Embarking on a new tradition, while paying homage to the same values that have rooted the organization since its inception, Rural Schools Collaborative convened the Regional Hub Network and guests for an in-person Regional Hub Summit in Springfield, Missouri. To celebrate the power of partnerships and to think together about future pathways for this shared work, RSC was thrilled to bring together the Regional Hub Network for this inaugural event.
The goal of this year’s Regional Hub Summit was firstly to provide a space for the national network to connect in person. This gathering was also an opportunity to dream about what comes next. Having accomplished so much together already, the Summit was an opportunity to assess what opportunities and needs are now on the horizon, and to begin the process of envisioning ways the Regional Hub Network and RSC can continue working together in the name of supporting rural teachers, strengthening schools, and building up our rural hometowns.
The event’s location is also significant to the organization’s history; Springfield, Missouri is where Rural Schools Collaborative has its earliest roots. Along with continued support from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, one of RSC’s longest-running Regional Hub partners, the Missouri State University College of Education graciously co-sponsored the Summit, providing the space at the historic Kentwood Hall and refreshments for the day-long gathering. All together, 38 attendees representing 12 of RSC’s 15 Regional Hubs made the long journey to the Summit. Among those present, a wide variety of organizational and programmatic partners were represented, including many higher education institutions, community foundations, rural collective impact organizations, local allies and advocates, state government representatives, National Rural Education Association affiliates, and Catalyst Initiative Grant recipients.
The day was spent in four main sessions, covering topics suggested by the Regional Hub Network:
Missouri Ozarks Regional Hub Spotlight
To honor the specific place of the Summit this year, and expound on the shared history in the region, the day was kicked off with a spotlight of RSC’s Ozarks partners. RSC Executive Director Taylor McCabe-Juhnke set the stage for the day by speaking about the organization and its mission and vision before inviting Brian Fogle, Community Foundation of the Ozarks President and RSC board member, and Barri Tinkler, Missouri State University College of Education Dean, to share about their programming. Bridget Larsen, a local graduate of the Ozarks Teacher Corps and a member of RSC’s Young Educators’ Advisory Council, also spoke to provide a glimpse at exemplary rural education bolstered by local partnerships in the region.
Higher Education & Teacher Preparation
The intentional recruitment, preparation, and retention of rural educators is central to Rural Schools Collaborative’s mission. This session introduced the concept and history of the Rural Teacher Corps model before discussing the current state of rural teacher preparation. Jan Miller, University of West Alabama College of Education Dean and RSC board member, and Tammy La Prad, Monmouth College Educational Studies Department Co-chair and RSC board member, shared their experiences in the field and some of those questions facing the teacher preparation space. A few key takeaways from this this first conversation included:
Engaging parents is essential for building a strong and diverse educator pathway, including inviting them and younger children to come to campus.
Not only are rural communities rich in relationships and assets, but there is more local philanthropic support available - There are people invested in supporting and furthering the mission through teacher preparation.
There are opportunities for more internship and apprenticeship models of teacher preparation, and there is interest in student teacher exchanges and site visits.
Philanthropy & Fundraising
Connecting charitable dollars with efforts to sustain schools is core to RSC’s mission. For this reason, the second session of the day discussed strategies for inviting funders, like local Community Foundations, into the shared work. Nancy Van Milligen, President & CEO of The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, along with Brian Fogle both gave a broad assessment of the fundraising landscape as well as their lessons learned in the rural philanthropy field. They then teamed up to lead a conversation with the audience, highlighting:
The need to build authentic relationships focused on collaborating together for the future of the community, and not for how things used to be.
The necessity of building partnerships vs. competition to craft a collective understanding of what is working for us, and what we can improve on together.
The power and potential of local community foundations and charitable organizations to build a constructive local narrative and extend opportunities to donors of all sizes.
Fittingly, the final session of the day explored the concept of building collaboration, with a mind toward inclusivity. Susan Schroth, North State Together Operations Manager & GRAD Partnership Lead, joined Mike Heilman, North Dakota Small Organized Schools Executive Director and RSC’s North Dakota Hub Contact, and Meghan Salyers, University of Mary Director of Student Teaching & Accreditation, to tell about their successful collaborative efforts in their respective regions, sharing:
Collaborative efforts and intentional storytelling help secure major grant funding
The traits of healthy collaboration include: communication, mutual respect, active listening, commitment to the mission, service-mindedness, and inclusivity
There is a strong need to develop evidence and story-based talking points to engage local, state, and national policymakers; and to articulate a set of common metrics to show the impact of working together.
Authentic gatherings like this Summit have defined RSC’s history - The success of these events is due to the collaborative spirit of rural education advocates, allies, and practitioners, who come together under a common vision of thriving rural school ecosystems. The Regional Hub Network and RSC board members and staff alike all left feeling more invigorated for the task at hand, as well as excited for the next reunion. Thank you to our Regional Hub Partners - we couldn’t do this without you!
Thank you to Missouri State University Center for Rural Education and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks for making this inaugural Regional Hub Summit a possibility; to the Rural Schools Collaborative Board and Regional Hubs Committee for providing the inspiration and direction for the gathering; and especially to the entire Regional Hub Network and guests for attending the event and truly making it a memorable, insightful, and energizing experience for all!
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