Getting education majors out of college classrooms and into schools and getting students out of schools and into their communities can give rural educators an advantage over their urban counterparts. That’s one of the principles that underscore Missouri State University’s new Rural Education Center announced last week at the West Plains campus where the program will start by serving 34 school districts in its seven-county region.
The program, developed in concert with the place-based philosophy of the CFO’s Rural Schools Partnership, will offer professional development for rural educators and administrators and increased resources and hands-on classroom experience for would-be teachers – both of which will benefit rural students in some of the most impoverished counties in the United States.
“This is going to be a collaborative hub for our Ozarks Teacher Corps’ model to recruit, prepare and retain teachers,” said CFO Senior Fellow Gary Funk, who announced that the Rural Schools Partnership is providing a $5,000 start-up grant to market and promote the Rural Education Center. “We are doing things here that are not being done anywhere else in the country. We all look forward to working with everyone in the future.”
The program will be coordinated by Dr. Don Hamby, an instructor at MSU-WP, who has an intrinsic commitment to rural education as a native of Dora, a town of about 1,000 in Ozark County.
“Our kids deserve a world-class education,” Hamby said. “Location shouldn’t be a detriment.
“When you go to Thomasville and you’re on the edge of the Eleven Point River, what kind of lab will that be?” he said, referring to the Thomasville Community Center site of the annual Rural Schools Partnership conference.
MSU Provost Dr. Belinda McCarthy described the program as a hub for professional development and best practices in rural education. She said she envisions the West Plains campus as the starting point, with the potential to add programs in Nevada, Lebanon and Mountain Grove in the future. She also said she would like to see the focus on rural issues expand into MSU’s health and social-work programs.
“We’re going to grow our expertise in this overall,” she said. “We’re strongly committed to rural life.”
The program had to gain approval from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which was represented at MSU’s announcement by Dr. Karla Eslinger, Associate Commissioner of Education who previously served as superintendent in West Plains.
“It isn’t just about teachers,” she said. “It’s about teacher leaders. “I truly appreciate the fact that I get to be part of this.”
Hartville Schools, which is in the region served by the Rural Education Center, provided on-site training for the fall meeting of the Ozarks Teacher Corps. At the MSU announcement, Hamby cited its Superintendent, Dr. Sharon Hayden, for her efforts to maximize resources in a small, rural district.
“The creation of a Rural Education Center will have a profound effect on the educators in rural Missouri,” Hayden said. “I look forward to the resources, inspiration, and opportunities to serve the unique needs of school professionals in Missouri’s rural areas.”