Rural Schools Collaborative was honored to visit our Northern California hub for the 2022 North State Together Summit, hosted in Redding, California. The region’s green and lush mountain-scape, with birds chirping, was the perfect setting to welcome many folks back to their first in-person conferences since the COVID pandemic. Attendees rolled up their sleeves to rally around Regional Collaboration, Data, and Equity.
North State Together (NST), funded in part by the McConnell Foundation, is the largest geographical collective in the U.S. covering 5 counties (via partners at Reach Higher Shasta, Expect More Tehama, Advancing Modoc Youth, Trinity Together, and Cradle to Careers Siskiyou). NST provides each county with financial resources, technical support, community outreach, and professional development. NST, in partnership with California State University – Chico, anchor RSC’s Northern California hub.
The summit kicked off with warm greetings and fellowship from advocates across all five counties – it was clear that these folks care deeply about each other and the counties they represent, and felt like a family reunion. Rural communities may sometimes struggle to collaborate on a regional scale due to barriers like geographic isolation, transportation, etc., so it was incredible to see a 20,000+ square mile region so integrated, friendly, and familiar.
This trusting collaboration is fostered, in no small part, thanks to North State Together’s backbone team, which supports the regional solutions, the partners, and the pathways to collaboration. In fact, NST’s “Cradle to Career” initiative includes education, business, philanthropic, nonprofit, civic, and faith leaders who all work together to improve educational success for every child through a data-driven, collective impact approach.
“It’s never education for education’s sake, it’s education SO THAT…”
The regional brainstorming was also supported by several stellar keynote presentations:
- Dreama Gentry, Executive Director of Partners for Education, challenged us to be an active participant in redefining rural. She shared her own rural journey, growing up in Appalachia, Kentucky, and the teachers and mentors who shaped her path. Dreama underscored how regional influences shape a place, which means that local and collaborative solutions are the key to rural success. And, she also reminded us that we should not buy into the narrative that it’s urban vs. rural, “a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle”.
- Dr. Kate Mahar, Executive Director of SCAILE at Shasta College, led a discussion on reaching a shared definition of equity. Dr. Mahar reminded us, “it’s never education for education’s sake, it’s education SO THAT… “. Education equity's impact on economic mobility was an important and recurring theme throughout the summit.
- The StriveTogether team facilitated discussions on collaborative improvement methodologies, including an exceptional reflection from Josh Davis, VP of Policy and Partnerships. Josh detailed his own journey as a black father from Mississippi, and how our identities and experiences shape the way we advocate for transformation and policy change.
- Judy Flores, Shashta County Office of Education Superintendent, shared an incredible story of allyship, investigating high rates of unexcused absences for Native students. Listening sessions with Native community members showed the unexcused absences were just the tip of the iceberg of distrust of an education system that was not responsive to Native culture, history, and experience. Rurality also had a role to play in absences as students often drove all the way to Sacramento for appointments, but, notably, native students absences for cultural events were being marked as unexcused. The Shasta COE’s American Indian Advisory, over several years, partnered with Native tribes to rebuild trust and co-create representative curriculum. This collective work led to a new statewide policy, AB 516 that provides excused absences for Native students attending cultural ceremonies and events.
“The content, conversations, and connections were fantastic. . . I had several participants say this cleared their minds, reinvigorated their purpose, and reminded them of the power of the collective brain.”
North State Together and their partners understand that educational success has a direct impact on the regions’ health and economic outcomes. This collaborative work is accelerated when cross-sector community leaders are at the same table, working toward the same goals. We hope other communities will take note of the good work happening in Northern California, and thank NST and their partners for their dedication to the region.
Special thanks to the NST team, Kevin O’Rorke, Jamie Spielmann, Susan Schroth, and James Crandall, for their work and partnership with Rural Schools Collaborative.
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