This year, the Duckwater School’s elementary portion received five stars from the Nevada School Performance Framework, the state’s highest rating for public schools. It is the first school in Nye County to receive the five-star ranking, which is based on factors including students’ standardized test scores.
“This is a testament to personalized learning,” said Dale Norton, superintendent of the Nye County School District. “Bigger doesn’t always mean better.”
The district has just 5,300 students, but it is geographically the largest in the lower 48 states, stretching 18,182 square miles. While it’s cheaper to educate students through online courses, Norton is determined to maintain in-person classes for as many children as possible. Three years ago, the district opened a one-room K-8 school on a ranch after the community requested it.
“My commitment to keeping those doors open is the actual eye-to-eye contact and the relationships that developed over the years in those communities,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in the fact that the socialization part of school is important.”
‘A lot of different hats’
Built in the early 1950s, the Duckwater School sits on a hill, bordered by several large Russian olive trees. Behind the blue and white concrete building, the Pancake Mountain Range serves as a backdrop to the swings and slide on the playground. Inside, there are three small rooms and two bathrooms.
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Some years, the school has had as few as six students, while in others it’s had as many as 22 or 23. Most live on ranches or the Duckwater Reservation, with some traveling less than 20 minutes and others more than an hour to get to school.
While Huston is the only teacher, she has two aides who work with the students in small groups. One aide doubles as the school’s bus driver, while the other is also the custodian.
“We all have to wear a lot of different hats to keep things running,” said Randi Bradshaw, 38, who is a teaching aide for the first-through-third graders and the custodian. She’s also a parent — her children, Jackson and Bailey, 11, attend the school.
On a recent morning, Huston began a math lesson in the main classroom for fifth and sixth graders on calculating surface area and volume, while three seventh and eighth graders worked together on math assignments from the day before, helping one another when they struggled.