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Rural Tennessee District Overcomes Demographics to Win Prize

Hamblen County Schools, in Tennessee, have seen dramatic demographic changes in the last decade, but the school system's progress while dealing with those changes has won it a statewide honor.

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education gave its first-ever district prize to rural Hamblen County for significantly boosting student achievement as it faced significant challenges.

SCORE is a nonprofit education-advocacy group founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

The poverty rate in Hamblen County, a roughly 10,000 student district, has gone from 40 percent to more than 60 percent in the last 10 years. Its Hispanic population has gone from 1 percent to 15 percent, and the district has the second-highest percentage of English-language learners in the state.

Still, 39 percent of its students are enrolled in Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, and its pass rate on AP exams is 61 percent.

"I'm very excited to be a part of a district that though the diversity and poverty has increased, the expectations have risen," said Dale Lynch, the district's superintendent, in a short video about the district posted on the SCORE web site.

Lynch said in the video the district has a culture that embraces technology, and other educators talked about the district's focus on data and rigor. One student said he is pushed academically in every class.

The district was chosen through a two-step process that took into account its students' growth, attendance, poverty, and the policies that have enabled it to achieve. It will receive $25,000.

SCORE also named three school winners, and one of those, Covington High, is in rural Tipton County. Its college-going rate jumped 10 percentage points between 2009 and 2010.

In the coming weeks, SCORE will do additional videos and case studies of all finalists to highlight best practices in improving public education in Tennessee.

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