The AIRSS Executive Board and Program Director John Glasgow recently made their way to the Illinois Association of School Boards Joint Annual Conference (Triple I) in Chicago to connect with school board members, administrators, and administrative professionals. This year’s Rural and Small School Session celebrated the creation of the Rural Education Advisory Council through the passage of Illinois Senate Bill 1787. After an introduction and overview by Board President Dr. Jennifer Garrison, Superintendent of Vandalia CUSD 203, Dr. Mark Twomey, Superintendent of Macomb CUSD 185, proudly shared the history of the decade-long effort to officially establish a Voice for rural and small schools at the state level. They underscored that this represents the beginning of an entirely new chapter of advocacy for the over 500 districts AIRSS represents, as the eyes and ears of the state are now attuned to what the Council has to share about the realities and challenges in rural and small schools across Illinois.
This also kicks off a new period of activity for AIRSS itself. Membership Committee Chair Larry Lovel, Superintendent of Trico CUSD 176, unveiled the Board’s redoubled efforts to engage even more rural districts by creating local membership liaisons. Liaisons will personally reach out to districts in their immediate region to share about the work of AIRSS and the advantages of becoming a member. Another new dimension of AIRSS’s work moving forward is the Rural School CTE Project. Program Director John Glasgow explained that this ISBE-funded effort will allow AIRSS to reach out to rural high schools, junior highs, and middle schools to conduct a state-wide review of CTE programs in hopes of strengthening rural students’ career and college opportunities.
Last, Glasgow and the Board turned the audience’s gaze beyond Illinois by sharing how AIRSS is looking to continue deepening its advocacy relationships nationally. AIRSS is an affiliate partner of the National Rural Education Association (NREA), and AIRSS Executive Director David Ardrey is currently the President of the NREA. This has led to a concerted effort over the past year to co-create a rural education policy platform that dutifully represents the experiences and lessons gained by serving Illinois rural and small schools. This enables the Association to not only be the voice for rural education in the state of Illinois, but to elevate those voices and perspectives together with other state affiliates and craft a national agenda that truly sees, understands, and upholds rural education.
AIRSS extends a warm thank you to everyone who ventured out to attend the session in Chicago, to our Board members and member districts, and to all the school and community collaborators who are working together to advance rural and small schools across Illinois.