A passion for hard work, commitment, and a lifelong learning mentality leads to a fulfilling career and after 40-plus years of being in the education system, John Mayer is ready to relax. The Washoe County School District board member recently announced that he will not seek reelection this November, ending his 8-year term. However, he isn’t really “going” anywhere.
Mayer began his career delivering Sparks Tribune newspapers when he was 13 years old. As a third generation Sparks resident, he went through the WCSD system and then his children all graduated from Sparks schools.
“My mom was a school nurse at Reed, Dilworth, and Lincoln Park and my dad was a locomotive engineer,” he says. “My grandparents had a rooming house on B Street (now Victorian Square) and charged a silver dollar a night.”
After high school, John went to University of Nevada, Reno and majored in business before joining the Air National Guard. He went into the active Air Force and was stationed at Richards-Gebaur Air Reserve Station in Kansas City.
As part of fulfilling their duties, the military had to become involved in the community. Fortunately for John, there happened to be a school right outside the base.
“The bug bit me, I loved the kids,” John said. After working in administration and completing his time in the Air Force, John went back to UNR on the GI Bill but switched his major to education.
After receiving his degree, John got a few jobs teaching at Sparks elementary schools and then worked in Stead. He didn’t want to leave Jessie Beck, but his grandmother assured him that everything happens for a reason. John says he met a beautiful second grade teacher there and fell in love. “I take that philosophy for everything now- it always works out for a reason,” he says.
In the late 1970’s John transferred over to Smithridge Elementary School in Reno, then taught at Clayton Middle School, and worked in Verdi as a principal for five years. Mayer eventually found his way back to Sparks, taking a job at Greenbrae Elementary School, where he spent the next nine years. John jokes that he worked all up and down Fourth Street but only in Reno-Sparks education centers.
His favorite part about working in the WCSD is the kids.
“A lot of people in Sparks are my kids, I love interacting with them. We have 64,000 little souls in the district, young scholars. I like to see ‘em blossom,” he says. “Being in touch with young people makes me feel young.”
Along with dedicating himself to education, Mayer became more involved in the Sparks community when he ran for Sparks City Council in the early 1990’s. He ended up serving a 17-year term, the longest on record.
“I attribute that to my family…my brother worked at a power company here for 30 years and my sister and mom worked in the school district. My mother was the best campaigner- she went walking and knocking on people’s doors to help me,” Mayer says.
He also ran unopposed to serve on the school district board twice, but after these past eight years he decided not to continue on because federal bureaucracy is making the world of education too complex and local education is losing its familial, community feel.
“Unfunded mandates are killing the school balance. In the good ‘ole days everyone walked to school, students and teachers would come over for chicken dinner, parents interacted a lot,” he says. “It’s just not like that anymore.”
“I will still go to programs, plays, graduations, ROTC inspections and awards. I love those kids…a ROTC commander at Hug High School got a Gates scholarship and his twin brother got one to Princeton. When I asked one of them why he didn’t have the same opportunity as his brother, he said, ‘because I’m the better looking one’. Kids are truthful and have good senses of humor,” Mayer says.
“I taught a kid at Stead who grew up in a mobile home trailer and went on to become a 2-star general. He writes me every once in a while, thanking me. I love seeing these kids grow up to be something special despite all the odds against them. I know so many stories of students becoming doctors, lawyers, celebrities. Never underestimate the power of what a kid can do.”
As a former Sparks coach, teacher, principal, and city councilman, John says he feels he’s put in “a good long time” and is ready for a break. “I’m not as young as people think I am,” he says. Yet, he still believes and stands behind the district.
“Our district has the best people. I go unannounced to all of the schools and we truly do have the best school district and employees in Nevada,” he says. Even though he won’t be on the board anymore, Mayer will still be cheering from the sidelines.
“I wish more people would support these kids. Sparks High School football beat Elko for the first time in 27 years, that’s a big deal. It means a lot to those kids to have the community there.
We have sharp kids on the student advisory committees and many go on to do great things. One student received the Joe Glover scholarship, went to medical school and became an army doctor, and came back to this area to teach the ROTC. Some people get down about the future, but I have high hopes that all these kids will continue to grow and be successful,” he says.
“I have no desire to ever leave Sparks, I don’t even really go to Reno. I go down to Jack’s Café and have some scones. Even the times that I have left, it’s like they say, you can take me out of Sparks, but you can’t take Sparks out of me.”