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Rural America

Before I start today’s article, let me tell you a little story about how I grew up. I was raised on 35 acres of land about 15 miles outside of St. Louis, MO. My parents, grandparents, and other family members have lived on this land for nearly 100 years. My grandparents farmed the ground where I grew up. My parents worked hard as I attended public schools. I passed miles of farm land on the bus every day on my way to school. To be honest, not many of us were poised to go to college, and it was expected that many would not even graduate. I studied hard and “got out”, but a lot of kids didn’t finish school. And only 4 of us actually went to college! Some kids had to work on the farms with their parents while others just couldn’t afford to go back to school – they had to get a job. In fact, I was the first person on both sides of my family to receive a Bachelor’s degree.

Today, a lot has changed for me, but a lot has remained the same. I am a PhD Candidate in Education, finishing my dissertation, and I still live on those 35 acres. I built my house on the same land where I grew up. My kids had their grandparents and great grandparents as their only “neighbors” and now my son and daughter are planning to build next to us in the near future with their families.

For me, rural America is not just something I see on T.V., with quaint little farms and big red barns. Rural America is my life. It is where I grew up and it is special to me. I love the big cities, don’t get me wrong! But I pass farms on my way to work every day, and I know the families that own them and farm them. I get stuck behind tractors and trucks filled with workers moving between farms and end up late to work every once in a while because of the delays.
Our early years at CPSI depended greatly on the rural communities surrounding us. Rural districts helped move us from a small company installing hardware for education to a company selling software for K-12 education around the world. We have always understood the needs of education because we have built our company around the education community and the needs of rural and urban districts alike.

So why is this relevant? Today, I came across the latest volume of the ongoing series “The SEA of the Future” from Edvance Research (Volume 4). When I saw the title of the volume, Uncovering the Productivity Promise of Rural Education, I was instantly interested to learn more as it hit so close to home.

So why focus on rural school districts? First of all, there are more students in rural America than you might realize. More than 10% of students in the USA attend rural school districts. Rural students make up 25% of the student population in 25 states. In 6 states, 40% of students are educated in rural environments.

But let’s break down those numbers a little more. 40% of rural students in 24 states are living in poverty. 25% of rural students in 18 states are black or Hispanic. Did those numbers shock you a bit? Cities bring opportunities while rural areas bring farms and/or ranches. Farm workers are not paid well, but there are very little opportunities outside of this work.

The number of low-income, high-achieving students is much greater than college admissions staff generally believe [and that they] “come from districts too small to support selective public high schools, are not in a critical mass of fellow high achievers, and are not likely to encounter a teacher or schoolmate from an older cohort who attended a selective college.
Caroline Hoxby and Chistopher Avery

We do know that rural students tend to perform better and typically have a higher graduation rate than urban students. But, rural students have a considerably lower level of college attendance than urban students. The fact that these students do not go to college is a serious concern as jobs push towards highly skilled individuals and less towards manual labor.

Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery are quoted saying “the number of low-income, high-achieving students is much greater than college admissions staff generally believe” and that these students “come from districts too small to support selective public high schools, are not in a critical mass of fellow high achievers, and are not likely to encounter a teacher or schoolmate from an older cohort who attended a selective college”. Adding to the problem is the issue that rural kids are idler than other students, which is more noticeable in rural black and Native American youths.

Did you know that rural schools districts usually don’t receive the funding and assistance they need to support their students and teachers? The level of isolation in these districts means that teachers get less professional development, administrators don’t have access to investment funds for growth, and leadership advice is not easy to come by. Yet, these districts need help. The superintendents try, but in rural communities they wear many other hats in addition to requirements of their urban counterparts. Has anyone in a rural community ever seen the superintendent drive a bus or actually be the IT Director? I know I have in my 25 years of working with school districts.

Most rural school districts are small, but a common misconception is that because they are small they have less problems. But do they? Most of our smaller districts face the exact same issues as bigger districts. They need to integrate just as many applications and have just as many data and network issues with the addition one big problem – they have very little staff.

Here is reality for one our smaller districts, around 3,000 students. They have over 35 software applications they have to integrate in their district as well as cloud services from Google and other companies. They have 1 lead IT/data person. Yes, you read that right – they have one guy! He has a few other staff members who can help him here and there, but at the end of the day, the smooth running of the entire IT department is his job and his job alone. He is responsible for their Active Directory, all workstations and servers, every database, every data integration, every software application. He is in charge of……everything.

Our tools are now in his district and he has gained some of his life back. xdAD manages his Active Directory while xDComposer and xDStore take care of his data integrations. And the cost was manageable as well. Our roots in rural education allowed us to see him and his district as more than a customer, and we happily provide them the same level of support we show to all of our districts, no matter how large or how small. We help school district staff get back their time so they can spend it on what really matters – helping students.

To learn more about how CPSI can help your district or organization, please visit our website.

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