The new Rural Teacher Corps: An Illinois Initiative grew out of the nationally recognized Ozarks Teacher Corps, a program dedicated to the recruitment, preparation and placement of outstanding rural teacher-leaders. The Ozarks Teacher Corps (OTC) is a collaborative effort with funding and administrative support from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, and participating students enrolled at partner universities. With its 93% placement rate, the work of the Ozarks Teacher Corps is a catalyst for rethinking how organizations can work together to strengthen rural schools and communities.
One outcome of the conversation around the Ozarks Teacher Corps was the formation of the multi-state Rural Schools Collaborative (RSC), officially launched in 2015 by a group of rural advocacy organizations. The Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools (AIRSS) is a founding organization of the RSC, and its executive director, David Ardrey, is a founding board member and a past board chair.
Since early 2015, AIRSS has been at the forefront of the discussion and work around the teacher shortage in Illinois. Our approach has been to support all work related to the concept of the Rural Teacher Corps and the Illinois Grow Your Own (GYO) program. AIRSS also continues discussion around policy and funding issues to encourage statewide support for the Rural Teacher Corps concept.
The shared work of RSC, AIRSS, and University’s private and public, and other stakeholders, has driven the rural teacher corps discussion in Illinois, and this cooperative approach has been fruitful.
Since 2017 rural teacher corps programs have been established at Western Illinois University, Monmouth College, Quincy University, with Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University establishing programs that are supported with Illinois Grow Your Own grants (GYO).
The Rural Teacher Corps: An Illinois Initiative has three primary focal points:
- To promote new rural teacher corps efforts that address the rural teacher shortage in Illinois;
- To strengthen the capacity of existing rural teacher corps programs;
- To provide rural-centric professional development for both pre-service and practicing teachers