Summer is often a season of new hellos and farewells here at Rural Schools Collaborative. This year, we said a fond farewell to our outgoing board members, Joshua Gibb, Jim Beddow, and Carol Silvey, who were among our earliest advocates, providing incredible leadership and vision to the organization. Every fond farewell gives way to a new hello, and RSC is pleased to welcome three new members to the Board of Directors: Susan Schroth, Mike Knutson, and Nancy Van Milligen. These three individuals have been strong advocates of RSC, and they're excited to join the board and continue the development of the organization.
Susan Schroth is the Operations Manager for North State Together (NST), a longtime partner organization. Located in Redding, California, NST operates as “backbone support” for 10 counties by facilitating connections with people throughout the region with the goal of increasing the education and career attainment of North State residents. Susan also supports our GRAD Partnership work as the contact for our Northern California hub’s pilot network.
“I first learned of RSC in 2019 … The staff's enthusiasm and passion for this work is what attracted me to RSC’s organization.”
Susan’s Dad was a school teacher and administrator in the Long Beach Unified School District, and she grew up admiring teachers. As an adult, she moved to a rural community in Northern California with her family, where she was given an opportunity to engage in collective impact work. As a first generation Chicana college graduate, Susan is passionate about helping underrepresented and disadvantaged students achieve academic and career success. Over the past 16 years, she’s seen first-hand the incredible ability of teacher-leaders to empower their students and communities and the importance in advocating for rural teachers.
Susan was introduced to RSC in 2019 when she joined the NST backbone team. RSC and NST share the core value of being relationship-driven, emphasizing the importance of strong collaborations and trusting partnerships. She shares that, “Both RSC and NST are keenly focused on transformation in rural communities. Together, we are affecting policy, directing funding and resources, and providing networking opportunities.” Susan is excited to engage more fully as an RSC board member as she coordinates the GRAD Partnership pilot network for the Northern California Hub.
“Learn the history of the rural region you are serving … Honor the history and look for ways to contribute to community vitality.”
Mike Knutson is a Network Orchestrator and Community Coach for Dakota Resources, a certified CDFI serving rural communities across South Dakota. Much of his work focuses on connecting rural leaders through a Learning Network and Thriverr platform, helping individuals learn faster together through action, feedback, and reflection.
“At Dakota Resources, we use the words ‘thriving rural communities’ to describe our vision for our work; RSC uses the words ‘sustainable rural communities.’ I think we want the same thing – rural communities that are filled with opportunities for all.”
Mike began his professional career as a rural teacher in a small South Dakota town, expecting to advance in his career by moving to a larger school after gaining some experience. But, his plans changed when a group of high school students challenged him and other community members to invest in a “buy local” campaign, which encouraged him to rethink his teaching pedagogy and led him to embracing place-based education, a learning model that supports community impact through contextually relevant, place-based education.
Mike has been a strong advocate of RSC since its inception; he was introduced to the organization around 2010, sharing that "RSC's passion is contagious.” In 2016, Mike helped facilitate RSC’s Stakeholder meeting in Mitchell, SD and helped support and promote our Grants in Place programs. Dakota Resources and RSC have similar goals, envisioning “rural communities that are filled with opportunities for all.”
“So much of the education process is designed to loosen the ties of young people from their rural communities and prepare them for life elsewhere … Engage in the community and engage your students in the community.”
Nancy is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, which serves seven rural counties in Northeast Iowa and works to inspire giving and strengthen rural communities. She is fiercely committed to fostering inclusive communities that support and nurture families, sharing that "'Rural' is the right size to make a significant impact."
“Embrace the place, engage with the residents, and enjoy small town life.”
Through her work at the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, Nancy has worked with a number of teachers and administrators. Rural schools and teachers are one of the foundation’s primary audiences, in large part because they occupy a central role in rural communities. The foundation has three areas of focus including, equity, economic opportunity, and education; and it works to build communities where everyone is welcome and everyone can succeed. Rural teachers and schools are often at the heart of this work.
Initially connecting with RSC through our partners at the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, Nancy is excited to join the RSC team and “contribute to this important work.” Her life-long commitment and passion for creating inclusive, equitable communities is invaluable, and her experience building rewarding relationships and empowering residents in small towns and rural places to create communities where everyone can thrive complements the work we do at Rural Schools Collaborative.
“Listen to the community members and support them in their efforts to create strong schools and strong communities.”
We are thrilled to welcome Susan, Mike, and Nancy to the RSC team! And, we look forward to growing and deepening our work with their help and guidance.