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As Nevada students prepare to head back to school, we're looking in on school districts throughout the state.
Each of Nevada's 17 districts has a set of unique challenges, ranging from geography to staffing to size.
Today we check on the White Pine County School District, in northeast Nevada.
It's one of the state's smaller districts – last year, it had just under 1,200 students across seven different schools.
Adam Young is the district superintendent for White Pine County.
"I think the school district has a huge part in fostering community in this county," Young said. "The schools are the center of the community in small districts."
Young said everyone shows up for activities at schools, like sporting events and school concerts. He said it is a way for everyone in the community to stay connected.
While it is an advantage to living in a small community, the challenges of rural communities -- like distances to shopping, restaurants and services, along with everyone knowing everyone and their business -- can make it difficult to find teachers, Young said.
"We have to be very creative as far as our recruitment and retaining goes," he said.
Young said it takes a "special kind of personality" to teach in a small community and live in an area of the state he likes to call "the middle of everywhere" instead of the middle of nowhere.
People in White Pine County will often leave to go to college and then return to work there. That's what Young did: He was principal at White Pine High School where several of his former teachers were still working -- including his mother.
Young also looks for new teachers in the community. He'll look for people to retrain to be teachers rather than trying to persuade people to move there.
Besides recruiting and retaining teachers, one of the school district's biggest challenges is transportation. White Pine County is larger in area than Clark County, and Young said students have to be bussed several miles to get to school. The transportation problem is especially difficult for student-athletes who have to travel seven hours for games in places like Lake Tahoe.
That problem was addressed a few years ago when the school board decided to change to a four-day calendar. Young said the change also provided an opportunity to improve education.
"We've really used Fridays to become a support and intervention system for a lot of our struggling students," he said. "So, even though initially our buildings weren't open on Fridays, when we went to the four-day week, now we do have supplemental instructional services that go on in every single building on Fridays."
Another challenge -- not just for the schools, but for the entire community -- is suicide. White Pine County ranks extremely high nationally for rate of suicide.
"It is an issue here, not only in schools but throughout the county," Young said.
He said the effort by the Nevada Legislature to put more social workers in schools around the state has allowed them to hire two social workers this year.
"That is not nearly enough, in our opinion, to really address the issue, but it is definitely better than what we had before," he said.
He said the schools and the community are working to teach students and staff what "effective social and emotional learning looks like." He also said they're trying to teach staff and students how to spot someone who is "heading toward an emotional crisis," and what can be done to help them.
Young said for a school district to be successful, the main focus should always be on the students.
"I think first and foremost a commitment to students," he said, "Every single employee, every system that is in place, has to keep in the front that we are in this to help kids learn."
He believes Nevada has some unique challenges when it comes to education, including being able to get a high-paying job in a hotel or at a mine without a college education, but he also believes with a focused effort the state can achieve Gov. Brian Sandoval's goal of improving education.
"We have the imperative to do that, but it is a lot easier said than it is done and it takes a real focused effort, from the financial perspective as well as the human resources perspective, the curriculum perspective, as well assessment," he said. "There's a lot of pieces that need work but as far as it's trajectory I really believe Nevada is doing great work right now."
Adam Young, superintendent, White Pine County School District
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