Regional forum for rural schools to take place Thursday

Posted at 10:49 AM, Jan 17, 2017
and last updated 2018-07-24 21:30:37-04

A regional forum held by the Texas Rural Schools Task Force will take place in Waco on Thursday.

The task force, made up of 20 superintendents across the state, was created by Mike Morath. The group identifies current challenges and best practices for rural districts in the state.

Moody ISD's Superintendent Gary Martel was appointed to represent Region 12.

He said the task force met twice last year and reviewed 400 surveys sent to superintendents from small schools around the state.

"By collaborating and getting together as groups, we can begin to see the challenges we face and to begin to work on ways that we can solve them, to give our students in the rural settings as many opportunities to be successful," Martel said.

At Moody ISD, he said the community values and supports the school.

"A lot of times in rural schools, there is a direct contact between the administration and parents, where[as] in some urban settings you battle that and that's just logistics, not because people don't want it," Martel said.

Michenna Aycock, a high school senior who has been at the district since kindergarten, said she could not imagine going to school anywhere else.

"I just feel like the personal connection that you get with the students and teachers here is anything better than a bigger school," Aycock said. 

Her friend Hailey Patton, also a senior at Moody ISD, said she prefers the small class sizes compared to the sizes at larger district. 

Both Aycock and Patton, who plan to go to Tarleton State University, said they want to return to teach at Moody ISD once they receive their degrees. 

"It's a really good community as well as a school district, and the sports are awesome," Patton said. 

Martel said rural schools face some challenges, such as not having faster internet and the recruitment and retention of teachers.

"Our pay schedule is not as high as in an urban area, so let's be honest for being young and out of school, you need to have a social life and sometimes in small towns that social life is not there," Martel said.

He added rural districts often have to collaborate with other districts to offer courses, such as nursing, because they may not have enough students interested in a class to offer it at a single campus. 

After the forums are completed across the state, the group will send recommendations to legislators on how they can help them solve some of the problems they're facing.

"Our feelings are that we can put together some talking points, some things were we can give them to our legislators and say 'Can you help us solve these things either through grant programs or moving funding around'," Martel said.

According to the Department of Education, Texas has more than 2,000 schools in rural areas, higher than any other state.

"These regional forums will provide an opportunity for task force members and area superintendents to share insights and seek opportunities for innovation in the areas of teacher recruitment, teacher retention, resource allocation, use of technology, as well as parent and community engagement," Morath said in a statement.

The Waco forum will take place at Education Services Center Region 12 on Thursday.

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