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Phoenix Forward

Meet Carrie Buck

Carrie Buck transforms Nevada school

Carrie Buck

Principal transforms struggling elementary school into model for change

Many American schools are in crisis, plagued with budget constraints and limited resources — especially those that attempt to help the hundreds of impoverished kids who enter their doors, often in low-income or crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Dr. Carrie Buck has seen all of these things and more — and chose to do something about it.

In 2006, Buck became principal of C.T. Sewell Elementary School in Henderson, Nev., an impoverished area not far from Las Vegas. Since taking this post, Buck has transformed C.T. Sewell from a lifeless to thriving school, one that is now a role model for change in the state of Nevada.

“Schools need a lot of love,” says Buck, who received her Master of Arts in Education/Administration and Supervision from University of Phoenix in 1998 and her doctorate in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. “This was a school that was floundering.”

Buck grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, and worked as the assistant principal in two Las Vegas schools before accepting the post of principal at C.T. Sewell. When she took the job, the school was on the state's Needs Improvement List.

Schools need a lot of love. This was a school that was floundering.

Buck first surveyed the staff to assess the school’s climate, which was one of “distrust, apathy, poor communication,” and realized that collaboration among staff was virtually nonexistent. She changed the school’s vision to “Kids First,” and worked on bringing the staff, students, parents and community together via various programs, events and communication. She worked on behalf of the teachers so they'd have everything they needed. She contacted her school district, governmental departments, donors and others to help make improvements.

Buck estimates her school has raised $3.5 million in grants, private funds and donations since 2006. Donors offered $40,000 to the school library to update an aging book collection, $500,000 was awarded for before- and after-school tutoring, funding was secured for a parental center, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife helped fund a garden area where students now grow fruits and vegetables and have established a tortoise habitat.

Under Buck's leadership, the school building was refurbished — complete with new murals, shade structures and the garden as well as updated with modern, state-of-the-art technology equipment. Teacher retention has risen, with less than 5 percent of the school’s teachers transferring in the past two years (compared to 40 to 50 percent annually prior to her arrival).

Because of this community outreach and hard work, enrollment in the kindergarten through fifth grade school has increased from 680 students to 746 students. And math and English achievement scores have risen dramatically.

Buck was honored recently for her work at C.T. Sewell by University of Phoenix, where she is a lead faculty area chair and instructor at the Las Vegas Campus. In 2008, she won the Milken Educator Award, which recognizes outstanding teachers for their abilities and accomplishments.

Buck says some day she may leave C.T. Sewell and branch out to help influence another school district. “That will be a sad day for me,” she says. “I’ve invested my whole heart and soul into this place.”

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