Nevada District Turnaround with School Improvement Grant

In the last two years, the Washoe County School District (WCSD) has recorded "amazing success" in turning the district around from having one of the worst dropout rates – in a state where the dropout rate is 24 percent above the national average.

Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller went to the district — which serves around 63,000 students — to meet with the 2011 Nevada Superintendent of the Year, Dr. Heath Morrison; Deputy Superintendent Jane Woodburn; and President of the 2011 Nevada School Board of the Year, Ken Grein, to congratulate them on the turnaround.

Supported by a School Improvement Grant (SIG) and a $9 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant, Dr. Morrison and his team put in place a strategic plan which aimed to get every child to graduation despite deep cuts in funding from the state.

"Dr. Morrison and his committed team set ambitious goals and began instituting innovative solutions to drive dramatic change," writes Miller.

As well as expanding its early learning programs, the district focused on developing a workforce-ready curriculum – stressing the importance of using student learning data to inform and improve instruction.

"District leadership also enhanced its teacher evaluation system to better recognize key drivers of student learning."

To create a plan that looked to ensure that students graduated ready for college without the need for remedial courses, Dr. Morrison partnered with local colleges and universities to help inform curriculum development

"With the estimated cost of remedial education being $5.6 billion nationwide, these are the kind of efforts we need to ensure that our students are fully prepared to not only get to college but to graduate from college."

Working with businesses, parents, and advocacy groups, the district created a "Parent University," in an attempt to involve the community in learning. The program uses twenty-two organizations to offer over 200 classes to help families help their children succeed.

And the results of these measures have impressed Miller:

"After four years of stagnating graduation rates, the graduation rate in WCSD has increased 14 percent to 70 percent in just two years! Every single school in the district has improved, and the district overall has seen the most growth in graduation rates among black and Hispanic students, as well and English learners.

"The district's High School Signature Academies serve as hubs for learning, and focus on areas such as health sciences, digital technologies, and sustainable resources.

"In Nevada, where the unemployment rate is 13 percent, the highest in the country, these academies are providing the skills necessary for the 21st Century workforce."

In a state where currently only 1 in 10 high school freshmen go on to graduate from college, WCSD has demonstrated that in the words of Superintendent Morrison, "demography need not be destiny" when it comes to providing a world-class education for all students, writes Miller.

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