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Center Follows Journey of Nevada School Through Turnaround Process

The challenges and successes of a remote Nevada school with a large migrant, English-learner, and high-poverty student body are being chronicled by the new Center on School Turnaround.

Amargosa Valley School in Nye County received this year a three-year, $1.6 million federal School Improvement Grant, and the center has kicked off its Journeys Project, which will document schools through improvement efforts. They want to show the early challenges and decisions facing schools, as well as how they respond to adversity.

Amargosa is a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school in an 18,000-square-mile district where buses travel 1.3 million miles annually. The biggest employers in the community are dairies, and that has meant the state's largest migrant student population is at Amargosa Valley School. Ninety percent of its 205 students are from low-income families.

The state identified the school as one of the lowest-performing in the state, and the school chose the transformation model because of its location. Closing wasn't an option because there wasn't an alternative for students.

The school's plans for improvement include implementing the Common Core, offering Saturday camps for parents, and facilitating partnerships among grade-level teachers, according to its application. It's worth noting that School Improvement Grants have been controversial, and the second annual report on the efficacy of its $3 billion investment showed mixed results.

The Center on School Turnaround is run by chose WestEd, a nonprofit research and development group, and is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. It's part of a federal network of 15 regional comprehensive centers and seven national content centers, all of which exist to build the capacity of states to help districts and schools in meeting student achievement goals.

Since September, Amargosa has been the focus of 11 articles as well as a webinar that featured Nevada's SIG coordinator and Nye County district and school leaders. They've explored its plans for Blended Professional Learning Communities, how districts can support reforms, the challenges of a first-year principal, and recruiting and staffing in a rural school.

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