Rural districts often face unique challenges in educating students due to their size, location, and overall capacity. Through the Tennessee Rural Acceleration and Innovation Network (TRAIN), SCORE and The Ayers Foundation are working with rural districts, many economically distressed or at-risk, to identify innovative opportunities to overcome these challenges. On September 27, SCORE and The Ayers Foundation relaunched the newest cohort of TRAIN and welcomed districts to their first convening of the 2022-23 school year.

Teams representing 24 of TRAIN’s 30 partner districts gathered at the convening to identify strategies to increase seamless college enrollment in response to the decline in Tennessee’s college-going rate. While the statewide college-going rate has dropped 11 points since 2017, the decline has been magnified for rural districts and students, with the college-going rate for TRAIN districts dropping an average of 13 points during this time.

Janet Ayers at TRAIN convening.

The convening included remarks from Janet Ayers, president of The Ayers Foundation, followed by a session with Education Strategy Group that focused on the framework of Momentum Metrics and leveraging data from the National Student Clearinghouse to improve seamless enrollment and postsecondary outcomes for students. TRAIN superintendent Dr. Clint Satterfield of Trousdale County Schools shared how Trousdale County has utilized National Student Clearinghouse data to better serve students, and each district reflected on their own college-going data sourced from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s College-Going and the Class of 2021 report. During a panel discussion, members of the Greater Together partnership shared how K-12 and higher education partners can work together using data to increase postsecondary access and success.

Dr. Janet Hays, elementary supervisor for Henderson County Schools, said she valued the opportunity to meet in person. “As a district leader, I know how important it is for us to collaborate and leverage our collective knowledge and resources,” Hays said. She noted the discussion around postsecondary education was especially beneficial. “Our district will be putting a stronger emphasis on collaborating with the postsecondary institutions in our town, because we know we can be stronger by working together to support our students.”

TRAIN was initially launched by The Ayers Foundation in 2020 to support rural districts as they overcame the challenges of educating during the COVID-19 pandemic — providing direct support to launch remote learning options, develop continuous learning plans, and design and provide professional development to teachers and school leaders. As the immediate challenges of the pandemic have lessened and districts’ needs have shifted, TRAIN has evolved to become an active learning collaborative for rural districts to come together and problem-solve challenges affecting their communities.

TRAIN districts will convene three times over the coming year, offering rural leaders the opportunity to share how they are approaching challenges and leveraging available resources. They will also learn from national experts, share best practices, and collaborate with other rural leaders on potential programs and priorities for ongoing support.

SCORE looks forward to convening this group again as TRAIN becomes a force for the future of Tennessee’s rural schools and students.

Janelle Brown is SCORE’s K-12 program director.

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