A new partnership between the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the Rural Schools Collaborative aims to improve the K–12 education workforce throughout Appalachia and offer additional opportunities to increase the visibility and profile of rural schools and educators.
With a mission of building sustainable rural communities through a keen focus on place, teachers and philanthropy, the Rural Schools Collaborative (RSC)—based in Galesburg, Illinois—is comprised of a series of regional hubs across the country designed to allow the organization and its partners to share stories and information; work together on programs and projects; explore funding opportunities to support rural schools; and network and collaborate with other organizations and schools both within specific regions and at other hubs across the country.
UTC will be joining Morehead (Kentucky) State University to co-lead RSC’s Appalachia Regional Hub.
“We’re so excited to welcome UTC to the Regional Hub Network,” said RSC Executive Director Taylor McCabe-Juhnke. “UTC is leading the way on rural education innovation initiatives like apprenticeship pathways and finding innovative ways to diversify the future teaching workforce.”
Through this new partnership, the UTC College of Health, Education and Professional Studies’ School of Education is working with Morehead State to lead RSC’s larger Appalachian Partnership Region, which includes Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina. This collaboration will strengthen ongoing work in the region and serve as a platform to further advance the knowledge and innovations transforming education across rural Appalachia.
Dr. Allen Pratt, interim co-director of the UTC School of Education and executive director of the National Rural Education Association—housed at UTC—will serve as the contact for the new hub.
“This partnership will allow us to bring opportunities to rural districts in the area that they may not have seen from UTC in a while,” Pratt said. “That ability to meet their needs and what they’re looking for fits into how we’re sharing this work as a rural teacher hub.”
Chattanooga’s surrounding community includes 17 rural districts.
“The teacher shortage is a big issue,” Pratt said, “and we have to make sure that current and future teachers are ready to meet the needs schools are facing right now. The biggest thing is making sure people are exposed to those needs and are ready to go out and help.”
With rural innovation, practical action and collaboration at the forefront, Pratt said UTC is eager to join Morehead State and RSC in a collective effort to support rural teachers and elevate the education profession.
“We’re not standalone; we’re here for the collaboration to help rural Appalachia,” he said. “We’re just one part of the whole: there’s MSU in Kentucky, but there’s also Virginia Tech and institutions in the other Appalachian states that we can work with further—and we have already worked with them.
“As our country has changed, we need to change as an institution to be able to meet the needs of rural districts. We’ve always been out in those districts, so I think this outreach—and what we can do for rural schools—is a natural fit for us because of where we are and what we’ve been doing historically.”
Another element strengthening UTC’s growing role in the rural education landscape will come later this year when the National Rural Education Association hosts its annual National Forum to Advance Rural Education on Nov. 16-17 at the Chattanooga Marriott Downtown. NFARE is the premier convening of rural education scholars, administrators, advocates and practitioners, drawing 787 attendees from 48 states last year.
“With experts and allies from across the rural landscape converging in UTC’s backyard later this year, the opportunity is ripe to showcase the collaborative and innovative spirit with which Dr. Pratt and his team at the School of Education are charging forward in the region,” RSC Partnerships Manager John Glasgow said.
The RSC is a national nonprofit launched in 2015 to build sustainable rural communities. With a focus on place, teachers and philanthropy, the collaborative’s signature efforts include The Place Network, Rural Teacher Corps, Grants in Place and Impact Philanthropy.