October 17, 2008

Paterson Gives Funds for Rural School Center

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Building on the University’s legacy of service and research in New York State, Governor David Paterson (D) officially announced the creation of the Center for Rural Schools last Friday. The center, coming at a time of increased stress on rural schools, will operate on campus.
“It’s a unique combination of both outreach and research,” said Prof. John W. Sipple, education, who will serve as director of the center. “The center will provide any number of opportunities for students and faculty.” Sipple, who has worked for 10 years with the Rural Schools Association of New York, was the principle investigator for the center.
The concept for the center began to take shape several years ago among Cornell faculty. Sipple wrote the prospectus for the center, inspiring legislators to sponsor its creation. Much of the center’s function will be an extension of the New York Rural Education Advisory Committee. The committee works to raise the level of education for rural schools in New York. The center will serve to expand and enhance the membership of the committee.
“It would be focused … to improve quality of rural education, and to heighten the focus of rural education as a premier activity in these rural areas,” said State Sen. George Winner (R). Winner is chairman of the Legislative Commission for Rural Resources, a bipartisan commission that supports the creation of the center. Winner cited the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as well as the school’s land grant mission as factors making Cornell the logical choice for such a center.
“We were trying to find ways in which Cornell could better serve its land grant mission, and serve constituencies we have connections with,” said Sipple. “We listen and coordinate with the rural constituent’s, and assist in solving these problems.”
Numerous other land grant schools across the nation house centers focused on support and research for rural schools. However, the New York Center for Rural Schools is unique in that it is state funded, while similar institutions obtain federal funding.
“The ultimate goal is to extend and enhance the efforts of the existing Rural Education Advisory Committee,” said Ron Brach, executive director of the New York State Commission on Rural Resources. “It’s envisioned the center will provide a strong research capacity … as well as be able to attract funding.” Brach and the Commission on Rural Resources did much of the research and outreach to stakeholders in the project.
Among the myriad issues plaguing rural schools are a lack of teachers, inadequate equipment and dwindling enrollments. Rural schools face “special and unique problems,” according to vice provost for land grant affairs Ron Seeber.
“The argument had an appeal because it is parallel to efforts to improve a lot of schools in urban areas,” Seeber said. “Hopefully we’ll get it funded to a level to meet the needs that we’re able to identify.”
The center will be focused in the department of education, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. However, Seeber noted the interdisciplinary character of such a project.
“It will really be a cross-college effort, but centered in the school of Agriculture and Life Sciences,” Seeber said. “Cornell’s uniquely positioned to be able to play a role here as a decimator of information.”
Seeber also noted the advantage of Cornell’s upstate New York location as the University borders rural communities.
As well as research, the center will focus on implementing policies that raise the standards of struggling rural schools. Improvement in education has the potential to drastically improve the quality of life in rural communities, including better job markets and higher rates of college education.
“We would hope we would contribute to public policy discussion, as well as improvement of actual school districts,” Seeber said.
Sipple reiterated the goals of the center to improve rural life, not just deliberate.
“There is a curriculum and instructional component to it,” Sipple said. “This is to facilitate wide participation in the research and outreach.”