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Some considered it the worst school in Utah.

West Middle School was the first and only school in the state to close for failing to meet the goals of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for too many years in a row.

But the school, which sits near the heart of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation, has been reborn. It has a new name, new educators and new philosophy -- and it's making progress. In its first year as Eagle View Elementary, the school boosted attendance and some state test scores among American Indian students, who make up about 80 percent of the school's population, recent NCLB results show. And according to tests given in the district, more students made significant academic progress at Eagle View than the year before.

For a school that has long struggled with poverty and cultural clashes, it's a glimpse into a hopeful, brighter future.

"That's a real tribute to the school," said Jason Rasmussen, who heads the Eagle View community council and has a third-grader at the school. "I don't think many people expected them to make it."

At Eagle View, about 78 percent of students come from low-income families, about 75 percent of parents lack high school diplomas, and teachers have seen students as young as kindergarten wearing gang attire, said principal Robert Stearmer.

But this year, the school and community pulled together. The Ute Indian Tribe, for the first time, passed a truancy policy to levy heavy fines against parents who didn't take school seriously. The district hired Stearmer to lead the school, and he replaced or reassigned about two-thirds of the teachers. And the school, a combination of West and the old Todd Elementary School, switched to an elementary schedule, meaning students in kindergarten through eighth grades stayed in one classroom with one teacher for most of the day last school year.

The new schedule gives older students less time to get in trouble, educators say. In 2007-08, Todd and West together had 15 serious behavioral violations. Last school year, Eagle View had only three.

"We were going to prove to the naysayers we could do it," said Ramalda Guzman, who was a member of the Ute Indian Tribe Education Board last school year. "We had the support of the administration, parents who cared and teachers who were dedicated."

A troubled past » That wasn't always the case at West Middle School.

Decades ago, "It was a dumping ground for troublesome, ineffective teachers," said JoAnn Cowan, a Uintah School Board member.

And a parade of principals have led the school over the past decade. Principals who didn't want to be at the school might not have fought as hard for resources as other district principals, Cowan said.

"Historically, you got to be principal of that school by doing something wrong," she said.

And the community knew it. For years, community members accused the district of neglecting West in favor of the east-side schools.

It was a resentment that only helped to fuel an historically tortured relationship between education and the area's American Indians, who were once forced to cut their hair and lose their language at mandatory boarding schools. It was an experience that, to this day, makes some Ute parents and grandparents, some of whom attended those boarding schools, question the point of sending their children to school.

For years, West Middle failed to meet federal attendance goals because of that legacy, because parents often took their children out for long weekends because of the tribe's four-day work week and because of such traditions as bringing children to funerals and celebrations.

Everything changed, however, when West hit rock bottom in 2008.

Dramatic changes » What happened then has been every school's worst nightmare since NCLB began.

When schools that accept federal dollars to serve low-income areas fail to meet NCLB goals for a certain number of years, they must undergo a process called restructuring -- they must totally, and publicly, reinvent themselves.

"It was demoralizing to read on the front page of the paper you're the first school to have to undergo restructuring," said Mark Dockins, who took over as Uintah district's superintendent about a month ago.

The district decided to close the school and wanted to bus West's students to the east side of the district. But parents protested. They didn't want their kids to travel up to 60 miles a day by bus.

After tears and negotiations, the school district relented and decided to combine Todd Elementary School and West Middle into a new school: Eagle View. The Todd campus would house the school until a new building could be built.

The district had planned several other construction and renovation projects on the east side but put those on the back burner in favor of building a new school for Eagle View.

"Politically, that wasn't an easy decision to make because 90 percent of voters and taxpayers are [on the east side]," Cowan said. "It was the right thing to do."

The Ute Tribe stepped up as well, passing its own truancy policy. Some tribe members such as Gloria Thompson, who now serves on the tribe's education board, say the new policy, with maximum penalties including $2,500 fines and imprisonment, is too harsh.

But board members who passed the policy remain firm.

"If the parents aren't responsible, who's going to be?" said Raymond Murray, president of the tribal education board. He said a "slap on the hand" is not enough.

Stearmer also gave students a chance to make up attendance and class time before and after school. To staff Eagle View, he handpicked teachers from other schools, telling them he thought they were up to the challenge.

Teachers such as Margaret Krubsack voluntarily left schools on the district's east side. "I wanted to see if I could cut the mustard," Krubsack said. "Here it is so different."

She said she's adjusted the way she teaches. For example, she sends her second graders home with paper books that cost less than traditional paperback or hardcover books. That's because she never knows if the materials will come back. Many students change homes frequently, living with aunts, grandparents and family friends. Sometimes all their materials aren't in one place, she said. Schoolwide, about 30 percent of students change homes during the school year, Stearmer said.

Also, she tries not to get upset when students are late. Last school year, one girl told Krubsack she was late one morning because she couldn't wake her mother.

"You have to build in little things so you can't be ticked off by what they have no control over," Krubsack said. "If you're angry, then you've lost because then they go into themselves."

"A slow trip" » Many credit the improvements, at least partly, to NCLB. At first, the federal education law seemed like West's worst enemy.

But now that the school has undergone the law's harshest sanction, many say it was a needed catalyst for change.

"When you finally want to get change done, sometimes you have to create a sense of urgency in people, and that's what No Child Left Behind did," Stearmer said.

Many parents say they're happy with the changes. Samantha Nephi, a parent and Ute Tribe member, said she likes the new school's teachers, and it seems like the district is now paying more attention to the west side by constructing a new building for Eagle View.

Parent Sharee Secakuku said she wouldn't have sent her children to West had nothing changed. But now she believes the district is finally giving the west side its due, and the tribe and district are cooperating.

"I think right now they're working together the best they ever have," said Secakuku, also a tribe member.

In addition to the truancy policy, the tribe has also contributed money for portable classrooms; tribal mentors who work with students; teachers for the school's summer and after school programs; a school counselor; and, this year, a Ute language teacher.

"The majority of the students are Native American, and they have to feel good about who they are," said Guzman.

The real test, however, will be whether the school meets NCLB goals next school year. This year, the school technically didn't meet all the goals, but every new school in the state is given a pass on NCLB its first year, said John Jesse, state assessment director.

While the school has made progress, its students are still behind in many ways. Only 37 percent tested on grade level in language arts last school year, and only 31 percent tested on grade level in math. And the school failed to meet state testing goals.

Stearmer has challenged his teachers this year to make sure at least two more students in each of their classes reach grade level in math and reading in order to meet federal goals for next year.

Everyone is optimistic.

"It's a slow trip, but we'll make it," said fifth-grade teacher Pat Merkley.

Why did Eagle View open?

Under the federal No Child Left Behind education law, schools are expected to make progress over time toward the goal that 100 percent of students, in many ethnic, ability and income groups, test on grade level in math and reading by 2014.

Schools that accept federal dollars for serving low-income students must make a certain amount of progress each year toward that goal. If they fail to make enough progress they can face sanctions, which grow more severe over time.

The most severe sanction is restructuring. The Uintah School District restructured West Middle School by closing it and creating a new school consisting of West students and students from Todd Elementary. The new school is called Eagle View Elementary.

Who are the Ute people?

The Ute Indian Tribe, for which the state of Utah was named, was forced to move to the Uinta Basin in the northeastern part of the state in the 1860s. They occupy what is now one of the largest American Indian reservations in the country, covering 4.5 million acres. More than 1,500 Utes live on the Utah reservation.