Sixty-six school divisions across the state of Virginia have joined forces to advocate for rural schools and their growing needs. The Small and Rural Schools coalition plans to advocate and lobby on behalf of needs specific to rural schools.
“There is strength in numbers and even if I’m not personally or individually able to do that I know that there are other superintendents who are similarly situated who do,” Shenandoah County Public School’s Superintendent Mark Johnston says.
Shenandoah County School’s Superintendent Mark Johnston says issues facing rural communities, including unemployment and poverty, play a major role in what resources the school uses to meet student needs.
“These challenges they have, weather it be hunger, abuse, that then parlays into issues with discipline, behaviors, when your hungry you’re not in your best place to be reading literature or practice math facts,” Johnston says.
Virginia schools get funding through local taxes and the state, which provides funding per pupil. Rural schools may not maintain a high student population, but still have to provide the same resources and education program. Teacher retention, turnover, and shortages is another need the group plans to address. Over the past four years, Shenandoah County has seen a fifty percent teacher turnover rate.
“If your salaries are lagging, then after a little bit of time guess what they then move on to higher paying divisions,” Johnston says.
Johnston realizes schools across the nation have these same challenges.
“Not taking anything away from divisions because we’re all challenged by these things either lesser or more, but were all challenged with them,” Johnston says.
But he hopes, that the coalition is able to get government attention because many needs of rural schools et placed on the back burner due to lack of funding.
“Everything that we become is because of our educational system, and what we strive to be is what we provide, so I remain ever hopeful that the powers that be that control the funds and money that go to public education continue to advocate on behalf of our children,” Johnston says.
The coalition was modeled after the “Coalfields coalition”, who’s school division advocacy lead to funding passed by the Virginia legislature and signed by former Governor Terry McAuliffe last year.