This article appeared in The Gazette-Democrat on April 20, 2017. Continuing Ed. is a yearlong, statewide series of free public programs that puts parents and schools back at the center of conversations addressing difficult questions. You can find the original article here.
Residents of Southern Illinois will have three opportunities this month to discuss challenges and opportunities facing public schools in predominantly rural communities.
Illinois Humanities, in partnership with the Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools, plans to present “The Future of Rural Public Schools,” consisting of free public programs in Alexander, Union, and Jackson counties during the last week of April.
“The Future of Rural Public Schools” is scheduled to include town hall events at Egyptian High School in Tamms on Tuesday, April 25, at 6 p.m., and at Cobden High School on Wednesday, April 26, at 6 p.m.
A roundtable discussion-based program is planned at Giant City School in the Boskydell area, just southeast of Carbondale, on Thursday, April 27, at 6:30 p.m.
Each of the two town hall programs will feature a brief keynote presentation by Gary Funk, director of the Rural Schools Collaborative, an organization that seeks to strengthen the bonds between rural schools and communities.
A longtime educator, scholar and philanthropy specialist, Funk has taught at Missouri State University and directed the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. He has led several nationally recognized rural education initiatives.
After his presentation, everyone in attendance will be invited to participate in small-group discussions featuring Funk; David Ardrey, director of the Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools, based in Carbondale; and local public school leaders, including superintendent Brad Misner and board of education member Lamar Houston at Egyptian on April 25 and superintendent Edwin Shoemate at Cobden on April 26.
The town hall events will examine questions such as:
What are the distinctive strengths of our rural schools?
What are they uniquely suited to contribute to society?
What risks and obstacles do they face, and how should they be addressed?
How can we ensure that rural schools and the communities they serve sustain robust, mutually beneficial relationships?
During the April 27 roundtable-based program at Giant City School, a panel which is scheduled to include Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis, Funk, Ardrey and various local leaders and stakeholders in public education will discuss the essential purposes of public schools, past and present, with particular emphasis on those that serve predominantly rural communities.
The conversation will draw upon a brief excerpt from an essay by influential education philosopher Robert Maynard Hutchins.
Belinda Hill, superintendent and principal of Giant City School, will also offer remarks, and members of the audience will have opportunities to comment, as well.
All three programs will feature brief performances or presentations by students from the host schools.
“The Future of Rural Public Schools” will be part of a series of programs organized by Illinois Humanities titled “‘Continuing Ed.’: Parents and the Future of Illinois Public Schools,” which began in April 2016 and is scheduled to continue through May 2017.
The series also is scheduled to include events in Decatur, Elgin and Chicago.
The programs are designed to give people involved in education at the local level, especially families of students, opportunities to discuss education policy issues that are of national or statewide significance but also impact their own schools and communities.
In conjunction with the series, Illinois Humanities has produced a publication titled “What About Us?: A Compendium on Equity in Public Education,” which will be available at the three events.
The publication includes a wide variety of data, articles and commentary relevant to the schools and communities where programs in the series are taking place.
Copies of the compendium will be available, free of charge, at the three “Future of Rural Public Schools” events.
Illinois Humanities hopes the publication will serve as a useful resource for area residents who wish to contribute constructively to the futures of their local schools.
“We’re honored that the Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools and our friends in the Egyptian, Cobden and Giant City school districts have joined us to offer these discussions of one of our most important community resources, our public schools,” said Matt Meacham, program manager for access with Illinois Humanities and a native of Southern Illinois.
“We hope residents of Jackson, Union, Alexander and surrounding counties will find them to be good opportunities for learning and exchanging ideas about how to make local public education the best it can be.”
Illinois Humanities is an independent, nonprofit state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, with a mission to strengthen society by fueling inquiry and conversation about the ideas and works that shape our culture.
Illinois Humanities engages communities across the state in conversation in a variety of humanities programs that focus on public policy, media and journalism, business and art.