Many leave their hometowns, vowing to never return but for Lance West of Schurz, his dream was to return to the town he loved and give back.
As the principal of Schurz Elementary School, West would look at the job openings each summer looking for a position which would put his back at the school where he received his education.
Much to his delight, he saw the posting, applied for the position and was hired by Mineral County School District Superintendent Karen Watson.
“I focused on coming back [to Schurz]. I’m here to help my people,” he explained to the Independent-News.
West understands the disadvantages that Native schools such as Schurz Elementary may face. He worked at McDermitt Combined School in north-central Nevada near the Oregon border as their principal. Miles from any services or other towns, he witnessed daily the struggles that his students and town faced. He chose to leave after one year and moved his family to Elko.
In Elko, West and his wife would raise their newborn daughter while West was working at Spring Creek High School.
The University of Nevada Reno graduate attended school at Schurz Elementary and high school in Yerington. He regrets, at times, choosing to go to Yerington as he hears about the friendships that Natives made with Mineral County High School students, which are now lifelong.
He understands that Schurz Elementary may have some disadvantages but he explained, “We will make sure that the students have the tools for slow growth in achievement.”
Addressing rumors that Schurz Elementary is closing, he adamantly stated, “We aren’t going anywhere. The school district has our back.”
“We need to get rid of the stigma that we are shutting down [Schurz Elementary]. There are times that a community with a Native population gets second hand items and treated as second class citizens,” he said.
“An advantage that we have is that Karen Watson and board member Candace Birchum are advocates for this school and community.”
West explained that each day when he sees the children coming through the doors of the school, he can relate to them. “It’s easy to relate to someone who looks like you.” West explained that they currently are teaching the students the Paiute language one day a week and is working on other ideas for the school.
“I’m excited every day. It is pretty surreal. Seeing the sunrise and watching the kids get off the bus everyday is déjà vu,” he concluded.
West has come full circle. Teaching in the school where he received his education and raising his family in the town that raised him.