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CFO Initiative Keeps Talented Teachers Close to Home

For KSMU and Making a Difference Where You Live, I’m Mike Smith. 

 Our program today is a follow up of a May 2010 report about a Community Foundation of the Ozarks initiative to support rural schools across southern Missouri.  In that report KSMU took you to the Oregon County community of Thomasville where the CFO Rural Schools Partnership held the first ever Rural Education Rendezvous and introduced the inaugural class of the Ozarks Teacher Corps.  The Rendezvous was attended by Ozarks teachers and administrators K-College; State and Federal Education officials; members of the Washington D.C. based Rural School and Community Trust; and from all across southern Missouri, rural education advocates representing the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and its 40 plus affiliate foundations. 

The Concept of the Ozarks Teacher Corps and the Rural Schools Partnership comes from CFO understanding the importance of rural schools to rural development, and of returning and retaining home grown talent to teach in then classroom.

(Voice of Ozarks Teacher Corps member Rachel Buck from May 2010)  “We know what that community needs and what the resources are in the area.  It’s (Ozarks Teacher Corps) a great idea and has me really excited about getting back to Monett and teaching there.”  There are 16 future educators in Bucks group. 6 begin their new careers in just a few weeks.  15 more were added to the Ozarks Teacher Corps this year.  Applicants must be students enrolled in a teacher education program at Ozarks Technical Community College, MSU-Springfield/West Plains, Drury University or Evangel University.  Each Applicant must be from a rural area of southern Missouri. 

At a 2010 Rural Education Rendezvous breakout session then outgoing, now former CFO President Gary Funk addressed the first member of the Ozarks Teacher Corps:  “What our organization wants to do is to create leaders who are activists for rural places and the region.  We want you to be warriors for your schools and your communities.”  In the spring of 2010 as Gary Funk was winding down his tenure as President of the CFO, he was cranking up foundation support for rural schools and their associated communities through the Rural Schools Partnership.  Today Gary Funk, also a former educator and school administrator builds on those efforts as director of the Rural School and Community Trust’s Center for Midwestern Initiatives.  When asked about the challenges facing rural schools and communities Funk said: “I tend to think that the two primary obstacles rural places are facing now are the loss of economic capital and social capital.  Social capital being “Bright Flight”, when so many of our best and brightest young persons leave small towns and don’t return because they don’t think there are opportunities there for them.  Economic capital being that as we continue to lose small businesses in the U.S. and as we continue to be more corporate dominated, we see more and more outflow of money from money from rural places into urban areas.  That’s exacerbated monetarily by the social capital flight because when these young people leave Seymore or Everton and don’t return and then their parents pass away, that money in the bank, that estate if you will, leaves the community forever.  And we have to create strategies and programs that try to address those two issues.” 

Among those programs and strategies is the CFO Rural Schools Partnership’s Ozarks Teacher Corps.  KSMU asks Gary Funk about his May 2010 comments about asking the inaugural class of the Ozarks Teacher Corps to be “warriors and activists” for rural schools and rural places.  “There are so many messages in today’s media and society that rural places are not relevant.  We tend to tell our brightest students from rural schools that they need to leave the small communities and move to St. Louis or Kansas City to m ake a lot of money and d to live in a fancy home. And I think what we need is for people to stand up and make the case that living in rural places not only is a good quality of life, and that it’s important to maintain a balance between urban and rural America and that harmony is lacking right now and I think some of the problems we have as a nation are related to that frankly.  So yea, we want them to be warriors and activists.  We’re not making any apologies for that kind of language.  If we don’t all become intentional about trying to revitalize and restore life in rural places, we’re going to lose more and more of those communities.”

“I think he’s dead on, and what the CFO is trying to do is a very noble thing” says Albert Bryant, also a member of the inaugural class of the Ozarks Teacher Corps.  Bryant graduated from Drury University in the spring and in a few weeks will begin his career as high school math teacher in his hometown of Everton.  “You get into the small school  setting and there’s a lot more opportunity to harness the power of the community. The networking and the professional resources afforded to us through membership in the Ozarks Teacher Corps are phenomenal.  Melissa Payne comes from the inaugural class of the OTC.  She graduates from Drury August 17th.  That’s 4 days after she begins her new career teaching 1stgrade in her hometown of Sparta. She says “It’s encouraging to know someone is standing behind you to support you as you try to make your community a better place”.  Payne seems to serve as perfect example of what Gary Funk referred to earlier; the long term benefits to rural schools and communities through the CFO Rural Schools Partnership and the OTC.  She says “I plan on staying in Sparta.  My husband and I are buying a house there.  I want my kids to be raised in the area, and I’m happy there”.

For more information about the Rural Schools Partnership and the Ozarks Teacher Corps,  Support for Making a Difference Where you Live, I’m Mike Smith.