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Final Thoughts on Regional Rural Ed. Conference

The Southeast Regional Rural Education Summit wrapped up Wednesday afternoon, and I'm exhausted. It was another day jam-packed with informative sessions, and I headed back to Charleston feeling like I have a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing rural schools.

Officials with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, which organized the conference, told me they plan to release a detailed report within the next week describing what needs to happen to improve rural education. I'll be sure to let you know when that's available.

It's been interesting to learn about all of the efforts to improve rural education across the country, but it's also been eye-opening to realize how fragmented those initiatives appear to be. Schools, nonprofits and businesses seem to be working hard, but it looks as if they're doing so in silos, unaware of what others may be doing. And there doesn't seem to be one central way for rural educators to collaborate and communicate.

That was one of my big take-aways from the conference, but here's a few comments from the experts that resonated with me on Wednesday:

• Roughly four of the five first-time, full-time freshmen who come to Tennessee community colleges require some kind of remedial education, and no matter how well we do providing that, to really move the numbers, we need students to come to us better prepared to learn.—John Morgan, chancellor of Tennessee Board of Regents

• Financial aid is a barrier for rural students to attend college, but it's not something you're going to know after meeting with a student once. It takes building a relationship for them to open up to you and say they're not applying to college because they don't have the $30 application fee or they don't have the money to retake a college entrance exam.—Susan Rhodes, college access counselor, Ayers Foundation

• All of us who live in rural communities see every day that there's not a whole lot of family encouragement for these kids to go on to post-secondary education. These young people need to be encouraged, and we need to do a better job of letting their parents know what's required to make the kind of living they want them to make.—Joe Barker, executive director of the Southwest Tennessee Development District

• The problems rural schools have may be global in nature, but all solutions have to be local. ... The most important thing you can do for the future of your rural district is develop future leaders. Get your best current leaders to serve as mentors for future. —Eric Glover, associate professor of educational leadership and policy analysis, East Tennessee State University

• Rural school officials need to be intentional in developing [financial] assets in their communities. We're not going to have the kinds of schools and outcomes we want if we don't do that.—Gary Funk, director of the Center for Midwestern Initiatives for the Rural School and Community Trust

I hope you enjoyed reading about this conference as much as I did attending it.

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