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Schuyler Central 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.

SCHS 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 Central 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 education department to 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 hope to help schools that face similar challenges.

The categories include 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 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 Nebraska Department of Education’s deputy commissioner of school improvement.

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

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

SCHS 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 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 Central's 16 percent chronic absenteeism rate and the fact that some federal money given to the district 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: Schuyler administrators are receptive to getting support from the state.

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

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