More than 30 people from across Nevada attended last month's first Nevada Rural Education Summit, an initiative spearheaded by University of Nevada, Reno College of Education Dean Ken Coll, and in partnership with Great Basin College. The Summit was designed to build a foundation between higher education and the rural school districts, helping to assist with the teacher shortage in Nevada's rural communities and to continue looking at ways of changing Nevada's image as it pertains to education.
"Our goal with this Summit was to generate concrete, tangible goals to both create incentives and interest in higher education at the K-12 level and to then bring those students back to the rural communities as highly-qualified teachers," Coll said. "If there's incentive to go back, we know rural students are likely to return."
Within the College of Education at the University, only 10 percent of students are from rural Nevada. One of the goals that came out of the Summit is to look at ways to increase that number.
Gerald Ackerman, assistant dean for rural programs at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, was one of the conference attendees.
"This was the first time I've ever been to a meeting when most of the senior administrative officials from school districts across Nevada, combined with industry, attended," Ackerman said. "What we struggle with in healthcare, they struggle with in education - which is recruitment of people who want to come to rural communities and who will stay. If you can get a rural student to college, maintain their ties back to their rural community, and provide them mechanisms to succeed, we know those are the students who are going to stay."
While some Nevada rural school districts offer signing bonuses and respectable starting salaries, district officials say that is often not enough. There are currently 100 open positions across Nevada's rural school districts and, according to Coll, this leaves a gaping hole that needs filling.
"If a rural school district in Nevada has an experienced and highly qualified math teacher who leaves or retires, as an example, that may leave an extremely difficult position for the rural school district to then fill," Coll said.
Sandra Sheldon, superintendent of the Churchill County School District, said the Summit was a good way to meet people in higher education and to exchange ideas.
"I would hope that we all encourage people to go into teaching," Sheldon said. "It would be great to have some rural cohort programs available for people too far from the University of Nevada, Reno campus to commute. People with families and with jobs cannot always trace or relocate to Reno."
Ackerman, shared that this is the first year the University's medical school put together a rural cohort, where medical school students are living and working in rural communities in Nevada. This model is one Coll, along with a work group from across the state, plan to explore in the future.
Three goals were identified from the Summit to further explore how best to assist rural Nevada communities education and teacher pipeline and retention.
1. Support student teachers financially in rural districts.
2. Dual credit at the high school level to promote the teaching profession.
3. Incentives to work in rural districts (other than student teaching).
In the coming months, Coll, along with a work group, will explore the possibility of each of the aforementioned goals. For those interested in learning more, contact Will McDonald at email@example.com or 775-784-4385.