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Personalized Learning Key To Churchill School District

Students across Nevada are beginning to settle into the 2019-2020 school year. To get a sense of how one district is doing, KUNR's Paul Boger spoke with Churchill County Schools Superintendent Summer Stephens about the opportunities and challenges facing one of the state's smaller districts.

"One of the big initiatives and directions that we're trying to go is to truly reimagine school," Stephens says. "We want to open it up and start expanding the possibilities, expanding opportunities for kids, and so the thinking for us is sharing with our board and our community all of the things that we're doing. We always say, 'if we don't tell our story, someone else will.' Even the state rating -- the accountability model -- is someone else telling their perspective of our story. So we're working really hard to reimagine a move to a competency-based learning model and right now working to the expectations of the state, but we really are interested in finding those ways which schools nationwide have been able to find. Those ways that move us off of those high stakes test scores. We're not where we want to be, certainly. We're sitting [at] two and three stars and we'd really like to be different. We're putting some things into place and really aligning ourselves, kindergarten through 12th grade, and trying to get to a space to create a personalized learning environment. That's the direction we want to go and we believe it's the best thing for kids."

To emphasize that push toward personalized learning, Stephens points to the many career and technical classes available at the district's high school. She says Churchill County has been diligent in expanding the offerings available to students, even as other districts have had to shrink their CTE programs. However, Stephens says she has concerns about whether the state's new funding formula will be able to tackle some of the equitability issues between large, urban districts and those in smaller, rural communities.

"How do we get to a space to ensure that the places that end up getting more money could take a little less so that the people who get very little can get a little bit more. You know, trying to come to that middle space where the funds flow a little bit better. Our kids are kids like everywhere else. We have similar issues. We have kids that experience trauma every day. We have kids that are homeless. We have kids that excel. We have kids that are looking for whatever path is there for them, and ultimately, at the end of the day, we have to do what's right for kids all the time."

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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