Rural education and communities receive little attention in either academia and policy. Rural students, their school districts, and their communities face unique challenges that are often overshadowed by their urban and suburban counterparts, according to Jamon H. Flowers, a former principal who is currently a third-year doctoral student in K-12 administration and a Holmes Scholar.
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So, when Jackie Boddie, coordinator for the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP) in Washington, D.C., extended the invitation to raise awareness of the educational issues rural communities face by serving as a panelist for a “School Reform” event hosted by the Institute for Educational Leadership, Flowers welcomed the opportunity.
Throughout the event, Flowers took advantage of the space to address the unique challenges and highlight practices and policies that impact rural schools. The challenges the panel discussed included the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), school-university partnerships, professional development, school choice, equity in funding and resources, and teacher and principal shortages.
"Adequate funding remains an issue for rural school systems, as it directly impacts teacher and administrator recruitment and retention. Rural areas have to grapple with the reality of not being at the top of the list for well-qualified teaching and leading candidates," said Flowers. "How do you attract young and energetic educators to a locale lacking infrastructures for technology such as wi-fi? This limitation poses a challenge both for educating students and providing continuing education for faculty and staff. Therefore, creating and highlighting attractive factors, such as lower housing costs, is critical in sustaining a well-qualified staff."
Flowers' passion for rural education and communities is personal; he himself is a product of rural education.
"The quality of my education was challenged as a college freshman," he said. "I had to navigate through the academic hurdles, stigmas of rurality, and the feeling of betrayal by the K-12 system. I was in classes with individuals who completed Latin V or advanced placement (AP) physics, but at my school, AP course offerings were minimal."
Although he has a vast array of educational experiences, he said his time as a rural educator in Alexander County, North Carolina, was transformative and being able to share his experiences and advocate for rural education on the panel in D.C. was an extreme honor.