This Is Reno Radio

“There’s nothing to keep teachers in the classroom”

June 04, 2022 This Is Reno Season 2022 Episode 10
This Is Reno Radio
“There’s nothing to keep teachers in the classroom”
Show Notes Transcript

Public education is facing a protracted crisis. From lack of funding and bureaucracy to politicized attacks on teachers and staff, Washoe County, much like the rest of the country, is also no stranger to public education controversy.

For this show, I spoke with Calen Evans. A ten-year teacher, he is now the president elect of the Washoe Education Association. That’s the group that represents more than 3,500 teachers in the county.

Evans said he hopes to take the association in a more active direction under his tenure. In this show we talk about what he hopes to accomplish, the union’s endorsements for school board candidates and challenges facing the school district.

We also talk about the future of public education in Washoe County.

This show is sponsored by Truckee Meadows Water Authority reminding you to water on your address's designated watering days in order to conserve water. Visit for details.

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When citizens show up and have a unified voice and message, it is we who can create change. We have to, as voters hold our elected officials accountable, we can no longer allow our students, our education system, our profession to be used simply to get elected. That's Kaylin Evans. He's the president elect of the washer Education Association. That's the group that represents more than 3500 teachers in Washoe County. Evans said he hopes to take the association in a more active direction under his tenure. In this show, we talked about what he hopes to accomplish the union's endorsements for school board candidates and the challenges facing the school district. We also talked about the future of public education in Washoe County. For this week in Reno news, I am Bob Conrad with this is Thank you to this show sponsor the Truckee Meadows water authority here with this message. Summertime conservation is standard at Truckee Meadows Water Authority. It's what we do. And this year, we can all prevent waste by keeping sprinklers off between noon and six, get your conservation reminders and more at smart about Kailyn please tell us a little bit about yourself. So right now I'm an educator in Washoe County. I am currently the president elect for the Washoe Education Association. And I will step into that role full time, mid July. What does the Education Association do? Exactly? So the Education Association is the collective bargaining arm of all teachers, counselors, and Dean's in our school district. So we collectively bargain with the district in terms of worker rights, our contract everything that's in that contract from pay raises to working conditions, those are things that we're going to bargain for with the district. And then we also represent our members in any sort of grievance hearings, things that might happen within the school where teachers need support or representation via through the association or legal terms. So we do all that. Okay, well, thank you for the background. What prompted you to go from teaching you said you've been teaching 10 years? Yeah, into the sort of more kind of advocate public advocacy role? Yeah, you know, well, I got into advocacy work. A few years ago, through a nonprofit organization that I started called empowering Nevada teachers. I started that because the public education in Nevada historically has really struggled. And it's been exacerbated over the last decade or so, due to just an overall lack of funding and resources along with just increased cost of living over the last decade here in Reno. And you're seeing it really starts on fold in terms of our ability to have a high functioning education system. I would say that if you're from Nevada, you know, unfortunately, education, well, high quality education in Nevada are not synonymous. And that's an issue, right? For me. I mean, I think personally, just as a father, as a member of the community, understanding the importance of education and how that shapes the young people, and overall, our community as a whole, it struggled. And so I was seeing a need for activism, I was seeing in need of feeling as if educators voices weren't really being respected and heard. So I started down that advocacy route, through my own nonprofit. And then that kind of led me to work parallel with the Association, both state and local, on just different initiatives throughout the state in terms of how we can support education. And ultimately, I felt that there was a really big need for us to change the culture and direction of the association from within. And so I had an opportunity to run and a lot of support from our members and a lot of support from educators across the district to run and felt like I could really do something to start to change it. Because ultimately, you know, I felt that in order for us to bring about real changes in the school system in our district and in our state, we had to bring about real changes in the association. What is one of the questions that I have here is how is your leadership going to be different from your predecessors? The folks that came before you at the education as you know, absolutely. I think, what is what's actually a benefit of mine is, you know, I'll be the first person to serve as president of the weta that didn't currently serve on the board. Word. You know, people might look at that as Oh, there's a lack of experience. And I look at that as there's a different perspective that I can bring to the association. I haven't been entrenched in what they've been doing for years. So I also don't come with kind of the same traditions, or tactics or messaging that they do. I really feel like in order for us to bring about real rights for our members, and not just our members, but all teachers, because whether they're members of the association or not, we represent them, right. Like our contract goes for all teachers in the school district, we have to change the kind of the underlying culture. And what I mean by that is, there's a couple different things, you know, in my opinion, traditionally, leadership of the association has kind of looked at our relationship with the district as a bit subservient, as if we should just be grateful that we are allowed to exist, right? Because we are in association with the school district. It's very similar to a union. But there's some slight differences, where, you know, so given that we're in association, we're in partnership with the district, we, you know, traditional leadership has always taken the idea of, okay, well, we're gonna push but we're not going to push too hard, because we, you know, we don't want to ruffle any feathers, we don't want to rock the boat, like, we need to be working partners. Now, of course, we want an amicable working relationship with our school district. That's without question. But at the end of the day, if we're not getting the working rights and conditions that are suitable for our educators, we have to put our foot down, and we can't just say it through, you know, talking about it, right, we can't just say this is unacceptable. And then when it continues, we just go back to doing what we've always done, right, we might complain about and go back to work, we have to do more, right? So we have to let our members know that we are willing, as an association to really stand up and draw lines in the sand and not allow them to be crossed without us, you know, stepping up to the plate and doing what we need to do as an association, right, like organized labor has certain tools at their disposal, but that they can use to bring about changes, and nobody can look at the education system. And you know, we can argue about variables of the education system, right, we might have difference of opinions on how things are implemented. But if you look at just black and white in terms of how education is funded, and how it is served in our community, nobody can argue that it's being adequately funded. You know, Nevada, we're 50th. In school finance, we're 40 sevens and per pupil funding, which is the amount of money that every student, you know, that we receive per student to service them. You know, we have the largest class sizes in the country, one of the highest, one of the lowest teacher retention rates, right. So we have a huge turnover in teachers. And so all of these metrics point to the fact that we don't value education in Nevada the way that we should. And ultimately, that falls back on the working conditions of teachers. And I noticed this week, that in Clark County, they raised teacher salaries, why hasn't that been done here in Washoe County? And it's kind of a two part question. Because we're constantly for about a year now, we've been hearing about the school districts inability to retain, I assume teachers, but also bus drivers and nutrition staff in particular, why why hasn't Washoe County raised salaries? You know, that's a great question. I mean, I think the answer, you know, I try to want to give an answer with think what would they say? Right, and they're gonna say, well, out of the whole state being as low funded as we are as a state, you know, Washoe County has the lowest per pupil funding. Right. But even with that, you know, it's, you know, I can't really answer for them, right, I think that there are, we have put millions of dollars into education in the thought of, you know, whether it's curriculum adoption or assessment programs, you know, with well intended, with with good intentions, right, like the, you know, they're funding these things, thinking that these were going to be the things that will help close achievement gaps. But what they fail to understand is, it doesn't matter how high tech our schools are, or, you know, our one to one ratio of technology, or if we're able to hire, you know, additional support staff, or this amazing curriculum, or we, you know, we spend millions of dollars on these assessment programs, and standardized testing. At the end of the day, we can't even get our kids to school, because we can't afford bus drivers. Right? So like, what does it matter, all of these other things, these kind of bells and whistles that we're trying to implement when we don't have a teacher in the classroom. I mean, we have dozens of classes across our district. And you know, most of the community doesn't know that they're not even being taught by a certified teacher. We have long term subs that have to take these positions that we've put in there. They're being paid a fraction of the price, right so there's obviously some salary savings by the district. I just wrote a lengthy email to the school board and superintendent just the other day bringing up these exact same things saying you know, Clark County is right like they understand the critical need that we're at, if we cannot bring new professionals and quality professionals into the into teaching nothing else really matters right now. And so them raising the rate, the starting salary, but then also giving retention bonuses because teachers are leaving in there. And you know, with such a competitive labor market right now, teachers have more options than they ever have. And I think teachers are starting to really understand their value, right, that they are highly qualified professionals, that while they have a passion for teaching, that passion is not going to put food on the table, it's not going to pay their bills. So while they are passionate about working with us, it gets to the point where it doesn't matter how high, you know, how much love they get from teaching, they can't afford to live, they can't afford their rent, they can't afford those things. So they can go find another high paying highly competitive job with great working conditions, and then not have to deal with all of the other struggles and strife that come with teaching in these working conditions. And again, I mentioned class sizes, you know, having the largest class sizes in the country, I can't underscore enough how important or how critical that issue is, because it's a working condition, right, that that dramatically impacts both the educators and the students in the classroom. So all of these factors, you know, and so, what they need to I mean, without question, I think the school district really needs so we have all these eser fund money, this has been fun, you know, money from the federal government from the COVID response. And, you know, they need to be looking very closely at how they're using that money, and, in my opinion, reevaluate where those funds are going. Because, again, you know, we can, you know, higher, I was just telling somebody, it's like, we're putting a lot of money into summer school and winter session, which Yeah, we need, kids are behind because of COVID. Absolutely. It's not going to mean anything that a kid goes to summer school, if next year, they don't have a teacher in their classroom when they start the school year, right. So we have critical needs, and we need to really prioritize those things. And there's a lot of them right now, having human beings in the building, to get your kids to school, to clean up the schools to feed your kids to teach your kids to to keep your kids safe. Like all of those things need to be the top priority right now. What what you've mentioned the word working conditions. As you know, I've done a lot of reporting on the school district and a lot of the administrative and personnel issues. And some pretty striking cases. What is your opinion about how things have been in the last few years? Um, you know, I think it's been it's been challenging, right? Because there's a lot of factors when we think about how, you know, with the superintendent challenges that we've had earlier, and then then transitioning to McNeil, and then she kind of taking over right as COVID hit and I mean, who's going to be able to, to understand how to navigate COVID. Right, like, that was just something that I think was, you know, you're kind of putting anybody in a situation to fail in that sense. And, you know, I think the issue that we're finding is that, we're starting to see some of the residual effects of COVID. Right now, especially with student behavior, student behavior, and violence is at an all time high. And that's an extreme working condition. And so you have a lot of teachers that are reaching out to their administrators, and then those administrators are reaching out to the district, and they're saying, like, we need help, like, we, we don't have the resources, we don't have this infrastructure at the school to house some of these, like severe behavior students. And then then it kind of comes back on the district where they don't have the resources, right, like the district at the end of the day is coming back to schools and saying, you know, like, Okay, well, you know, we don't have the answers to this either. So it kind of seems as if it's just being passed along to a degree. And ultimately, that bucks gonna stop at the teacher, right. So we'll have students in these classrooms that need additional support they need, they need the type of support that, you know, classroom teacher can't necessarily provide them, given the fact that they have all these other responsibilities. But then we don't have those right. Like, we don't have enough social workers. We don't have enough behavioral specialists, we don't have enough si P programs, which are programs for students who just need additional structure and support for behavior, like we don't have enough of those services. And so it ends up really creating a working condition that in my opinion, and many others, that isn't acceptable, and that's what's lead. So it's like cost of living through the roof, stagnant teacher salary, pay inflation through the roof, behaviors going crazy, not feeling that the district is able to I mean, whether they're trying I mean, like I don't want to say that insinuate that they're not trying but if they don't have the resources, right, then that all is going to fall back. You factor all those things. There's no reason to keep teaching, right? Like there's no there's nothing to keep teachers in the classroom anymore. And that's the big issue that we're running into. Talk a little bit about and we you and I spoke a week or so ago. I'm about this community pressure from really the far right sort of conspiracy theorist contingent. There's sort of this underground, although very vocal and very public, but it's, you know, it is a pretty slim minority at the end of the day of people trying to take over school boards at the local level. You've seen this in Elko, Clark County, Washoe County, what's happening? And what's your perspective of it both as a teacher now and then going into the W E, AE? Yeah, I mean, on, you know, I don't like to throw the term around lightly. But it's scary in the sense that you have people who are running for public office that will have a direct impact on the, the, you know, the education profession, and our students who are, I don't even not like lack of a better terms, just, in many ways. Crazy, I guess you could say, in the sense that I'm all for having a difference of opinions, like we can be critical of the school district, we can be critical of education as a whole. And I will have an honest conversation. And, and I have my critiques of education as a whole and how it's done both nationally at the state level, and at the district, I myself have been very critical of the district and decisions that they make. And that's not what we're seeing. But what we are seeing is people who are outright lying, they're coming into school board, meetings, and they are making things up and they're making up very hateful, divisive and hurtful things. And they're spreading. They're slandering. The school district are slandering teachers, and it's not founded. And so for somebody who's in the arena, like myself, right, who who's been in education, who obviously is well versed and understanding, you know, district and state policies, and how you know, how all these things inner workings work, when I come and I'm critical, I'm speaking at least as much as I can, from a place of knowing right of understanding. We have people who have no idea what's going on in the classrooms, who are saying and speaking as if there's the certainties of really just crazy, I don't know if I can say that I'm sorry, um, stuff in the school boards, right, that we are, you know, sexualizing our kindergarten students by teaching them share in kindergarten that we like, like stuff that is so beyond the pale of like, reality that I can't even then begin to meet you halfway, right? Like, if you think that we are over here indoctrinating your first graders to not understand, like, whether they're male or female, like, I Where do we even have a middle ground to start saying, Okay, I think that there's legitimate concerns. Okay, great. Let's have a conversation about those concerns, and how can we better educate our students? We have people that are, you know, this whole idea of CRT, and it's this boogeyman, and you know, like, oh, CRT CRT, who's teaching CRT? Like, does anyone actually teach it in Northern Nevada? Yeah, like, we went our way this isn't this isn't any, this isn't even in the realm of being taught anywhere K through 12. Education, right, like, let alone most likely even college? Yeah, exactly. So it's this, this whole idea that, you know, that this is just, it's just their fear mongering, right. No one really knows what CRT is. But I know if I say and there's people that have issues with some of the social issues in our country, which you can we can have those discussions, right. But they have to be based in reality. And so when we talk about this, and we have people who are that are running for school board that I really, you know, I'm hoping that your listeners are hearing, there's an organization called Save WC SD, look them up Google save WC ISD. If any of those people are running in your district, and you care at all, about just our education system, our students are educated, you should not vote for any of those people. Because they are completely, you know, weaponizing social issues. To without factual without fat. Yeah, exactly. Completely baseless. Right. And that's the that's the tricky part. That's not that's the tricky part. That's the really unfortunate part. Because then while it is a minority, for sure of the population, they're allowed minority. And when you say things over and over and over, and if you have people who aren't educating themselves about what's going on, they go, Well, is CRT being taught or what is going on? What's the Share program going on? Like, what are these social, like, what are we doing to our gay, like, all of a sudden, it starts to pick up, you know, it can start to snowball, because people unfortunately aren't really taking the time to find out whether or not this is actually going on and having those conversations. So yeah, I mean, these school board races are extremely important, right. We have four incumbents that are that are running best Smith, Joe Rodriguez, Adam Mayberry, and Elon Veneto. All four of them need to be reelected. And you know, so if you're in those districts, those are nonpartisan races. So everybody, Republican Democrat, indepent everybody gets to vote on those in our community. And if you have any four of those in your district, which there's a good chance you do, you need to, you know, please, please vote vote in the primary. And are those the official weta endorsements as well? Yeah, those why is that? Well, I think if well, in regards to, to Joe, wow, okay. Regards to all of them, you know, Joe Beth Adam, they are extremely responsive to educators. And on a personal level to like, anytime you have teachers reaching out to them with concerns, they are not just given the lip service of oh, you know, thank you for reaching out. And we're going to look into about what I know, like, tell me exactly what's going on. And then following up with those things, and making sure that they're talking to the superintendent that there's talking to the area superintendents, to make sure that issues are being addressed. And that, that they're really listening, and then following through with actions. So those those ones, especially that are running, and that's the biggest thing, too. So you have these, you know, like a they're very pro educator in the sense of like, supporting what we're doing. But then also their opponents are the are the ones that we were talking about the Save WC SD. So I mean, it's really, you know, it's a no brainer in terms of the endorsement side for both weta and NSCA, which is our state association. But it's, you know, school board races have never been this important. And as you were saying, like we're seeing across the country where school boards are coming under attack. And it's happening right now where people that are kind of coming into our community, from the out from not local as well, which is important to understand to the people think about all these people from California coming like No, like these people from California, it's who are coming in and trying to run for the school board pieces like to get people active in fear monger across our community. So those groups are not, they're not local, they're not from here, they don't they weren't born and raised here. So there's definitely almost like a mentality of like, just kind of like, Let's burn the whole thing down and start from scratch versus no, hey, let's look at the issues that we have. And let's work together to address them. And the fear is that if if one of those if somebody else gets on the school board, along with the current trustee church, all of a sudden, we're going to spend very valuable time and resources talking about things like CRT that aren't actually even being taught, right, like we're going to be talking about the boogeyman instead of talking about legitimate issues. And that's the concern that all of a sudden, we aren't focused on the fact collectively focused on the fact that we are one of the lowest funded school districts in the entire country, right? Like that's, that is a real issue that is going to impact every student and every person in our community. Ultimately, that's what we need to be talking about not these other issues, that aren't issues at all, that are completely fabricated in order for, you know, kind of to distract us to a degree. So yes, that answers the question. Talk about empowered Nevada, T shirts, teachers, what happened with that there was a change, you change the name or what's, you know, we just we didn't change the name, the nonprofit still has the name, we change the, you know, we had a, we have a really large Facebook group, we changed the name of the group, because what was happening was, you know, when people were on social media, you know, like, if they're in in that social media group in that Facebook group, they don't necessarily represent us as a board, or the act of membership. They're just a random person that's in that group, right? And then they'll say something, or they'll do something, or they'll post something. And then it kind of ends up being associated with us indirectly. And so we felt that it was important to change the name in order for us to kind of be able to keep our own autonomy, and so that not everything that was said was immediately good or bad. It was like, Oh, well, they said it in the group. And that must be our position. Well, no, that wasn't our position. It wasn't anybody from our board or myself that said it. It was just, you know, somebody. And unfortunately, as you know, social media is a very toxic environment. It can be used in a constructive way. But ultimately, I would say more so than not we ended up especially when you're dealing with issues that are very passionate to individuals. It just becomes toxic. The way that education has been over the last few years going through this pandemic, and going through all these issues within Nevada. It's a tough time to be a teacher. And so you had a lot of you had a lot of negativity, you had a lot of people venting a lot of frustrations and that sort of culture and climate. We didn't want to be associated with us directly. And so we decided to change that. One thing I remember, in the last couple years was a one former school board trustee who had set up a fake profile to be a member of the group to monitor the conversations that appeared or Yeah, absolutely, yeah, no, and that definitely happens. And so the group is still, you know, the group still there. It's an open platform, you know, we wanted to provide a space, that teachers could come together, that they could share resources that they could share things that are going on, and kind of just kind of have that more sense of community. But yeah, I mean, it's definitely it can be used, and it can gain using that term weaponize in a lot of ways. I mean, we know we understand that, and all teachers should understand all school district employees, your social medias are being monitored, right? Like, just just be aware of that. And so it's not that they're in that group or not, like, you know, you need to be thoughtful in terms of what you're putting out there. Because you have, you know, professional conduct that you need to stay within in terms of your contract. So, you know, we understand that there are people on via social media, and then yeah, with that particular trustee, who, you know, was creating fake accounts, and then, and then kind of commenting on, you know, getting in arguments with people on his own burner account to, you know, go over these issues. But, um, fortunately, we have been able to kind of separate ourselves from that in terms of the nonprofit piece, and a lot of our active members have become very active with the association now. And that was kind of how we've been able to transition from being you know, a nonprofit group and kind of this, you know, active group of, of teachers, to then being able to have, you know, have a number of representatives, school representatives within the WBA. And now myself, as the President, and we brought in a lot of really passionate, smart individuals, our board is almost entirely new. So it's exciting right now, because we have people who we have experienced on the board, but we also have a lot of new people that are bringing in that fresh perspective, and willingness to do things differently. And that's what we have to do, we have to do things differently, because this idea that, you know, education is going to magically fix itself here in Nevada. It's just not the case. And it's going to be through kind of more radical changes that we can do that. How are you going to pursue more funding? Are you going to be really engaged with the legislature? Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's where it starts, right, we have to start at the legislative level, which is right around the corner. So it's our big thing is we have to be able to activate our member base, traditionally, the web a while we might have a lot of members, we're not we haven't been able to, in the past, get them as active. But I also think in a lot of work in a lot of ways, it's because of the tactics that leadership has taken, you know, like, the past leadership has done all that they can, you know, they put the work and they put the effort that's not without, you know, that's without question. So I'm not at all trying to be, you know, critical in that sense, I think that there's just a difference of opinions, in terms of how we can bring about change and what's necessary to bring about change. You know, if I'm a member of of a labor union, and my labor, and I think that my leadership isn't willing to take any steps necessary to bring about change, that doesn't inspire me really to get active, right, I might still be a member, that's fine. Because I want that insurance policy, I want it you know, if I run into an issue with the school district or my administrator, something that I know that I'm going to have my association that's there to support me right and that's important piece because that happens. You know, there's, there's, there's definitely a value in having the Association for that reason. But if that's the only reason you're a member, is for that kind of quote, unquote, insurance policy. You're not we're never gonna get our membership active, right? We need members that believe in us, they believe in the premise of collective bargaining and collective action. They believe in labor as unions like they believe in that. And then we inspire them by showing them the changes that we can make together. And when we start to, you know, not just talk the talk, which we haven't done, we don't even talk the talk but then actually start following it up with actions then we're going to inspire our members to be become more active and then we're going to inspire non members because we are right to work state to join and the more that we're able to get people to join in Bacchus then the more power that will have to bring about the changes we need. Thank you so much. Yeah, absolutely. Anytime please keep us updated. We will appreciate it. That's it for this week in Reno news, please visit us online at this is And if you are able to please subscribe to support locally owned independent journalism