New Partnership Strengthens the Ozarks Teacher Corps

Missouri State University-West Plains and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks team up to address the rural teacher shortage.

January 22, 2019 |


The Ozarks Teacher Corps gathers for a group photo during their fall seminar with the Teton Science Schools on place-based learning. Photo by Aaron Scott, Community Foundation of the Ozarks<\/em><\/p>"

Editor's Note: Thanks to Louise Knauer and Aaron Scott of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks for providing this feature. The Community Foundation of the Ozarks anchors our Missouri Ozarks Hub.

In 2009, the former educators who had moved into leadership roles at the Community Foundation of the Ozarks were seeing firsthand how rural schools and rural communities were mutually dependent for each other’s success.

They envisioned how to use the CFO’s philanthropic resources to strengthen rural education so schools could anchor and sustain their communities.

Out of that came the Rural Schools Partnership, which included the Ozarks Teacher Corps. Each year since 2010, two-year renewable OTC scholarships were awarded to eight to 10 teacher-education majors in return for their commitment to teach for at least three years in a rural

district and participate in the learning network.

About 80 students have gone through the Ozarks Teacher Corps. Many have extended their rural teaching well beyond their three-year commitments. Several have moved into administrative roles. Their school districts and communities are stronger for their energy and passion for rural renewal.

As the Rural Schools Partnership approaches the 10-year mark, former CFO President, Dr. Gary Funk, and his former colleagues, Dr. Julie Leeth and Carol Silvey, have worked with the Rural Schools Collaborative to help expand the rural teacher corps concept across the Midwest and other areas of the country

Leeth, now semi-retired from the CFO while still working as the education/schools liaison, recognized that a key component of the OTC's success has been the Missouri State University-West Plains campus. Beginning this year, a new partnership with MSU-WP will allow the college to administer the scholarship program on the CFO’s behalf.

“We are so excited to partner with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks to establish this scholarship program for students interested in

entering the field of education,” MSU-WP Chancellor Shirley Lawler (pictured left) said.

“Many of our students are focused on obtaining a teaching degree, and they want to return to their hometowns to teach, which, in many cases, is a smaller, rural community,” she added.

MSU-WP is developing a curriculum to build a skill set specific to rural teachers that will include mentorships, innovative approaches, and on-site learning in rural districts.

“The CFO and the Ozarks Teacher Corps are thrilled to establish a formal partnership with MSU-West Plains to recruit and retain the finest teachers possible for the south-central region of Missouri,” Leeth said. “The scholarship will now be a four-year award and is made possible

through the generous bequest of Chesley and Flora Lea Wallis.” Leeth (pictured right) continued, "Furthermore, this alliance will mean a lot to the emerging rural teacher corps higher education network, which is growing with support from the Rural Schools Collaborative."

Eight $1,100 scholarships will be awarded beginning with the 2019 fall semester. Students can apply through the Missouri State-West Plains financial aid office or online at The application deadline is March 31.

For more information about the new scholarship opportunity, call the MSU-WP financial aid office at 417-255-7243 or visit

For more information about CFO, the Rural Schools Partnership or the Ozarks Teacher Corp, visit:

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