I’m used to reading about the challenges faced by first-time teachers, and I’ve seen several articles about the challenges faced by first-time principals.
The first article I’ve come across about the challenges of first-time rural school superintendents, however, is Cari L. Wrysinski-Guden’s piece at the School Superintendents Association website.
The article includes four profiles of four rural Wisconsin superintendents. It’s well worth reading, and it’s actually readable, not a boring piece with 1,000-word paragraphs full of academic jargon.
Wrysinski-Guden’s first experience as a superintendent was in a 600-student school district in central Wisconsin. She did her doctoral dissertation on the roles and challenges that other first-time rural superintendents had.
A sample from Wrysinski-Guden’s article is this quote from Justin Jerson, who was promoted to superintendent from being high school principal:
Many times [school board members] went to school and graduated from high school, so they’re an expert. I’ve tried, over the years, to inform them, but they’ve lived in the rural town for 60 years and they’ve been involved with the schools since age 5, as a student or a parent or now a board member for 20 years. How can an outsider to our district tell me differently?
Although you’d never know it from the national media, the number of students in rural schools in America is growing, becoming more diverse, and a significant number of those students are poor.
Writing in Education Week, Marty Strange reported:
Between 2004 and 2009, rural schools grew 11 percent, from 10.5 million students to 11.7 million, and the rural share of the nation’s students increased from 22 percent to 24 percent, according to data from the Department of Education.
The stereotype of rural America as overwhelmingly white is also changing. Blacks, Strange reports, now make up almost a third of students in rural schools.
And a significant number of the non-white rural school population is as poor as any from the inner cities, Strange says:
Fifty-nine percent of students in rural districts ranking in the top 10 percent of poverty are students of color—28 percent African-American, 23 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent Native.
It’s hard to see the changing demographics of rural schools because immigrants to rural districts are scattered all over the country, a few here, a few there. The changes and their impact on rural schools go almost unnoticed. It’s easy to see the need for such things as English as a second language training for teachers when a district is 30% Hispanic, for example, but far more difficult to see teachers need that training when only a handful of students in a district are non-English speakers.