Washoe County, Nev.

  • Washoe County School District sees SEL as a key strategy in the district’s “90 by 20” goal – to increase the graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020. Washoe began its SEL process by creating K-12 social and emotional learning (SEL) standards in 2012 and developed a districtwide implementation strategy, providing all district schools with the tools and supports to implement SEL for all students. Washoe uses a three-pronged approach, focusing on climate and culture, academic integration, and direct instruction, supplemented by strong parent engagement and high-quality assessments and research. Responsibility for implementation of SEL is shared throughout the district. Student social and emotional competencies are assessed, and the data are used to develop district and school-site policy and programs.

    SEL in Washoe County

    Climate, academic integration, and direct instruction. Visitors to Washoe County schools will see evidence of the three-pronged approach to SEL throughout classrooms and school common areas. Administrators and teachers use specific strategies to build relationships and develop a school culture that promotes kindness and caring. Teachers use SEL strategies to engage students in learning core academic content. Students demonstrate listening skills, empathy, and other SEL competencies as they work in pairs, in small groups, and as a whole class. Schools have also integrated SEL with positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS).

    For explicit instruction of SEL skills, the district has adopted the Mind-Up curriculum for grades K-8 and School Connect for all high school freshman seminar courses.

    Each SEL school leadership team, which includes the principal, is responsible for SEL implementation through a “train the trainer” model. Support is provided by the Social and Emotional Learning/Multi-tiered Systems of Support (SEL/MTSS) Department through a three-day SEL leadership training for all schools, supplemented by quarterly SEL mini-conferences, monthly “Saturday Café” professional development, site coaching, and other professional learning opportunities. An increasing number of schools also are piloting the CASEL school guide and the CASEL SEL staff survey.

    Parent engagement. The district has offered more than 60 Parent University SEL courses, including College and Career Success and Building Resiliency in Children.

    Beacon Schools. While all schools are expected to implement SEL, seven schools have been designated as SEL Beacon Schools. These schools have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to SEL, with all staff in the building dedicated to strong and consistent SEL practice. The district expects to grow the number of these schools each year.

    Assessment and accountability. Washoe County is on the cutting edge in identifying the impacts of social and emotional competence on student attendance, behavior, academic success, and graduation. Washoe and CASEL have partnered to develop a student social and emotional competence assessment tool, administered to fifth- through eleventh-grade students through the district’s School Climate Survey. The district also uses a risk index system that provides early warning about a student being on track for graduation. Schools also have the option of using the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) for K-8, and SELweb for K-3. The Accountability Department provides data and tools and works with district leaders, school teams, students, and families to use these data in planning.

    Resource alignment. There are just two SEL specialists to serve 64,000 students and 4,000 teachers in 98 schools. However, dozens of leaders and specialists in many other departments integrate SEL into the professional development they offer, including Curriculum and Instruction, School Accountability, and Equity and Diversity.


    Since beginning SEL implementation in 2012, graduation rates are up 20 points, to 75 percent.

    Students with higher social emotional (SE) scores perform better than students with lower SE scores in several areas:

    • More than twice as likely to stay in school
    • Fewer in-school suspensions: 3.0% vs. 8.8%
    • More scores of 3 or 4 on 2014-15 Smarter Balanced math assessment: 45% vs. 23%
    • More scores of 3 or 4 on 2014-15 Smarter Balanced English Language Arts assessment: 61% vs. 40%
    • More eleventh-graders in 2013-14 who graduated from high school in June 2015: 89% vs. 73%
  • Traci Davis

    Washoe County School District



    64,000 students

    • 49% low-income
    • 16% limited English proficiency
    • 13% disabilities

    98 schools

    7,300 staff including 3,400 teachers


    “For us, it’s not about one more thing we have to budget for. SEL is in the blood of what we do in the district. It’s not just an off-the-shelf program. It’s really about what we do every day for kids.” Traci Davis, Superintendent of Schools

    “Students [say] they are feeling a lot less judged, and that gives them the comfort level to really try their hardest.” Paul, sixth-grade social studies teacher

    “Happy students are better thinkers because they’re not stressed, they’re not worried, their confidence level is higher. They just seem to persevere more and have that confidence to extend themselves.” Ruby Burnley, third-grade teacher

    Learn More.

    At Damonte Ranch High School, the principal walks the hallways to “catch her students doing something good.” Education Week (March 2016)

    Read our case study and view a video on how Washoe County is financially sustaining its investment in SEL.