On April 5, Washoe County School District held a community meeting at Incline Village High School to discuss its facility modernization plan, a district-wide proposal that is intended to guide facility use and capital investment decisions for the next five to 10 years. The overarching concept looks different for each of the 103 schools within the district.
“The main focus of the facility modernization plan is equity across all of our schools to provide a comparable learning environment, regardless of the zip code and efficiency,” said Adam Searcy, chief operating officer for the Washoe County School District. “So, making sure that we’re utilizing our resources as effectively as we can across all of our facilities.”
Incline Village schools have seen a decrease in enrollment, leading the school district to reevaluate the current grade configurations in Incline. Searcy explained that declining student numbers is a nationwide trend due to lower birthrates across the U.S. population. All three Incline schools have been experiencing a downward trend that started back in the early 2000s. Enrollment at the Incline elementary and middle schools are at an all-time low. Since 2019, the student population at Incline Middle School has declined 28% and at the elementary school 21%, while the high school numbers have decreased 25% over the last 20 years.
The district is proposing two options for Incline’s facility modernization. Option A is to mostly leave everything as it is and continue operating three facilities (elementary, middle, and high schools) with some capital investments in updates to buildings and enhancements for student support. Option B is to close Incline Middle School and consolidate to have a new grade configuration in which pre-kindergarten through sixth grade would be at the elementary school and grades seven through 12 at the high school. Currently, the middle school houses grade levels six through eight.
Tension built as the visibly upset crowd filled the school cafeteria for the meeting. The walls were decorated with student-made posters that read “Save Incline Middle.” Turnout was significantly higher than anticipated with an estimated 250 people in attendance, including parents, students, community members, teachers, alumni, school administrators, and elected officials.
A presentation was given by Searcy and Paul Mills, an education strategy leader for Cannon Design, an architecture, engineering, and consulting organization that provides services for schools. Their role in the process is to assess facilities and regional data to create impartial and unbiased recommendations and plans.
“The district is exploring different options and believes community participation is essential to design best solutions,” said Mills. “Incline is a unique part of the Washoe County School District and requires a custom planning approach.”
Mills stated that the school district would save an estimated $1 million every year if it operated two schools instead of three.
The public, however, was outraged during the length of the meeting. Mills struggled to make it through his slide presentation as the crowd continuously shouted out and interrupted him. The community banded together to deliver a clear message — it strongly opposes consolidation, which it believes would have a negative impact on students. “I don’t think that the community, the parents, nobody, is going to move to a B option,” said Eva Harrow, a concerned parent who was in attendance and translated questions and comments for other Spanish-speaking families.
Although Mills and Searcy insisted that they want community involvement on the project, those in the crowd felt that they had been left in the dark and were caught off guard by the proposal.
One Incline Middle School teacher said that she learned of the plan only days before the meeting when her students brought it up to her. “As staff, we felt very blindsided by this process,” Amy Henderson Seitz said. She also expressed concern about what would happen to the middle school teachers if the school is closed.
Many parents are wary of having younger seventh graders at the same school as graduating seniors and what the implications of that age gap could bring.
Community members can provide public feedback on the matter by emailing email@example.com. The next steps in the process are to be determined and will be based on data and public input that the district is currently collecting.
“No decisions have been made and no decisions will be made anytime soon,” Searcy said. “We intend to update the community within this month on next steps, and we will likely return if not before the end of the school year, then certainly next fall for a follow-up conversation.”
The district-wide modernization plan is intended to conclude in a recommendation to the school board before the end of this calendar year. At that point, the board will have to take action on specific projects, thus any decisions about IVMS likely won’t be made until 2024.