Opportunity Rural

Good things are happening down in the hills of the Ozarks.

April 9, 2019 |

Good things are happening down in the hills of the Ozarks. A new path to rural renewal is being charted by a foundation, a university, rural school districts, and small communities. This collaborative approach was in plain view during the recent Rural Schools Partnership Forum held at Missouri State University-West Plains. Sponsored by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, the two-day session brought together school district leaders, local school foundations, higher education personnel, and the Ozarks Teacher Corps. Work with the latter focused on the value of place-based education, and it was facilitated by presenters from Teton Science Schools.

A highlight of the Forum was the release of a report on the progress of the Ozarks Teacher Corps, an intentional effort to recruit and prepare teacher-leaders for rural communities. The Ozarks Teacher Corps: Placement, Retention, & Perceptions, 2010-2019 is a simple, understated, yet illuminating examination of the results and impact of the Ozarks Teacher Corps program. Prepared by the Rural Schools Collaborative, the report suggests that a cooperative approach to preparing rural teachers holds real promise.

The report identified several key findings:

  • The program’s placement and retention rates are very encouraging—topping 90%.
  • Three-fourths of respondents are still teaching in the school district that hired them out of college.
  • Roughly 20% of the respondents are teaching science and math.
  • Three-fourths of the respondents believed they developed a better grasp of “rural issues” through their participation in the Corps.
  • Two-thirds of the teachers said they practiced “place-based” education.
  • More than 85% want to remain in a rural location.
  • And, perhaps most noteworthy, 100% of the respondents (Yes, 100%!) declared they would recommend rural teaching as a career.

However, there were some issues that seem to warrant further study:

  • Of the 71 who have completed the program only three Corps alums are serving in administrative roles, and less than one- fourth of the respondents indicated an interest in becoming a school administrator. This seems unusual, although a good number of the respondents are still early in their career.
  • Nearly 60% have yet to receive any external funding support for their
    instructional activities, which has been a strong focus of the Ozarks Teacher Corps program.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, more than 40% have not taken any graduate level courses. This would seem to be of interest and concern to the region’s higher education institutions.

If The Ozarks Teacher Corps: Placement, Retention, & Perceptions, 2010-2019 illustrates the potential of regional approaches, the Forum's two days of conversation were tangible evidence of current cooperation. School superintendents shared the challenges of new teacher recruitment. Rural school foundation leaders provided examples of successful fund raising strategies. Missouri State University-West Plains

Chancellor Shirley Lawler, a graduate of nearby Hartville High School, spoke on the importance of strong rural schools. And Teton Science Schools' Leslie Cook reminded future teachers that "place-based learning can show students the opportunities that exist in rural communities."

Although the Forum keenly focused on the future, Julie Leeth, Education Liaison for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, reminded everyone of what they had accomplished together over the last decade through the Rural Schools Partnership initiative. The results are startling:

  • Since its inception the RSP has built partnerships with 77 rural school districts and includes more than 550 rural education funds with assets in excess of $30 million.
  • In less than a decade the RSP's Coover Program in partnership with Commerce Trust has awarded more than $750,000 in support of innovative and place-centered academic programs.
  • The Ozarks Teacher Corps has awarded more than $800,000 in scholarship awards and helped place more than 60 teachers in rural Ozarks schools

Place-based engagement, rural philanthropy, and developing rural teacher-leaders. These three elements define the mission of the Rural Schools Collaborative, and they articulate how schools, colleges, and communities can come together to weave a stronger social fabric.

Down in the hills of the Ozarks they are providing a primer on how to get this done.

It is school, after all.

Click on the image below to read The Ozarks Teacher Corps: Placement, Retention, & Perceptions, 2010-2019.

Bonus link: The Ozark Mountain Daredevils sing, "Down in the hills of the Ozarks......."

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