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Last week, education officials, academic scholars and education advocates convened in Little Rock for the Southern Education Foundation's 2018 Issues Forum. At this year's forum, education stakeholders discussed the politics of equity in public education and how the South can best serve all of its students through innovative and evidence-based solutions.

One of the topics considered was how we can best meet the educational needs of the more than one-third of our state's students who attend a rural school.

According to the Southwest Regional Education Labs, rural schools in Arkansas, defined by their distance to urbanized areas, vary in size and levels of poverty, but generally are smaller and poorer than districts in urban areas. In order to truly achieve education equity across the state, a deeper look is needed into what it will take for rural students to have access to a wide variety of family and student support resources, course offerings and career opportunities.

The community school model is a viable solution to meeting the unique needs of rural schools. Through community partnerships, schools connect students and their families to assistance and resources, including health care, before- and after-school enrichment programs and free meals during the school day, to name a few.

By bringing families and the community together, community schools have the potential to bridge the limited resources many rural communities experience. For example, if a school partners with a local health center, students can see a pediatrician during the school day, which is beneficial for the entire family.

Yet, while there are some high-achieving small rural schools currently, they are the exception, not the rule. ForwARd Arkansas--a public-private partnership established in 2014 by the Arkansas State Board of Education, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation to increase equity and achieve increases in student achievement and economic prosperity for Arkansas--is currently working with the Rural Community Alliance and other partners to develop a unique regional community schools model to provide critical support for small rural districts.

Every student in Arkansas, no matter where they live or what school they attend, deserves access to the best possible education to prepare them for success in the work force and beyond.

To improve the achievement and outcomes for students in rural areas, we call upon educators, administrators and community leaders throughout Arkansas to join us in the effort to rethink education as it now exists in high-poverty and low-performing rural schools throughout Arkansas, embracing proven models of community schools with regional support.


Jerri Derlikowski is research director at ForwARd Arkansas, and Candace Williams is executive director of Rural Community Alliance.

Editorial on 11/24/2018

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