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Our ongoing look at school districts across the state as kids head back to Nevada classrooms continues with Nye County.
It's the third biggest county in the lower 48, at just over 18,000 square miles in size.
But despite that size, not many people live there – just over 43,000.
Among those are just over 5,000 students, and Dale Norton oversees them in his role as superintendent of the Nye County School District.
One of the biggest challenges he faces is the size of the district. Norton said he stashes a car in Reno because it is easier to fly to Reno and drive to the northern-most reaches of his district than it is to drive there from Pahrump.
"It comes down to a lot of planning and preparation," he said.
Norton said some of the more remote schools use technology, like online and video courses, to provide education for students.
The district also has to rely on surrounding counties, because some communities are often closer to schools in White Pine County than they are to attendance zones within Nye County. The same is true for counties like Esmeralda, which sends some of its students into Nye County schools.
Norton said it is important for superintendents around the state to work together, and stay focused on what students need.
"There is nothing better than the group of superintendents we have in this state right now," he said, "They're all collaborative and they all care about kids."
For rural counties like Nye County, funding is one of the biggest problems.
There has always been a push and pull between Reno, Las Vegas and the rural areas because the two population centers generate the majority of the state's tax revenue, and often feel like they should get more of the taxation pie. However, Norton points out the cost of providing services in a county as large as Nye is expensive.
"In a county like ours, the cost of doing a service across our county is huge," he said. "We have the highest employment rate in the state. We have the highest free and reduced [lunch] rate in the state. We're the unhealthiest county in the state."
Norton said that even holding something like an inservice day for teachers from around the county is expensive. The teachers would have to brought in from around the county and put up overnight because it would be difficult to drive to and from a location in one day.
He hopes the state continues to work "towards a solution that minimally affects the major portion of people."
One change Norton has made in his district is away from a focus on the checkbook, and back towards a focus on students.
"My goal and my focus as a leader is that we're going to look at what we're going to do for kids – not look at the checkbook all the time," he said.
Norton admitted he spent too much time in the past emphasizing the operations of the district rather than student learning, but he is working to fix that.
Dale Norton, superintendent, Nye County School District
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