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Duncan's First Stop in Rural Arkansas: Pre-K Center

A group of aspiring early childhood teachers from Arkansas join U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other administration officials today on a tour of a rural pre-K learning center in Hamburg, Ark., that has been a major focus of reform efforts in that school district.

That visit, and another to rural Hamburg High School, enrollment 365 students, are among the first stops for Duncan's Get on the Bus Tour on its initial day through the South. The tour heads to Louisiana and Mississippi after leaving Hamburg.

John White, deputy secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, joined the tour today and said a "uniquely effective" early childhood program drew the administration to the school district.

"Hamburg has a robust early learning program that has paid off at the high school level," White said.

White said an interest in growing effective rural teaching talent also spurred the administration's visit. Officials will learn about the school district's partnership with the University of Arkansas at Monticello that provides a pipeline of early childhood teachers for Hamburg.

Visits such as this one, he said, will help shape a national campaign that will kick off this fall to spotlight the teaching profession and increase teacher recruitment and retention. The campaign's goal, he said, is to spur a different way of thinking about teaching in America's culture and draw the brightest and best students to the profession.

The need for rural talent will be a part of that campaign.

"This can't be a one-size-fits-all approach," White said. "We need to highlight those programs [of excellence] for rural areas."

The department's adviser for early learning, Jacqueline Jones, will stay in Hamburg to observe the early learning center's work.

"The visit is an opportunity for our early learning adviser to hear from these teachers what we can do on a national policy level and what works," White said.

White will also spend time at Hamburg High meeting with agriculture teachers about reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and rural teacher recruitment.

Read more about Hamburg, Ark., in this earlier post on the Rural Education blog.

Also, check out Secretary Duncan's remarks Wednesday at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock that mentioned rural schools.

The Rural Education blog plans to stay in touch with White as the entourage visits Hamburg High School. Check back throughout the day for additional updates.

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