By Barry McNamara
Titled “The Future of Public Education: Local and National Initiatives to Address Rural Teacher Shortages,” the discussion will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 24 in the Pattee Auditorium of the Center for Science and Business.
Sponsored by the College’s Department of Educational Studies and the local branch of the American Association of University Women, the panel is free and open to the public.
“Pretty much every school district across the state of Illinois and in other areas, as well, has open positions,” said Monmouth educational studies professor Michelle Holschuh Simmons. “It is really urgent that we get strong teachers in these rural areas. … Education should be of interest to every single person – whether that person is a teacher or a principal or administrator, but also a parent, a grandparent – anybody who has a connection with the schools, which is pretty much everybody.”
Participants in the panel will be Gary Funk, director of the Rural Schools Collaborative; Toby Vallas, director of student services in the Farmington (Ill.) school district and a 1998 Monmouth graduate; Monmouth educational studies professor Tammy La Prad; and Kylee Payne, a senior educational studies major from Monmouth.
Funk will address the revitalization of rural areas, while Vallas will speak from the school district’s point of view. La Prad will discuss how higher education in general, and Monmouth College specifically, is addressing the shortage of teachers in rural schools.
Payne will speak about her experience in TARTANS (Teachers Allied with Rural Towns and Neighborhood Schools), a Monmouth College initiative that helps prepare teachers to serve and be leaders in rural schools. Payne is one of eight Monmouth students participating in the program.
“The intention of TARTANS is to recruit and retain teacher-leaders in rural schools,” said Simmons. “We have some programming where our students are connecting with community organizations, community assets. We are hoping that this program will set students up very well to move into positions in rural areas, not just here in the Monmouth area, but extended into other areas, as well. They will become leaders in those communities and revitalize those communities, because often the public schools are the powerhouses, the powers centers of rural communities.”
Simmons said the panel discussion is a way for the College and her department to give back to the region.
“We want to be connected with the community,” she said. “We appreciate all the schools that work with us to have our students as practicum students and student teachers. This is our way to give back to the community to provide some professional development and to provide an opportunity to connect with other teachers and people who are interested in education.”