RCA and Allies Explore New Ways to Build Support for Their Work

Last Updated: March 30, 2012

This article appeared in the March 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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Imagine losing your town’s school when board members from the larger community in your consolidated school district simply decide through majority vote to close it. Or, imagine being a remote, rural district being scrutinized at every turn using byzantine, illogical regulations designed to force your consolidation as soon as possible. Sounds like overstatement? It’s not.

Welcome to rural Arkansas, where the state’s consolidation policy forces small rural places with declining enrollments to fight tooth and nail to keep community schools open, with the all-too-often dim hope of preventing young children from spending hours on a bus. And finding support to carry out the important work of protecting students and schools just makes the fight tougher.

But communities are not giving up. Instead, small towns in Arkansas are rolling up their sleeves and devising thoughtful strategies for survival and community improvement. Last month, the Arkansas Rural Community Alliance held a workshop in Alpena on school and community foundation building served to further their work. Co-sponsored by The Rural School and Community Trust’s Center for Midwestern Initiatives, RCA’s workshop took place in Alpena’s City Hall, squarely planted on the community’s historic Main Street. Carroll County Electric Cooperative also provided support for the convening.

Nearly 30 people from nine different rural areas spent four hours discussing how to establish, develop, and grow school and community foundations. Participants shared challenges and victories, as well as asked questions on some of the more technical aspects involved in formalizing foundation efforts. The communities represented were Mt. Judea, Fox, Alpena, Diamond City, Lead Hill, Fourche Valley, Leslie, St. Joe, and Valley Springs.

Gary Funk, formerly of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and now Director of the Center for Midwestern Initiatives, facilitated the workshop with assistance from RCA’s Renee Carr and Lavina Grandon. Grandon is also a member of the Rural Trust’s Board of Directors. Funk stressed the importance of having a plan, acting upon the plan, and setting goals that can provide “early victories.”

Participants also learned that small rural places need to develop social and economic capital through the development of a sturdy three-legged stool: building strong schools, rethinking community and economic development, and devising strategies to maximize philanthropic support.

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Additional information on building rural school foundations can be found on the Center for Midwestern Initiatives website:

Read more from the March 2012
Rural Policy Matters.