“I find it inappropriate to send a high school sophomore to college,” she said. “We need to (instead) offer a full program at our high school for all students at all levels.”

n School board member “switches hats.” Dave Brady, representing the Johnson Lane area, came from behind the board’s table and sat in front to read a prepared statement, “switching hats” from board member to that of a parent.

Though he said he has no children yet in high school, Brady’s main concerns revolved around the student protest Friday, Feb. 5, where an estimated 200 DHS students left class and assembled in the gym to protest the second cancellation of a pep rally to precede the homecoming basketball game.

“For the past two years I have sensed a deterioration of morale, pride and enthusiasm on the high school campus among teachers, staff and students,” Brady said. “This past week seems to have brought much of this to the forefront.”

Brady said he thought the lack of “common sense leadership” could be at the root of the morale problem.

“Leaders create the vision that motivates and energizes teachers to teach and students to learn,” he said. “Leaders help individuals want to do their very best, not police them. Leaders play to win, rather than play not to lose. Leaders lead from the front, while managers push from the back.”

Brady said the school board “owed it to the students” to listen, ask tough questions, exercise true leadership and take action to prevent the continued deterioration of conditions at the high school.

DHS senior, Markus Zinke, the only student to speak to the board, said he felt bad about the negative publicity the walk-out had generated, but hoped people realized that athletes were not a part of the event.

Another self-proclaimed “old timer,” former DHS teacher Keith Roman, spoke to the board, urging the hiring of young teachers who have the ability to also coach. As the coaching staff ages, he said, it won’t be long before there are no more teachers who can coach at DHS.

Roman said that coaches are always respectful of academics and the two – academics and athletics – needn’t butt heads.

Coaches, who naturally have a fire to coach, also naturally have a fire to teach, Roman said.

“If you have that – that fire to go out and coach, you have the passion to teach,” he said, adding that DHS graduates who are now teaching and coaching in nearby communities ought to be considered for work in the Douglas County School District.

“Why not actively recruit these kids – they are the kind of teachers that you want,” Roman said.

In response to board member Don Forrester’s query, DHS principal Bev Jeans attempted to explain the sequence of events that led up to the protest Friday.

In the end, she said, communication may have been less than perfect between all people concerned.

“Probably none of us did a good job of getting the information out,” she said.

n In response. Clark said that since the Feb. 5 walkout, DHS administrators and student leaders have met and discussed better methods of communication between all concerned at the school.

Clark also said, in response to some of the public comments, that there is no plan to diminish the athletic program in the school district.

“I participated in athletics and all my children did, too – we even added to the athletics this year with 9th grade girls volleyball,” she said.

Clark said the district administration is planning to give a report on the extracurricular activities, including athletics, at the April 13 board meeting, and will address the concerns of staff, students and parents at that time.

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