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Rural Kansas District Values Ed., Outperforms Peers

One rural Kansas school district is receiving national and international attention for its high-performing students and near-perfect track record on state exams.

A story chronicling the success of the 375-student Waconda School District, in Cawker City, Kan., was featured in late March on Time.com and The Hechinger Report as part of an exclusive collaboration. Yahoo news previously did a story on the school in the fall of 2011.

This small, seven-school district spread over 411 square miles in north-central Kansas has earned its bragging rights. Its lone middle school received a federal Blue Ribbon award recognizing it as one of the best public schools in the country, and the Global Report Card, which was developed by researchers affiliated with the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, said the community's students do better than roughly 90 percent of their peers worldwide, according to the articles.

Rankings aside, all of its students are likely to pass state exams, graduate from high school, and go on to higher education.

School officials attribute students' achievements to a community that values education, teachers' dedication, and a focus on early intervention. But at least one professor quoted in the story credits the success to the community and its demographics ("It's a homogeneous, intact, all-white community").

It's worth noting about 60 percent of its students live in poverty, and 17 percent of adults have a bachelor's degree, which is lower than the national average of 28 percent.

The story describes in detail what it's like in the schools and the community (incidentally home to the country's largest ball of twine), and what the schools do to help students reach their potential.

The part that resonated with me was the community's emphasis on education, which often is lacking in rural areas with struggling schools (McDowell County, West Va., immediately came to mind). Parents who work long hours and teachers with lower-than-average salaries still have high expectations for students, and children rise to meet them.

As one teacher quoted says: "I don't know if you can duplicate it. But [it's] worth trying."

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