Small Rural Schools and Teachers Personalize Education

On Tuesday, Aug. 31, the second day of school at Nute Middle School in rural Milton, NH, first-year teacher Kelley Settelen was exactly where she wanted to be—teaching math in a small school where she could get to know each of her students and their families. Milton School District was able to hire the New Jersey native and offer the small, personalized teaching environment that Settelen was looking for using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Feeling that anonymity is the enemy of student achievement, veteran teacher Sabrina Kirwan moved from a larger urban school to Nute Middle, enrollment less than 200 across grades 6, 7, and 8, for the same opportunity to connect more closely and make a difference in the lives of rural students.

On the final day of the “Courage in the Classroom” bus tour to honor America’s teachers, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his staff visited urban, suburban, and rural schools in the northeast.

The unique strengths of rural school districts were on display at the small three-building campus in Milton, NH that housed the Nute Middle and High Schools, and the community’s public library. The close-knit nature of the community was evident as Dennis Lauze, Nute High School class of 1969, was proudly admiring the new cement steps that students used outside the school. Lauze and other “Friends of Nute High School” replaced the crumbling staircase on the original structure, which dates back to 1890. The community has helped with furniture, books, and other classroom improvements as well.

Milton superintendent Gail Kusher anticipates using federal School Improvement Grant funds to add computers and educational software to math and other classrooms to support student achievement and school turnaround efforts. Nute High School also has outfitted a small room with four computers to connect students with high-quality instruction and coursework online in subjects that would not otherwise be available.

Rural schools often struggle to recruit and retain teachers in communities challenged by poverty and the loss of major industries, such as paper mills in the northeast. However, rural schools have many strengths. They tend to have lower student-to-teacher ratios, making it easier to deliver personalized instruction, and frequently serve as the centers of community life.

John White
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach
U.S. Department of Education