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EHE starts collaboration with rural school district leaders

Robin Chenoweth
August 15, 2019

Surrounded by farms in the eastern Ohio heartland, the 12 districts served by the Ohio Valley Educational Service Center confront challenges common to many rural and small-town schools.

One of them is recruiting teachers.

“When we posted a job 10 or 15 years ago, we'd have 15 or 20 candidates,” said Mike Elliot, secondary director of the Washington County Career Center, at a leadership day in Cambridge, Ohio, in early August.

Not anymore. The service center’s four counties — Monroe, Washington, Guernsey and Noble — are all losing population. Three of the counties have fewer children than people older than 65.

Don Pope-Davis, dean of the College of Education and Human Ecology, spoke at the leadership day event and fielded questions. Attracting teachers and retaining them, he said, has been a problem in Ohio since the recession ended.

It’s also an issue the college is tackling, creating scholarship possibilities for education majors, developing online education and finding other ways to make college accessible. “We have to think about a model that is different,” Pope-Davis said.

The leadership day discussion is one of many the college has initiated as part of its Urban and Rural Education Initiative. The research and community collaboration aim to bring educational parity to Ohio students on the bottom end of the socio-economic spectrum in both rural and urban areas.

“This is an initiative designed to help our college understand what you do and what your needs are,” the dean told the gathering of superintendents, principals and school administrators. “We want to have partnerships with you around teacher preparation, and around the needs students have in their respective communities.”

To do this, the college is working to become a better steward to rural communities, he said. Its academic excellence has poised the college to address pressing issues: It has five top-10 ranked education programs, and two No. 1 programs.

“So, the question is not about the quality of education you get in our college,” he said. “It is, how do we make what we do much better and accessible to the citizens of the state of Ohio?”

Education and Human Ecology is able to help rural districts analyze their data to better serve their students, for example. It has a wealth of information about science-based pedagogy that can inform policy decisions, such as whether to remove physical education programs or eliminate recess.

“We want to inform superintendents, principals, teachers, boards of education: Don't cut this out, because the evidence suggests that when kids play, they're exploring different modalities using different parts of the brain,” he said, “and they come back to class more excited and engaged.”

“That's the role that our college can play in this conversation with you.”

Phillip Ackerman, ’75 BS, director of shared and administrative services for the Ohio Valley Educational Service Center, with Dean Pope-Davis

The districts’ roles are to keep the college on track doing relevant studies and outreach. “The practicality needs to be that the research we do is informed by what you are experiencing in your community, so we can be better at this,” he said.

The dean invited the group to visit the Columbus Campus and to exchange ideas on how to best engage.

Phillip Ackerman, ’75 BS, director of shared and administrative services for the center and a member of the EHE Alumni Society Board of Directors, said the college had a lasting effect on his career. “It has such great resources in terms of teacher preparation and professional development,” he said. “We would love to be able to partner in terms of professional development for our teaching staff moving forward.”

“I base that on what I know, and also on my experience being there. It's had such an impact. And that's what we're about, making a difference in the lives of young people.”