The PERK Program: Preparing Educators for Rural Kansas will consist of a consortium of six eligible, high needs, rural school districts (LEA’s) in southwest Kansas, three community colleges in the same geographic area, MidAmerica Nazarene University’s College of Education and Counseling, and the College of Arts and Sciences at MidAmerica Nazarene University (MNU). The Department of Undergraduate Teacher Education at MNU is the primary applicant and fiscal agent in this partnership. The six identified LEA’s are Copeland USD 476, Deerfield USD 216, Lakin USD 215, Rolla USD 217, Stanton USD 452, and Sublette USD 374 (“Southwest Kansas LEA Consortium”). The identified community college partners are Dodge City Community College located in Ford County, Kansas; Garden City Community College located in Finney County, Kansas; and Seward County Community College. Also supporting the PERK Program are the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) and the Southwest Kansas Service Center which is located in Haskell County, Kansas.
Through many discussions with our rural Kansas community leaders and school officials, a needs assessment profile was developed illustrating specific challenges of the high needs LEA’s in southwest Kansas. Common to all six partnering LEA’s, there is a need to recruit teacher candidates who are familiar with and understand the complexities of rural settings and who will be satisfied teaching in a rural setting. Another commonality is the need for all secondary teachers to view themselves as literacy instructors as well as content experts. Additionally, each partner school district voiced concern over current new teacher mentoring systems and ongoing professional development which tends to be unaffordable and therefore inaccessible. Currently, there are no established programs for new teacher recruitment within the Southwest Kansas LEA Consortium. As a result, each district and each school struggles to fill its classrooms with highly qualified teachers in core content areas.
Keeping these challenges in mind, the PERK: Preparing Educators for Rural Kansas Program was envisioned. The activities of this grant focus on three points to tackle the challenges found in rural education. They are; recruitment of teachers, training of teachers for the rural setting and the retention of in-service teachers in the rural setting. Innovative and creative ways to recruit from the rural settings will be developed along with the development of an Induction program for all new hires in all of the six school districts in southwest Kansas. The third point of focus was the transformation of the Teacher Education Preparation program at MidAmerica Nazarene University. Some of the reforms used to transform the program are; streamlining the general education core to allow the time to complete an endorsement program along with an initial teaching license. Added technology instruction will give the teacher candidates a clearer picture of how technology can be used as an instructional tool for learning for their students. An added emphasis of literacy and content knowledge will also aid our teacher candidates in teaching in rural Kansas because it will enable them to have the literacy skills to teach their content and the content depth to allow development for AP courses.
This grant opportunity affords the chance to research, create, and implement new and innovative processes and activities to help the challenges facing rural Kansas school districts. This study could also pioneer the way in finding solutions for rural education that could be replicated throughout the nation. Our rural students deserve to have a highly qualified and a highly effective teacher in the classroom and this grant opportunity will give southwest Kansas the chance to discover a model for recruiting, training and retaining educators for rural America.