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Nebraska to spend $420K on priority school interventions

June 8, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska Department of Education plans to spend more than $420,000 on consulting services for state interventions in low-performing “priority schools.”

The state is contracting with a North Carolina-based firm and one of the state’s educational service units to continue work in three schools: Druid Hill Elementary in Omaha, Santee Middle in Niobrara and Loup County Elementary in Taylor. The Omaha school was taken off the priority list last year but will continue to be monitored.

Schuyler Central High School near Fremont was designated a priority in February. The department is finalizing a plan with the school, despite pushback from district leaders who compared the priority label to a “scarlet letter.”

Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt dismissed that notion, saying: “Priority school, to me, is that you’re our priority at the department of education.”

“We aren’t the regulators on the outside saying ‘get better,’” he said. “We are partners and regulators.”

State lawmakers established the priority school system in 2014, after a law mandated classifying schools and districts by performance and intervening in three with the lowest classification.

The designation identifies schools that are demographically shifting and low achieving so state officials can diagnose problems and try to fix them.

Each institution is selected because it represents a category of Nebraska schools that face similar challenges, such as urban schools, Native American schools, small community schools and demographically shifting schools.

The education department plans to divert $118,000 to Schuyler to focus on English-language learners. The school has experienced a dramatic demographic change over the past 18 years, which is attributed to a nearby meatpacking plant.

About $21,000 of the consulting work will go toward ensuring that Druid Hill Elementary, though off the priority list, can maintain the progress it has made.

The department designated $60,000 to Loup County Elementary to bolster instructional leadership and $114,000 to Santee to build a school culture for students and staff.

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