Thursday, June 25, 2009

What makes a good rural school? Ala. finds out

In a quest to discover what makes a good rural school, the Center for Rural Alabama had researchers Gerald Carter, Larry Lee and Owen Sweatt find 10 schools thriving in their small communities, despite the harsh economic times. Bill Bishop reports for the Daily Yonder that their findings were recently published in a report, “Lessons Learned from Rural Schools.”

Bishop reports that 61.9 percent of students in Alabama qualify for a free lunch, up from 54.2 percent a decade ago. Poverty is a negaitve indicator for school success, but Carter, Lee and Sweatt found 10 elementary schools that fit their criteria: test scores well above the state average, at least 65 percent of students eligible for free lunch; and schools from all areas of the state. Results indicate that successful rural schools have certain attributes that set them apart from other institutions. Bishop found four key points the 10 schools share:

(1) These are community schools. “Education goes beyond the walls of instruction and much of our school success is determined by the community’s ownership,” Lee wrote. Whether community support manifests in classroom visitors, community fundraising, or local cooperation and partnerships with other institutions, these schools emphasize learning outside of the classroom.

(2) These schools have “something in the air,” Lee wrote. The institutions promote creativity through hallway murals and events. For example, at F.S. Ervin Elementary in Pine Hill, Ala., has an annual parade. “We started six years ago because our kids rarely get to see a parade,” said principal Richard Bryant (Daily Yonder photo). “It is 20 miles to go to see a parade at Wilcox Central High School in Camden and most of our students don’t get to go.”

(3) The best teachers “have a visceral understanding of what it’s like to live in a rural community.” In each successful school, teachers had a deeper understanding of students because of their own rural history. Bishop reports that at W.S. Harlan Elementary in Lockhart, 18 of the 26 faculty members graduated from the county high school. “It appears that a critical factor in the success of these 10 schools is that a majority of teachers grew up in the area in which they teach, or one very similar, and understand the local culture,” Gerald Carter wrote.

(4) Teachers will resist change. After administering a Myers-Briggs personality test to all the teachers, the researchers discovered that the majority are introverted individuals who resist change. (Read more from Bishop or go to the report)

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