U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met today with a group of rural school superintendents from nine states to listen and learn about their needs and to discuss ways the Education Department can be a partner in helping to find solutions to their educational challenges.
"Rural schools have unique challenges and benefits, and we value the input of rural school leaders as we work together to improve education for all children," Duncan said. "Nearly every state has rural schools, which frequently lack resources, have trouble attracting teachers, and serve students living in areas with high concentrations of poverty. At the same time, we know that all children can learn with the appropriate support. We must learn from and replicate the many examples of success in small rural schools."
Today's meeting is part of the Obama administration's ongoing effort to solicit input on how to strengthen rural America. Last summer the administration launched a rural tour in which several cabinet secretaries visited rural communities around the country to learn about their challenges and how the federal government can be a partner in finding solutions. Secretary Duncan visited Alaska and North Carolina on the White House rural tour and has visited rural schools in Arizona Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming on his Listening and Learning tour around the country as he engages in a national dialogue on education reform.
The nine superintendents who met with Duncan today at the Department of Education were: Mark Bielang of Paw Paw Public Schools (Mich.); Randy Mohundro of Deleon Independent School District (Texas); Lyn Guy of Monroe County Schools (W.Va.); Elizabeth Reust of Plainville Unified School District 270 (Kan.); Timothy Mitchell of Chamberlain School District (S.D.); Kevin Mitchell of Park County School District 1 (Wyo.); Deborah Jackson-Dennison of Window Rock Unified School District 8 (Ariz.); Randy Shaver of Tupelo Public School District (Miss.); and Beatriz Ramirez of Raisin City Public Schools (Calif.).
Also attending were three leaders from the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), which helped organize the meeting: Daniel Domenech, executive director; Bruce Hunter, associate executive director; and Mary Kusler, assistant director of policy and advocacy.
The secretary's discussion with the superintendents focused on turnaround schools and school improvement efforts for rural communities. Participants were also briefed on the stimulus funding (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) by Deputy Secretary Tony Miller and about reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by Carmel Martin, the assistant secretary for policy and evaluation.
According to "Why Rural Matters 2009," a new report from the Rural School and Community Trust, approximately one in five students in the U.S., or more than 10.5 million children, attends rural schools. Rural communities serve different student populations with diverse needs. Recruiting and retaining teachers remains a huge challenge for small rural schools. The report also notes that graduation rates are below 60 percent in some rural states and even lower in high-poverty rural school districts. At the same time, some small rural schools have been quite successful in helping students overcome the challenges associated with poverty.
"Conversations with rural school leaders and rural education experts are critical to providing a balanced overall program, and important to informing the Department of Education's work with Congress on the reauthorization of ESEA," Duncan said. "We must account for and understand the differences between schools, and we have an unprecedented opportunity to support innovative programs that are demonstrating success in rural communities."