Ten Great Rural Education Environments in the South
Editor's Note: We have taken a few of the Top 10s from Southern Business & Development magazine's (the owner and operator of www.SouthernAutoCorridor.com) annual Ten Top 10s issue, which is published at the end of each winter quarter. These top 10s that we have chosen to publish here may apply to companies looking to gain a foothold in the Southern Automotive Corridor. You can read all ten top 10s by going to www.SB-D.com or by subscribing to Southern Business & Development. Again, the Ten Top 10s edition is an annual issue.
By Amy Murray
Ask any CEO which corporate asset is most crucial to success, and you’ll increasingly get the same answer: human capital. The ten communities listed here prove that when it comes to educating a workforce that can meet companies’ demands for talented, capable employees, rural areas are up to the challenge.
Charlotte County Public Schools—Virginia
Preparing young citizens for the real world is top priority in this school district. Statesmen Computers (named after the school mascot) is a real company owned by the school system in which students learn about every facet of running a business by actually running the business—from building computers to handling product invoicing. Some learn to install networks and even obtain certification. Students with an agricultural bent can work on the school’s 80-acre farm, a “land laboratory” where students raise cattle and grow crops as part of studies in aquiculture, biotechnology, and agriculture production.
Interconnectivity among educators, businesses, and the community is a distinguishing characteristic of Cleveland. Local companies participate in “adopt-a-school” programs while curriculums incorporate lessons relevant to neighboring industries. Cleveland’s school district boasts Mississippi’s first and only charter school; the Hayes Center for Science, Math, and Technology is an accelerated K-6 magnet school recognized as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. The community is proud to claim Delta State University as a resource providing greater opportunities for local citizens; the school offers Mississippi’s only 4-year degree in commercial aviation, and the school’s GIS center director, Talbot Brooks, is a leader in the field.
Mount Airy City Schools—North Carolina
Community makes the difference in Mount Airy’s public schools, where small size means principals and teachers know every student—and family—and can use that intimate knowledge to respond to individual instructional needs. Parents, along with members of the local business and faith communities, are quick to volunteer for school activities—local churches have even partnered with the school district to stage after-school tutorials. Mount Airy strives to complement such small-town advantages with academic offerings more common to larger areas: The high school offers 11 AP courses plus an online web academy, and a new math and science lab to accommodate more innovative, inquiry-based teaching methods is under construction.
The people of Crossville put their money where their mouths are when it comes to enhancing the local education environment; $60 million has been invested in new and upgraded classrooms since 1994. Crossville, Cumberland County, and local businesses raised $3 million to establish a new satellite campus of Roane State Community College, which opened in 1998. Roane State, neighboring Tennessee Technical University, and the Cumberland County School System are developing a business incubator program to support local start-ups and foster a spirit of entrepreneurship in students.
The self-proclaimed “Oklahoma’s Education Community” has the academic goods to back up its boast. The Stillwater Public School District has been ranked in the top 100 in the nation, and about 80 percent of high school students attend a four-year college. Stillwater is home to Oklahoma State University and a campus of Northern Oklahoma College. The headquarters for the state Department of Career and Technology Education is here, along with the Meridian Technology Center, a business and industry training center. This town takes education and workforce readiness very seriously, and it shows: 91.6 percent of the population is high school educated, and 48 percent is college educated.
Statesboro/Bulloch County, GA
Booming Georgia Southern University has been an important catalyst for growth in Bulloch County. GSU’s Information Technology bachelor’s degree program is one of the first in the nation to receive national accreditation, and the quality of its nursing program (ranked 5th nationally) has helped strengthen the local healthcare system. Programs in intermodal transportation and industrial management are a good fit with local manufacturing and distribution industries. Ogeechee Technical College is a host for Georgia’s acclaimed Quick Start workforce training program, and Bulloch County’s elementary and secondary school system is one of the best in the state.
Escambia County, Alabama
Here, exceptional environmental education is literally within arms reach thanks to the Turtle Point Environmental Science Center, where every learning experience is hands-on. Because the Center is owned by the board of education, teachers and students have free access to the facilities and can work with Center staff to design customized programs that complement a class’s ongoing science curriculum. Exhibits include gardens, a butterfly room, active honeybee hives, a wetlands walk, and a “touch tank.” (Think a salamander and a snake feel the same? Students here know better).
Oldham County, Kentucky
Oldham County’s board of education clearly recognizes the importance of fostering creativity in today’s learners. Through financial support from local power company Dynergy, the board purchased an old church facility and established the Oldham County Arts Center in 2004. The Center is the setting for high school creative writing, dance, and humanities classes as well as school orchestra rehearsals. An emphasis on artistic education hasn’t pushed academic achievement from center stage: Oldham County is home to nine National Blue Ribbon schools, and the outstanding academic reputation prompts many who work in nearby Louisville to reside here.
Claflin University has hitched its wagon to a rising industry star—biotech. Last year, Claflin led the Orangeburg-Calhoun Area Biotechnology Consortium (other members include Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College (OCTC), industry, the school system, and the county development group) in winning a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Funds will go toward preparing local citizens for biotechnology-related work in fields such as agriculture, criminal justice, and health science. Claflin offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biotechnology, OCTC will offer certificate and two-year degree programs, and a further goal is for 100 percent of area high schools to establish biotech modules in their health science curriculums.
Challenging gifted and talented students is a priority in the Kilgore Independent School District. Five AP courses and several pre-AP courses are offered in middle and high school. A mentorship program allows seniors to shadow professionals, who then evaluate and grade students on their performance. Advanced learners in grades 2–5 receive a full day of enrichment studies each week through a pull-out program focused on high-level thinking and research. As for higher education, two-year Kilgore College is right in town, and citizens can access two other 2-year colleges and five public and private 4-year schools within 35 miles.