Seriously Rural Challenges JOURNEYS

By Scott Vince / October 02, 2013

I often hear from educators that “rural schools are fundamentally different,” and “we have different issues than urban schools.”  It wasn’t until I found myself actually documenting an outrageously rural school as one of the Journeys school facilitators that I began to understand how true these words are.  After three months of talking with school and district stakeholders in remote, rural Amargosa Valley School, I can point to several very concrete examples of uniquely rural challenges.

Here are just a few of them:

  • 8-9-13-Summer-School-1030-300x225.jpgRecruitment.  It is incredibly difficult for a remote, rural district/school to recruit and hire staff.  This was made crystal clear listening to the Nye County superintendent discuss that he couldn’t easily fly candidates out to Amargosa for interviews.  It’s simply too far to ask anyone to make that trip without a strong idea as to whether or not you are going to hire them.  And yet if you limit yourself to local candidates, you may not have as deep a pool to choose from.  This topic will be explored more in the second episode of the Amargosa Journey.
  • Distance!  In a remote, rural community, there are many, many miles between each school site.  In the case of Amargosa, there are many miles of desert between each site.  This has dramatic implications for any attempt to establish partnerships between schools (e.g. a Professional Learning Community).  This leads to my next observation…
  • The internet!  School staff recently explained to us that their plan for conducting a Professional Learning Community with a “nearby” school (over 50 miles of desert away) via an online software program ran into major problems when they flipped the switch.  As soon as teachers logged on to the program, it slowed to a halt – there was simply not enough bandwidth.  The school is working with the district to solve this problem, but it’s causing a major hassle and blocking crucial collaboration between school sites.
  • District support.  One of my colleagues from the Journeys team recently wrote a thoughtful blog post on the topic of district support.  Amargosa has a small district staff and they are responsible for a massive county covering more than 43,000 square miles.  No matter how badly they want to provide support to all of their schools, it’s a major challenge with such a large enrollment area.  Fortunately for Amargosa, a School Improvement Grant has given the district the resources to implement a School Improvement Director to closely work with the school.  But how many other rural schools have this luxury?

Amagrosa is truly “off the map.” It’s easy to say that all schools sometimes face these issues, but I don’t think they face them in quite the same way as Amargosa and other remote rural schools.  After all, how many other school districts rack up over 1.3 million school bus miles per year?

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About the author

Scott Vince

Scott Vince is a Research Associate at WestEd and a Center on School Turnaround staff member. He is on the Journeys content team, and is also a Journeys school facilitator and a blog contributor.

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