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Rural Trust Launches New Center For Midwestern Initiatives

A new project in the Midwest aims to promote place-based education, develop charitable assets to support rural education, and encourage talented young people to become teachers.

The Rural School and Community Trust is kicking off the Center for Midwestern Initiatives, which will be led by Gary Funk, former president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. Funk also has served on the board of the Rural School and Community Trust.

Funk will build on efforts of the Rural Schools Partnership, an initiative of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. The Rural Schools Partnership worked to develop resources and partnerships and encourage placed-based education in rural schools in the Missouri Ozarks, and this new center will try to reach more schools in more states. The Rural School and Community Trust had been a strong partner to the Rural Schools Partnership, and the center will be under its auspices.

"It's not a coincidence that it has similar elements and features to the Rural Schools Partnership," Funk said. "It is very similar in terms of concept ... but it's different in that we're trying for a broader reach, and the program is actually part of the [Rural School and Community] Trust. I think we're trying to build on the momentum of the Rural Schools Partnership."

The center will try to reach sites across the Midwest, from South Dakota to Arkansas, and from Kansas to Iowa.

One of the biggest challenges for rural schools is recruiting and retaining quality educators, and one of the most successful initiatives of the Rural Schools Partnership has been its nationally recognized Ozarks Teacher Corps. The program offers scholarships to rural Missouri college students who return to their hometowns as teachers and school leaders.

The Rural Schools Partnership brought together four higher education institutions, and the new Center for Midwestern Initiatives already is in discussions with five colleges in other states that are interested in building similar programs. Funk plans to create a network of schools that want to do a better job of recruiting and preparing strong teachers for rural schools.

"[I]t is still a little early to declare victory on this new coalition, but it is safe to say we will be taking tangible steps this fall to move this forward," he said.

In addition to building a strong rural teaching force, the center plans to further place-based education efforts, or schools using their local communities to study academic subjects. The center also will work with community and school foundations to build philanthropic assets to support rural schools.

Robert Mahaffey, director of communications and marketing for The Rural School and Community Trust, said the nonprofit rural education advocacy group has a long history of collaborating on a regional basis, and the center will continue that tradition and grow initiatives in the Midwest.

Funk has a wealth of experience working in that region, and now was an opportune time to establish the center because of the synergy with a number of key partners, Mahaffey said.

"We're excited about the opportunity," he said. "We have some very ambitious plans on how the center's work can have a real grass-roots impact on what's happening, and resources for the center are really developing."

Funk encouraged questions or requests for help. You can reach him at: [email protected] or (417) 848-9083.

Check back later this week for another blog post looking more closely at what the Rural Schools Partnership has accomplished since its inception in August 2009.

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