- Last Updated on March 20, 2012
- Written by CMI Staff
Imagine losing your town’s school when board members from the larger community in your consolidated school district simply decide through nefarious majority vote to close it. Then consider the same school board won’t allow your town to use the building for a preschool or community center, due to the larger town’s fear that you and other local parents may rally and apply for Charter School status. Sound like the plot of a Hollywood backwoods, mystery thriller—replete with villains, a forbidden inter-village love interest, broken hearts, and an ultimate hero? No. Welcome to rural Arkansas, where the state’s school consolidation policy forces small school districts with declining enrollments to bargain with the Devil in hopes of keeping community schools open, with the all-too-often dim hope of preventing young children from spending hours on a bus. It is hard to say what former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who drove the consolidation issue, hoped to accomplish, but questions along that line will have to be referred to Fox News. Anyway, castigating former governors and Presidential wannabes accomplishes little.
Instead, small towns in Arkansas are rolling up their sleeves and devising thoughtful strategies for survival and community improvement. 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. Arkansas’ Rural Community Alliance (RCA) is committed to these three goals, and their recent 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 February 18th workshop took place in Alpena’s City Hall, squarely planted on the community’s historic Main Street. Nearly 30 people from nine different communities 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.
Gary Funk, formerly of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and now with the Center for Midwestern Initiatives, facilitated the workshop with assistance from RCA’s Renee Carr and Lavina Grandon. Funk stressed the importance of having a plan, acting upon the plan, and setting goals that can provide “early victories.”
The nine participating communities were Mt. Judea, Fox, Alpena, Diamond City, Lead Hill, Fourche Valley, Leslie, St. Joe, and Valley Springs. Lunch was provided by a generous gift from the Carroll County Electric Cooperative.
For more information on building rural school foundations go to http://www.cmi.ruraledu.org/school-foundation-building.