National Forum Highlights Rural Education

COLUMBUS, OH—Partners for Education delegates attended the Rural Education National Forum on Monday and Tuesday of last week to learn more about the issues facing rural education and how educators, policy makers and advocates are overcoming them. Representatives from more than 20 states joined to network, participate in specialized learning sessions, and listen to keynote speakers including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, author and former NASA engineer Homer Hickam, and National Rural Teacher of the Year Paul Kuhlman.

Homer HickamHomer Hickam, the first speaker in the forum’s keynote series, was made famous by October Sky, the film adaptation of his book Rocket Boys: A Memoir. Hickam drew from his experience growing up in rural Coalwood, West Virginia, where he and his friends developed the unusual hobby of building professional-quality rockets.  In addition to recounting the deeds of the rocket Boys, Hickam noted that 90% of his 35 classmates from Coalwood went on to graduate from college in the 1960s. He credited the group’s success to the close-knit community of Coalwood. “You come from a real place with real people and a real history and a real culture,” said Hickam addressing kids in rural communities today. In addition, Hickam attributed his success as a NASA engineer and author to what he dubbed the 3 P’s of success: passion, planning, and perseverance. “It doesn’t matter if you lose. It’s the fella that keeps going that ultimately succeeds,” he said.

DuncanArneU.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who visited Berea College’s Promise Neighborhood in November 2013, delivered his keynote after the morning’s learning sessions. Duncan applauded Berea for “coming together to create a set of opportunities that weren’t there before,” and said “federal funding is a small piece of the work, so we try to invest in people who have a vision for success” like the Berea College Promise Neighborhood. He elaborated by describing the success of Leslie County, saying that, through focusing on data, the district went from the bottom 6 in the state to 16th in 4 years, getting the graduation rate up to 99%. “I’m very optimistic about where we need to go, and the collective leadership here is a big reason why,” said Duncan.

Charlie Foster, communications coordinator for Partners for Education, came away from the forum feeling motivated. “I was inspired when the Secretary said that we need people telling the success stories in rural education because that’s the work that I do,” said Foster.

Battelle for Kids, a national not-for-profit organization that provides strategic counsel and solutions to improve the education system, hosted the Rural Education Forum. To learn more about Battelle for Kids and the Rural Education National Forum, visit:

Partner Schools Gather to Launch New GEAR UP Program

01_GroupBEREA, KY—Superintendents and representatives from 14 school districts met with Partners for Education staff and Berea College President Dr. Lyle Roelofs at historic Boone Tavern today to celebrate the launch of the newest GEAR UP program at Berea College. The recently awarded grant expands Partners for Education’s service region to include Barbourville Independent, Casey County, Clinton County, Cumberland County, East Bernstadt Independent, Harlan County, Jenkins Independent, Letcher County, Lincoln County, McCreary, Middlesboro Independent, Somerset Independent, Wayne County, and Whitley County school districts.

03_Lyle_DreamaRoelofs provided an overview of Berea College’s history and mission, highlighting the institution’s commit to the region. “I’m looking forward to hearing about the positive effect GEAR UP will have in your district,” Roelofs said. “The students and families that benefit by our work will have a long term impact: every time you change the opportunities of one student, you are affecting an entire family. We have many cases of that.  Any of that that happens is great news for Kentucky, great news for the region, for our 8th commitment to Appalachia, and for that, we’re very proud to collaborate with you through the work of our fine Partners staff.”

02_Dreama_LyleDreama Gentry, executive director of Partners for Education, said she was excited to collaborate with the 14 school districts. “We are happy to do this work in these new counties and in these new schools,” she said. “I was once a student from the region, so I am just like these Appalachian youth, and we want to see all Appalachian youth succeed in school.”

Partners for Education will receive $5.5 million annually for the next 7 years from the new GEAR UP grant. The funds enable Partners for Education and their extensive network of strategic partners to provide services to nearly 7,000 students, their parents, and schools. To learn more about Partners for Education’s programs and services, visit: