Paul Bartos knew about education in rural America after serving as a 7th grade biology teacher, assistant principal and a principal in Poplar and White Sulphur Springs, Montana.
However, Montana was not considered rural for a majority of the students in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District in Kotzebue, Alaska. “Kotz” as Alaskans call the town, is home to just over 3,200 residents and 2,000 students. Despite the small population, students are spread throughout an area the size of Indiana. It is here that Paul served as an assistant principal at Kotzebue High School and now serves as principal of Star of the Northwest Magnet School.
“Strangely, I’ve started a school, and I am not an educator,” said Alicia Sells, founder of iLEAD Academy, a STEM high school in northern Kentucky.
Sells’ background is in public policy. She noticed that neighboring Kentucky school districts of Gallatin, Carroll, Henry, Owen and Trimble did not offer a dedicated STEM program and, as a result, many students’ needs were not met in their preparation for the workplace.
iLEAD Academy is in session as students receive instruction, have discussions, and create in the maker spaces. (Photo credit: Alicia Sells)
Robert Stafford, superintendent of Owen County Schools, is the only current superintendent among the five districts who was present at the creation of iLEAD Academy. “When we initially got together – the five districts – we wanted to offer a really robust STEM program in engineering. It was driven by Alicia [Sells] pulling us all together to create the iLEAD Academy,” Stafford said.
The most devastating storm in Puerto Rico’s history, Hurricane Maria, blasted the island relentlessly in September 2017, destroying roads, leveling homes, and causing wide-spread electricity blackouts. The schools were not spared as education came to an abrupt halt for thousands of students.
Jorge Bauzo, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, was teaching Spanish and U.S. history at Chipley High School in the rural Florida Panhandle near the Alabama border. He also taught for the Florida Virtual School, which provided online classes. Bauzo closely followed news of the hurricane’s destruction, and when the winds finally subsided, he wanted to help. In his words:
“When I was a student at Arickaree High School, we didn’t have a clue as to what was going on in the real world,” said Gregg Cannady, who today heads collaborations and concepts development at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado, about 100 miles from his former high school in Anton. That was in the 1970s. “I went to college and found out I was totally unprepared,” Cannady said. “I really didn’t understand any career that wasn’t something that I’d not seen out on the farm.”
You might think that in the 21st century, things would be different in rural education from when Cannady was in high school. But, according to Cannady, a music teacher with 30 years of experience, engaged, job-related education is still lacking in parts of rural America.
When Cannady took his education positon at STEM School in Highlands Ranch, it was to create a music program. But Executive Director Penny Eucker and the Nathan Yip Foundation, a sponsor, urged Cannady to do something also for the state’s rural students.
“One of the workforce arguments is that we’re turning out folks that know how to color in the right bubble on a multiple-choice test, but they don’t know how to do anything,” said Dr. Kim Alexander, superintendent of the Roscoe Collegiate Independent School District in West Texas. In 2012, Superintendent Alexander and his district colleagues started to address this problem by creating an innovative series of apprentice partnerships with local businesses, and today it appears that Roscoe high school students know how to do everything.
Alexander, who is a Roscoe area native, has worked as an educator in the Roscoe District for 32 years, with the last 15 years as superintendent. In 2012, Roscoe was trying to become a STEM academy. “We wanted to have real-world relevance and real workforce readiness, and even job creation,” Alexander said. “One of the rural dilemmas is to have proximity to meaningful [student] apprenticeship opportunities. You have to partner with profitable businesses.”
“We need to question everything; to look for ways in which we can improve, and embrace the imperative of change. At the end of the day, success shouldn’t be measured by how much ivy is on the wall,” said U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “It should be determined by how you’re educating and preparing students for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.”
Setting this tone of innovation, Secretary DeVos welcomed over 20 education leaders from across the nation to the Education Innovation Summit on Higher Education, held recently at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington. The agenda included general discussion as well as several featured presentations.
“There are a number of challenges and opportunities facing American students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “And Washington, D.C. does not have all the answers. But government can be good at bringing people together to highlight their creative thinking and new approaches.”
Secretary DeVos welcomed nearly 20 education leaders and entrepreneurs from Maine to California to the Education Innovation Summit on K-12 learning, held recently at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington.
If you’re a high school student in rural America, it’s not always easy to get to school. You may have to travel a lot farther than you would in the city. But what if you live in a rural area and also need to travel with your family to go to work on a farm? How would you get to high school? Could you go to college?
When I wanted to know what an affinity group is, I turned to my affinity for the dictionary. Webster’s definition is “people having a common goal or acting together for a specific purpose.” By this definition, the California Affinity Group (CAG) is perfectly named. CAG’s members work in Promise Neighborhoods, Promise Zones, a Performance Partnership Pilot area, city governments, school districts, community organizations, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and U.S. Department of Education (ED) with the common goal of improving opportunities for people living in some of California’s most distressed communities.
There’s an old joke. A plumber goes to a house call to repair a leak. The plumber fixes the problem and tells the homeowner, “That will be $300.” The homeowner says, “I’m a doctor, and I don’t make $300 for a house call.” The plumber replies, “I didn’t make $300 for a house call, either, when I was a doctor.” Career technical education (CTE) is for real.
The key to CTE is the combination of technical and academic knowledge. In the 20th century, a boy or girl would be asked to choose between going to college or learning an occupational trade. After all, how much science did you have to know to manually weld machine parts or sew an apron? But today you have to know physics, mathematics, and technical problem-solving, just to repair your car or design a new fashion.