Nevada High School Activities Director Dustin Smith had a unique proposition for the school board at its meeting last week — adding Esports to the school’s roster of organized activities.

Esports involves students playing team-based video games competitively. According to Smith, offering the activity at Nevada schools would provide an opportunity to engage students who are typically uninvolved with other sports or activities, as well as teaching teamwork and communication.

“It targets a traditionally uninvolved student,” he said. “It creates flexibility and adaptiveness when you’re working with teams.”

A survey was sent out to students in sixth through 11th grades to gauge their interest in the coed activity. According to Smith, roughly the equivalent of 21 percent of the high school student body said they would be interested in playing Esports.

Official organizations for arranging competitions between schools are already in place in Iowa, including the Iowa High School Esports Association. The group functions much like the high school athletic association, which provides rules, helps with setup and organizes competitions at no cost.

The association organizes the events into a fall and spring season. In the fall, Esports players compete in Overwatch or Super Smash Brothers. In the spring, they play League of Legends, Rainbow 6 Siege or Rocket League.

Esports has recently become popular on college campuses and now, at high schools in Iowa and across the nation. Many colleges have even begun to offer scholarships, including Cornell College in Mount Vernon.

Smith said he plans to attend the 3rd Annual Annual Global Esports Classic and Clinic in Des Moines in March to learn more about the activity. The prospect of adding Esports to the activities at Nevada will be revisited then.

According to Smith, the structure of the activity at Nevada, if they choose to pursue it, would function much like any other sport, with students able to earn varsity letters and required to meet academic standards to continue participating.

When asked by board members if other activities would experience a decrease in participation if Esports was added, Smith said that wasn’t a problem he was anticipating.

He reiterated that the activity would be geared toward less involved students, and said that any students who indicated their interest on the survey that were already playing other sports would be unlikely to give up their primary activity to play Esports.

“I don’t know that the goal of the Esports team would be to get already highly committed students to participate,” Smith said.

The school board heard an update from Central Elementary Principal Chris DeNeui and Assistant Principal Travis Temple on the use of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) among teachers at the elementary school.

According to DeNeui and Temple, the use of PLCs is designed to bring all teachers at a grade level together for a more universal student learning experience, as well as to involve the entire staff in the education of every student.

“The way I look at it those are all my kids,” Temple said. “No matter what grade I teach the students in that building belong to all of us.”

DeNeui said teachers of each grade level meet once a week at specified times during the school day while their students are in specials classes. An hour is set aside during these times for teachers to collaborate, identify standards for students and work toward common goals.

According to Temple, the next steps for the use of PLCs moving forward is to make sure teachers know how to use them effectively by attending PLC training

“Our main goal, and we’d like to have it by the start of next year, is that all teachers have attended PLC training,” Temple said.

The bulk of the school board meeting was spent reviewing the financial borrowing capacity for the school with Matt Gillespie, managing director for Piper Sandler Co.

According to the assessment presented by Gillespie, the school’s borrowing capacity through 2030 through sales tax revenue is $1.46 million. Funding through the Voted Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) was projected at a maximum of $1.25 million for project costs.

Gillespie also reviewed recent changes to how and when money can be used. As of July 2019, school boards are required to hold public hearings to borrow from the sales tax for any reason.

Even if no opposition is posed at the hearing, a petition may be presented within 15 days of the hearing with 30 percent (or 100 people) of the voters in the last school election opposing the spending, after which an election would be held for voters to decide the issue.

The same process must be followed if the school were to spend cash from sales taxes, if the money were going toward an athletic facility not physically connected to any school building.

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