Two Arkansas Community Schools Coalition members joined together to present a paper at the Southern Education Foundation 2018 Forum held in Little Rock in mid-November. Jerri Derlikowski. ForwARd Arkansas, and Candace Williams, Rural Community Alliance, presented on supports for small, rural schools focused on those that have high percentages of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. While many small, rural schools perform well, these schools facing high concentrations of poverty have limited resources to address the needs of students.
Students in schools with high concentrations of poverty often have fewer options and less hope for fulfilling careers and futures. This was verified in a national study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). We are working with an Arkansas research organization to verify the results specific to Arkansas. It can also be seen in access or lack of access to regional career centers.
The report proposed two solutions to student needs for community supports and relevant career training. With regional supports and programming, small, low-income districts can thrive. These supports include support for community school design including a community school coordinator that works on one or more small school campuses but coordinates resources across the region and connects them to local needs.
Examples of regional models include Connect 4 in Carroll County that connects three districts and the county’s business community. In November, Saline County passed a sales tax to support a career center that will serve all six districts in that county. The tax had the support of the business community. Finally, in a model similar to these, Kent ISD in Michigan has operated a regional career center serving 20 or more nearby districts for one-half day training of local juniors and seniors. The students report to their “home” district for the other half day. They play sports, participate in student activities, and graduate from their “home” district. The regional effort does not disrupt local schools. It serves and supports them by making access to attractive programming available while keeping students connected to their local district.
The state continues to do too little to turn the tide for a cohort of small schools with high concentrations of poverty that chronically underperform other districts. The current pace of change is so slow that it insures children in schools of concentrated poverty continue to stay in place behind other students. Failing to take bold action to jump start progress, to rethink education in these districts is to damn them by contentment with incremental, inadequate progress.