North Dakota Small Organized Schools Provide a Strong Voice for Rural Education

Leadership and advocacy define NDSOS

January 4, 2017 |

The vastness and expanse of North Dakota presents unique challenges to rural schools and small towns. <\/p>"

Editor's Note: We are always pleased to share the stories of organizations that are committed to rural schools and their communities. Thank you to North Dakota Small Organized Schools executive director ElRoy Burkle for submitting this essay.

North Dakota Small Organized Schools (NDSOS) was formed by a group of North Dakota School Districts seeking to be heard. Individually, small rural schools simply do not carry as much political clout as larger districts, especially in states where most people live in urban areas. Ironically, as rural as North Dakota may appear, the majority of the state's population lives in larger cities and metropolitan areas.

NDSOS is a strong voice to our legislature, particularly with transportation funding. The strength of our collective voice is directly related to our strong membership, which currently includes 141, or 80%, of the 179 school districts in North Dakota. Credit for this recognition and membership growth goes to our previous Executive Directors: Mr. Dean Bard, Mr. Larry Levang, and Mr. Robert Tollefson. Our board consists of 12 board members representing six regions. Mr. Larry Zavada, Superintendent Wolford Public School, is our board leader, and Mrs. Janet Brown has been our Business Manager since the inception of NDSOS.

As our organization grew, an understanding of the importance of developing partnerships became evident. The first major partner was the ND Center for Distance Education (ND CDE). They have been providing students with online courses that supplement local curriculums and under Dr. Alan Peterson’s leadership have grown to better meet the current needs of our rural schools. One such example is the recent offering of agricultural education classes via Nelson Academy of Agricultural Sciences under the direction of Mr. Leroy Nelson. ND CDE continually looks for new ways to meet rural students’ needs as exemplified by their recent collaboration with the LaMoure School District in installing a SMART Lab.

Additional partnerships include SafePupil for online bus driver training and North Dakota Safety Council for Defensive Driving Courses. These two partnerships greatly assist our member schools with meeting the necessary state requirements for bus driver training. A recent partner was Mr. Tom Nitschke, who developed the ‘I Am Resilient’ mental health curriculum and training. This training also assists our schools in meeting state mental health training requirements. In sum, these partnerships are a win-win-win for our schools, these agencies, and NDSOS membership.

Under Mr. Tollefson’s leadership, the NDSOS created an informational webpage for members, including links to our partners and other information. This online presence has provided member schools with legislative information, educational links, and other pertinent information. This website has been expanded to include advertisers that support our organization, and we are glad to provide them with additional exposure. We sincerely thank Nelson Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Harlow’s Bus Sales/Service, Midwest Investigation, EngTech Engineers – Architects – Forensic Experts and Advance Fleet Truck Repair for their support and commitment to rural schools.

As we plan for our future, NDSOS members were surveyed this past summer to gain insight on how the organization could best serve them. Survey results clearly indicated the following:

  • continue being a strong voice for North Dakota's small and rural schools;
  • continue to lobby on behalf of key transportation issues;
  • expand partnerships;
  • and explore more ways to market our organization.

We are currently researching becoming a non-profit organization to assist our schools. This step has some real potential as we prepare to better meet the ever evolving needs of our members! For more information on our work please contact me at:

Pictured below: ElRoy Burkle, NDSOS executive director

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