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Greenhouse

Schuyler High School ag teacher Brant Peters (left) and student Yesenia Ochoa (right) help her mother, Valerie, select a tomato plant at the school's greenhouse last year.

Columbus Telegram file photo

Schuyler High School, located in a community where the Cargill meatpacking plant has drastically changed the demographics over the past 18 years, will likely be the next school targeted for intervention by the Nebraska Department of Education.

Schuyler is expected to be approved Friday by the Nebraska Board of Education as the newest “priority school,” chosen from among the lowest-performing schools in the state's classification system. 

Schuyler High School will replace Druid Hill Elementary, a high-poverty school in north Omaha that state education officials said made enough progress in a year to be removed from the priority list.

State law requires the state education department classify schools according to academic achievement and designate three “priority schools,” a task officials have approached by choosing schools that represent four distinct categories.

They hoped by doing so would allow the work they did to help schools that faced similar challenges.

The categories are urban schools, Native schools, schools in small communities and those with shifting demographics.

Santee Middle School in Niobrara and Loup County Elementary in Taylor will remain priority schools for another year.

The schools were chosen from a pool of 87 schools in the lowest of four classifications in the state-mandated accountability system. The system classifies all of Nebraska’s 1,130 schools and 245 districts into four levels: excellent, great, good and needs improvement. 

The department hasn't reclassified schools since it first did so in December 2015.

Because state law allows the department to name only three priority schools at a time, it had yet to include one with large demographic shifts, so it decided to focus its attention there, said Deb Frison, the Department of Education’s deputy commissioner of school improvement.

In 2005, 90 percent of Schuyler's students were white. Now, 87 percent are Hispanic; just 10 percent are white.

A number of factors went into the recommendation of Schuyler, Frison said, including that there has been little change in the percent of students proficient on state tests, and its graduation rate dropped to 82.7 percent in 2017 despite increases in previous years.

Schuyler received a federal grant that carried with it a number of stringent requirements — including that its principal be replaced — but the grant program overall didn’t result in the kinds of improvements federal and state officials had hoped for, said State Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt.

Elliott Elementary in Lincoln was among Nebraska schools that got similar federal "school improvement" grants.

State education officials hope offering support — not just money — will be more successful, Blomstedt said.

State officials also considered Schuyler's 16 percent chronic absenteeism rate and the fact that some federal money given to Schuyler for professional development wasn’t used.

About 25 percent of the high school students are English language learners, but none of them were proficient in a standardized assessment, Frison said.

Another factor that weighed in the decision is that Schuyler administrators are receptive to getting support from the state.

If the board approves Schuyler as priority school, Frison said she hopes an intervention plan can be in place by fall. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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