Ohio Appalachian Collaborative Blog

It takes teamwork to make the dream work

An Opportunity of a Lifetime: The OAC's Conversation with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

by User Not Found | Nov 14, 2014

By Chris Burrows, Superintendent, Georgetown Exempted Village Schools

“In order to take advantage of an opportunity of a lifetime, one must do so within the lifetime of the opportunity.” On behalf of the entire Ohio Appalachian Collaborative (OAC), I would personally like to thank Jim Mahoney and Battelle for Kids (BFK) for providing us with the opportunity of a lifetime, as on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, seven OAC superintendents had the privilege to sit down for a personal conversation with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan during the Rural Education Forum.
OAC Supts and Sec. Duncan

A huge barrier rural schools have always faced is the lack of a voice at the state and federal levels. Often times our tiny districts merely have 1,000 students. When policymakers look at the global picture, they view us as simply a tiny fleck. The collaboration efforts of the OAC, in partnership with Battelle for Kids, have totally ruptured the landscape that once left us mute and lacking a true voice.

We are beginning to perk some ears of decision-makers in our state and across the country. The opportunity to have an open and honest conversation with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan illustrates the progress we have made.

The conversation focused around issues facing rural educators. Sec. Duncan conversation

He asked us to share barriers as well as success stories from the trenches of our districts. We discussed topics like mental health needs for our communities, testing overload, and the amount of individuals wearing multiple hats not being able to do anything well.

As a group, more than anything, we wanted Secretary Duncan to see our passion for not only the students, but for the OAC. We stated several times how proud we were of the facts that as a collaborative we are 44,000 students strong, and that we have more than doubled the opportunities for our students to earn college credits while staying on their home school campus. These points are summed up best by one of my favorite quotes, “None of us is as strong as all of us.”  I must say Secretary Duncan seemed very intrigued and even made the statement to our group, “This is powerful work you all are doing and I believe it should be replicated across the country.”

He then followed that up with, “Tell me about the good, the bad and the ugly. Where would you begin if you were starting from scratch?" It was at this point in time I knew he was for real. He really believed in what we were doing and the awesome things we are doing for our students. He and his staff were actively listening and taking notes the entire conversation.

As educators, as we participate in this game of life, we have one sole mission: to make a difference in the lives of the children we come in contact with throughout our career. A teacher, over a 30 year career, has the opportunity to impact anywhere from 1,000-6,000 lives. As an administrator, that number exponentially increases. As an OAC collaborative that serves more than 44,000 students annually, we have the opportunity to impact nearly 1.4 million students over the next 30 years!

While these opportunities are the driver behind what we do, it truly makes me tremble thinking about the responsibility we have to ensure our rural and Appalachian students are receiving an education that empowers them to be successful, and ultimately strengthen our local and global economy. As we all know, there are many hidden gems within our collaborative. Collectively we have to seek them out, find them, and polish them to the point they are ready to be game changers in our struggling economy.

 More than half the economically disadvantaged students in Ohio reside within the boundaries of rural school districts. We must collectively stand strong and united for the sake of our students. They deserve access to a high-quality education that sets them up for success beyond our walls and ultimately frees them from the chains of poverty.

To everyone in the OAC, please know we are collectively making a difference. Ohio is watching, the country is watching, and lawmakers and leaders with influence are watching to see the impacts we are making. Now is the time to make a statement to everyone who is tuned in. Now is the opportunity of a lifetime. We must seize the moment before the lifetime of the opportunity expires.

To my colleagues and their respective staff members, to Jim Mahoney and all the staff at BFK, to Secretary Arne Duncan and his staff, thank you for sharing my passion in creating rural school environments that offer Ivy League academics and make learning magic like Disneyland. We will be successful when we are able to, collectively, turn ALL children’s dreams into reality.

Chris Burrows serves as superintendent of Georgetown Exempted Village Schools in Brown County, Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter at @cburrows22.