South Dakota News Watch reports on the challenges rural school districts face in adequately educating their dwindling youth populations. Nutshell: decreased funding, teacher turnover, students in poverty—no surprises.
SDNW’s Bart Pfankuch focuses on how the Edgemont and Woonsocket districts cope with these disadvantages:
But Amy Ferley, superintendent of the Edgemont School District in far southwestern South Dakota, said there are intangible benefits to a rural education that may not show up in statistics or in standardized-test results.
In the remote Edgemont district, teachers and administrators are able to form close relationships with students and their parents that allow for more individualized learning.
“We have 160 kids, so we know their names and their siblings’ names and their parents’ names and probably their dogs’ names,” Ferley said. “We’re trying to meet those kids at an individual level because it takes a special relationship between teachers and students to understand what kids need, and what they don’t, and how they shine in different areas.”
Those close relationships — and strong support from the local community — help offset some of the funding, staffing and logistical challenges faced by small districts, said Rod Weber, superintendent of the Woonsocket School District in east-central South Dakota.
“I credit our school for having a staff that makes our school the best in the area,” he said. “A lot of it also has to do with what our community has done to support the schools and make a lot of improvements to make it a viable place to live for young families” [Bart Pfankuch, “Rural Schools in S.D. Face Unique Challenges That Can Affect Learning,” South Dakota News Watch, 2019.11.07].
I found some advantages to teaching in a rural school district, like being my own English department and having much greater academic freedom than I would find in a larger district where curriculum is dictated from above. But rural teachers and schools have to work harder to keep those advantages alive, as demonstrated by the fact that, as Pfankuch reports, 45% of South Dakota school districts have “opted out,” deciding they need to tax themselves more than the state thinks is necessary to make their schools work.
Intangibles are good, but on the tangibles, if you want to teach in a rural school, understand that you will work tangibly harder and make tangibly less for your efforts.