Meet the recent Damonte Ranch High School graduate running for school board
Jack Heinemann graduated from Damonte Ranch High School earlier this year. Now, the 18-year-old is studying criminal justice at the University of Nevada, Reno, and running a campaign for Washoe County School Board District A against incumbent Scott Kelley.
Tell me about what sparked your interest in public service and politics.
When I was 11 years old, my next door neighbors took me to a political rally. And ever since then, I’ve really been fascinated with government and politics. … So, when I was in middle school, I actually started my own campaign for the presidency in 2036. I grabbed all of my friends together. And it was a really interesting experience. I mean, we made bumper stickers. We had our own campaign signs. … It was definitely fun, but by the time I reached high school, I started to realize that, really, politics, government, campaigns—those are all really backdrops to what public service is. And that’s really serving the public, being stewards of the public. By the time … I realized that, I joined student council. I started volunteering for more campaigns. Last election cycle, 2018, I was a field director for Naomi Duerr’s campaign. … I’m honored that in 2018 I received the U.S. Senate Youth Program Scholarship.
And I have questions related to that. Before we move on, what was the rally?
It was a Mitt Romney for President rally. Actually, my next door neighbor was the former mayor of Reno, Jeff Griffin. I was 11 years old at the time, so I didn’t even realize he was the former mayor—but it really did spark my interest in politics.
I think a lot of people are going to ask what makes you qualified to make the kinds of decisions school board members make—adopting and overseeing the annual budget, managing collective bargaining, hiring a superintendent.
Those are all big tasks for the school board, but I would say this—that the job of the school board trustee, I mean, representing students, teachers, community members—all of those aspects make being a school board trustee both a very challenging job but also a very honorable job. And, so, saying that, I really don’t think anyone can truly be qualified or prepared for a position that is this honorable and challenging. And I’ll give you an example. When I was student body president at Damonte Ranch High School, I woke up every day ready to serve 1,819 students and all of the staff there. And I thought I was prepared for it. I mean, I was in student council. I was the student body vice president. … But when you are not just a figurehead, but a representative—a steward—of a large body of people, nothing can prepare you for that because, really, the only thing you can do every day is set aside your own views, your own beliefs and be ready to do one thing and one thing only—and that’s listen.
Also, I have to ask, why now? The school district has been, I think, since you were probably a freshman, a district in crisis. There are employee lawsuits. There’s the departure of Traci Davis.
As a student and just as a candidate, when I’ve been talking to both teachers and students and community members, there is such a distaste for the school board and for the district. I mean, I’m sure if we took a poll, there’d be a big disapproval rating. People are sick of what’s going on with the school board. And they all have their reasons. But I really think what’s at the center of the disapproval for the school board—for the school district, really—is that there is a lack of outreach from them. Because right now, really, the responsibility to reach out for the school board is on the students. It’s on the parents. It’s on the teachers. And that’s great, but I also think the responsibility should be on school board trustees to reach out. I’ll give you an example. Last night, there was a zoning committee that talked about Wooster High School and two of the schools that are in District A, the district I’m running for, Damonte Ranch High School and Galena High School. It was a big issue. I mean, there were students crying because they were worried about rezoning to a different high school. And I didn’t see trustee Kelley there. I didn’t see a lot of the school board trustees there. The acting superintendent was there, and that’s great. But I saw a lot of concerned students and parents—and our leaders weren’t there. And that concerns me. … I think that because of that lack of outreach, people are concerned and people are disgusted. … I know there’s public comment at the school board meetings. But I think it makes such a big difference when a trustee goes to one of the schools and says, “Hey, I’m ready to listen.” … That’s why I’m running for the school board.
Let’s return now to the U.S. Senate Youth Program Scholarship. You were one of two Nevada recipients and spent a whole week in Washington, D.C.
I did. It was crazy because we were worried we wouldn’t be able to because of the government shutdown—but it wasn’t, thankfully. They got it figured it. But, yeah, it was very honoring to receive that award. Even Pete Buttegieg—he was one of the recipients when he was in high school. Susan Collins, who’s a senator right now from Maine [received it]. … It was very awesome.
You mentioned, in the essay you wrote about it, debating with student delegates from other states—debating the border wall with a person from Virginia and abortion with another from Wyoming. They’re big issues. Care to clue us in on your views of them?
I’ll say this. That’s a great question. I think the big thing, right now, that’s going on with politics—I mean if we look at the elections in Kentucky and the senate election in 2018 in Florida, if we look at those, they were close elections. … In Kentucky, I think the Republican incumbent just conceded a couple of weeks after the election. I bring those up because what a difference a misinformation campaign can make or a fake news advertisement can make on social media—that can sway a vote a different way and have such a big impact on our elections. And now I think it’s more important than ever that education be on a national heading—because if we can teach our kids what’s fake and what’s not, what’s a piece of information and what’s not, that’s so important.
Was that the nature of the debates then? Not talking about whether or not Jack Heinemann supports the wall or abortion?
I think the nature of the conversations was that we were at least having them, meaning that—these are conversations, like building the wall or abortion, that are more shouting matches now than conversations. If we look at what’s going on with the impeachment inquiry in D.C., the question I have right now is, has any one of the sides sat down with the other to say, “Hey, this is what I’m thinking,” rather than shouting over witnesses or giving these press conferences that are just grandstanding. … When I was having those debates, what made me proud was that we would have them, and at the end of that conversation we could still agree that this is a great country and that we’re willing to serve.
I suppose as school boards are generally nonpartisan, you’re free to play your cards close to your chest. And I understand, maybe, your desire to do so. If you make a foray into politics, though, you’ll have to lay out your stances and platform.
If you’re asking directly about my platform, right now I’m focused on the school board. But if we’re talking about national politics, I consider myself a Democrat. And I think that voters have the right to know that. I think voters have the right to know where their leaders stand in national politics. … But the beauty of the school board is that there’s no such thing as a Republican solution or Democrat solution. There are solutions that work for our kids, our teachers, our custodians. … So that’s why I’m running.
Go to jackwh.com. I mean, you can see all about me and where I stand. … What is important for me to get across is this—our school district needs a choice for change. I think we need leaders who can empathize with our schools. We need leaders who don’t just acknowledge the issues our schools face but also have seen them with their own two eyes, like I have for the past 12 years I’ve been in the school district. … I know what it’s like when the fire alarm goes off or when you hear a huge slam in the hallway. I know that sinister feeling a student feels—that something bad is going to happen at their school, that their school is just going to be another name on a long list of school shootings this year. I know the difference two or three students can have on the student-teacher ratio in a classroom—how it can affect a teacher’s ability to teach and a student’s ability to learn. I saw the huge blow to morale that a custodial team takes when the district cuts one of their custodians. … I’m running to bring that choice for change to the school district.