Texas’ rural schools got a boost from Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who announced the creation of a new task force that will focus on the needs and interests of these often remote and much smaller districts.
“Rural school districts across our state are committed to successful student outcomes, but face many educational challenges unique to their size and region,” said Morath Thursday when the task force’s 20 appointees met for the first time in Austin.
He stated: “The Texas Rural Schools Task Force will provide an opportunity to identify common issues, exchange strategies for success and provide an avenue to share innovative practices that can strengthen educational opportunities for all students.”
The 20 task force members are rural school district superintendents chosen based on outstanding student achievement and a willingness to innovate, according to a press release issued by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
The group will meet four times in Austin over the next five months to brainstorm on pressing issues endemic to rural public education such as teacher recruitment and retention, access to technology, coursework, and community involvement. In January, the task force will host four regional forums, in Abilene, Waco, Corpus Christi, and Kilgore. Then, in March, they will present recommendations to the commissioner on how to best support the 2,000-plus campuses classified as “rural” in the state.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, Texas has more schools in rural areas than any other U.S. state. In fact, over 20 percent of all Texas public schools are in rural areas, the TEA press release stated.
The superintendents represent school districts in the following Education Service Centers (ESC) and regions:
- Bloomburg ISD – Brian Stroman (ESC Region 8)
- Bronte ISD – Tim Siler (ESC Region 15)
- Center Point ISD – Cody Newcomb (ESC Region 20)
- Channing ISD – Robert McLain (ESC Region 16)
- Cisco ISD – Kelly West (ESC Region 14)
- Community ISD – Roosevelt Nivens (ESC Region 10)
- Ezzell ISD – Lisa Berckenhoff, (ESC Region 3)
- Era ISD – Jeremy Thompson, (ESC Region 11)
- Flatonia ISD – Beverly Mikulenka (ESC Region 13)
- Floydada ISD – Gilbert Trevino (ESC Region 17)
- Fort Hancock ISD – Jose Franco (ESC Region 19)
- Mineola ISD – Kim Tunnell (ESC Region 7)
- Moody ISD – Gary Martel (ESC Region 12)
- Ricardo ISD – M.T. “Vita” Canales (ESC Region 2)
- Roma ISD – Carlos Guzman (ESC Region 1)
- Sabine Pass ISD – Kristi Heid (ESC Region 5)
- Seymour ISD – John Baker (ESC Region 9)
- Snook ISD – Brenda Krchnak (ESC Region 6)
- Stafford Municipal School District – Robert Bostic (ESC Region 4)
- Terlingua Common School District – Bobbie Jones (ESC Region 18)
Bloomburg ISD superintendent Brian Stroman recently called the task force an opportunity to bring attention to the unique needs of rural schools. He pointed out one discrepancy between smaller rural schools and larger urban districts as the latter having access to more funding. Stroman also said if rural school leadership does not “advocate” for their schools, “no one will.” He stated: “I’m hoping to show the state the need for improving teaching conditions, to encourage TEA to look at alternative ways to recruit, and increase funding for rural schools.”
“Why Rural Matters 2013-2014,” an education report from the Rural School and Community Trust, projected Texas would become the first state with over one million students in rural school districts. Almost half of these students identified as a minority, and one in 14 was an English language learner. The 2014 report cited the percentage of rural adults in Texas with a high school diploma as slightly less than the national rural average.
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