Rural Schools Collaborative, a national network, selects Mississippi to join. See details

Through efforts to help education in rural communities, Mississippi has formally been admitted to the Rural Schools Collaborative, a national network of educators aimed at strengthening rural school districts.

On May 31, the Rural Schools Collaborative officially selected Mississippi, according to a press release from William Carey University. For the last four years, WCU and Mississippi State University partnered to form the Mississippi Rural Education Association, or MSREA, which aims to support school districts and teachers in rural areas throughout the state.

The work of the MSREA over those last four years is the reason Mississippi was admitted into the Rural Schools Collaborative.

“Partnering with Williams Carey University to lead the MSREA and collaborating with the RSC and other regional hub partners to advance rural education in MS and the nation is mutually beneficial and leads to a far more significant impact than any of our organizations could have separately,” said Amanda Tullos, the project manager for rural education outreach at MSU's Social Science Research Center in a statement. "Together is best. With our partnership, we are able to best serve and leverage our resources to support MS educators, schools, and communities."

Teresa Poole, the dean of WCU's school of education, also praised the partnership.

Mississippi has formally been admitted to the Rural Schools Collaborative, a national network of educators aimed at strengthening rural school districts.
Mississippi has formally been admitted to the Rural Schools Collaborative, a national network of educators aimed at strengthening rural school districts.

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“Through this joint effort, our goal is clear — equip rural educators with the tools they need and ensure that every child in rural communities receives a quality education,” said Teresa Poole, dean of the WCU School of Education in a press release.

Nearly half of Mississippi’s K-12 public schools are in rural communities, making the percentage of rural students in the state one of the highest in the nation, according to a 2023 report from the National Rural Education Association. Each year, the National Rural Education Association releases a "Why Rural Matters Report" ranking the states that need the most funding in rural communities. Mississippi has been ranked No. 1 for the past two decades, besides 2009, where the state ranked third.

But in the past decade, literacy scores for state testing have soared in what experts have started referring to as the "Mississippi Miracle."

“We're seeing great success in Mississippi and we're even sharing that with people in other states,” said Patti Permenter, co-chair of the MSREA and an associate professor at WCU’s school of education. “Mississippi's becoming a leader in this, and part of being in this network is not only getting to learn from others, but we're also getting to share our stories.”

More on the Rural Schools Collaborative

The Rural Schools Collaborative manages 17 regional hubs in the United States, running several rural education initiatives. Mississippi was the organization's 17th and newest regional hub.

One of the initiatives is the “Grow Your Own” program, a partnership with local high schools that encourages students to pursue careers in rural education and allows high schoolers to enroll in college courses through dual-enrollment.

There is also the "Teacher Assistance Waiver" program, which provides 75% off undergraduate tuition for teacher assistants and free textbooks. The collaborative also offers grants to innovative rural teachers.

“We're all doing the same thing," Poole said. “Our mission is just to ensure that we have effective leaders, effective teachers in those schools.”

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Permenter said the admission to the Rural Schools Collaborative increases access to educators in other states, who will help fuel ideas for how best to support teachers in Mississippi.

“We're better together,” she said. “So [now we’re] just trying to get everybody rowing the boat in the same direction so that we can do the best for our students.”

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: MS joins national network aimed at helping rural school districts