A unique collaboration between Washoe County School District and the University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada Leads is a two-year program for a Master’s in Educational Leadership that prepares future school administrators with recent and up-to-date techniques and real-world experience. With a hybrid asynchronous and in-person modality even before the pandemic, Nevada Leads was designed for current teachers and other school faculty who work full-time. Combined with in-depth coursework on modern leadership techniques, the program includes a cohort model that brings students and professors together. A unique system to match enrollees to an internship with local mentor principals is also available for students during the entirety of the two-year program.
“As a student, being immersed in Nevada Leads for two years and being on-site and actually being in the weeds of the principal’s work or other administrators duties is really beneficial, and I think it’s going to help the students out immensely,” Principal of Sparks High School and Mentor Principal for Nevada Leads Kevin Carroll said.
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership in the College of Education, Jafeth Salido-Sanchez said that the longer, more practical internship allows students to make connections between the theoretical and practical parts of educational leadership. The coursework is specifically aligned to what is happening in real-time at the schools that students are working at. A relatively recent addition to the program is the decision to match Nevada Leads interns to schools that are different than the level they are currently working at.
“I would have high school teachers come to high school with me, and elementary would come to elementary,” Carroll said. “Then over the couple years of the program, they actually flipped that. Right now, I have a middle school and an elementary mentee with me, so they’re getting the experience that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”
Claudia Bessette, who works as a student counselor for Sky Ranch, a local middle school, is graduating from the Nevada Leads program this month. To complete the program, Bessette needed to balance working full-time as a counselor, attending class and completing the two-year internship, all at the same time. Bessette said that the real-world experience from the longer two-year internship was invaluable in broadening her perspective on how she viewed the school ecosystem.
“It makes it real,” Bessette said. “It takes it out of the textbook. It takes it out of the conversation you're having in class, and then you have to do it. You have to build your capacity and build your skills. If you're dealing with a discipline situation with kids, you have to do it right. If you're dealing with something that got messed up with a schedule or the way classes are being run, you've got to do it right. It's a people business, but there's a thousand details that have to be in place correctly every single day.”
It should be emphasized that the two-year internship isn’t the only defining feature of Nevada Leads. Salido-Sanchez said that what sets Nevada Leads apart is how everything the program does is highly intentional, including a sense of tightly-knit community and a schedule of classes specifically designed to accommodate teachers working full-time.
“We have a cohort model where they can support each other and they can grow together,” Salido-Sanchez said. “When they enter those leadership roles, they're able to also serve as a support system for each other. We have a lot of co-instructors and guest speakers, so that allows them to build a network of current leaders who are highly qualified and who they now know this is this person's area of expertise.”
Nevada Leads exists as a partnership between the University and Washoe County School District. The University gains an opportunity to provide enrollees with extensive real-world experience, while the district invests in the capabilities and qualifications of future leaders. Carrol said that as an experienced principal, he enjoys giving back to the community and working with interns.
“It’s a really solid partnership,” Carroll said. “The district obviously supports Nevada Leads, and Nevada Leads supports our district. I think the partnership is really invaluable, and I think the experience that these future school leaders are getting is only going to make our district better moving forward.”
Due to Bessette’s previous business experience, a class focused on managing change helped to serve as a pivotal moment during her time in the program, where the reality of school administration clicked into focus. Bessette said that she would recommend Nevada Leads to others who are interested in pursuing a career in educational leadership.
“It is a life-changing experience, because it’s where you truly pivot,” Bessette said. “If going into leadership is your goal, these two years is where that pivot happens, because that’s where you stop seeing things as just a classroom teacher, although that’s enormously valuable.”
Every Nevada Leads cohort begins during the spring semester, so when students graduate two years later, they can immediately look for jobs as a school administrator. The hybrid cohort model even allows leaders in rural areas of Nevada to participate and apply to the program, regardless of distance from the University itself.
“We are always trying to recruit beyond our geographical region,” Salido-Sanchez said. “There are different types of ways in which others beyond this geographical setting could access a program.”
Nevada Leads has proved to be an extremely valuable program for the region. “If I had two people equal on the application and interview process, and one went through Nevada Leads, and the other didn’t, I would definitely take the Nevada Leads applicant because of the two-years of experience that they have,” Carroll said.