Over the past five years, the founders of SCORS have visited 21 of the 41 rural school districts in South Carolina. Over the past 45 years of advocacy of rural schools and communities, the question of what is rural comes as a first query. The answer is very simple. If you think that you are rural, you are.
There are about 40 definitions of rurality within the federal government’s many departments. Each state has its own version of rural. Some of the largest mistakes in funding from governmental entities has been the definition of rural. There is something called SMSA (standard metropolitan statistical area). That is determined by population density.
However, in many states, including SC, there are large cities, surrounded by large tracts of rural areas. However, when a determination is made of who is rural for grant money proposals, those rural areas are lost. We have such counties here in South Carolina. You probably know all of them.
Therefore, when SCORS determined which area is rural, we used school districts population density, rather than metro areas. There had to be a cutoff in terms of the population per square mile. Many states use different numbers. We have used the population density of 100 people per square mile. Yes, there are some on the borderline and with this new census there will be other changes. Since we are not a membership organization, we don’t really have to deal with the small discrepancies. We try and help everyone we can.
In our travels and conversations with rural superintendents, we found common needs. Interestingly enough, it is not money or resources first, but the need to be recognized as different than other school districts. In that recognition, there would be the possibility of rural schools achieving an emotional parity, rather than a poor relative.
Rural schools, according to some interesting research, are usually not the first stop in the recruitment of both scholastically or athletically able students. A good example is a young man voted the best basketball player in Division 3 A. Yes, he was an NCAA qualifier and a good student. He got no offers from any major school and only one offer from a very small D2 school. A well-known college coach (and someone I had hired as a high school coach) is now the major scout for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has often said that this young man is a D-1 player.
The strange thing about that is that his brother, graduated in the same year. and went to a prep school in Philadelphia, got a free ride to a D-1 school. Here are a few articles that highlight that problem.
Let’s get back to what we saw when we visited those 21 rural districts. By the way, of the 21 we visited four years ago, 10 do not have the same superintendent now. We saw some amazing things. Rural folks keep their wonderful things hidden from view. I am not sure why, but they do. We saw art programs, pre-school programs, adult education programs, and all China week at one school. A local college had Chinese students to come and help. As a former school superintendent and my wife an elementary teacher and consultant to many rural schools we also saw a lack of resources, buildings that needed repair or replacement, lack of adequate staff and other heart wrenching things.
We were prepared to visit more schools this Spring, but . . . We will resume our roaming in the Fall G-d willing.