U.S. education leader tours Graham to learn about rural schools

U.S. Department of Education leaders toured Graham Local Schools on Wednesday to discuss challenges rural schools face.

Special Adviser on Rural Outreach Michael Chamberlain toured Graham Elementary School to learn what teachers and administration are doing to improve education on a tight budget.

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“They were looking for a school district in Ohio that was doing innovative things in terms of programming with a lean budget,” Graham Superintendent Kirk Koennecke. “They wanted to do some fact-finding for the U.S. Department of Education.”

Chamberlain declined to comment Wednesday. Deputy Secretary Dennis Bega was supposed to visit the school, too, but he was unable to make it. The two will be attending the National Rural Forum at Ohio State University today through Saturday.

Students and administrators took Chamberlain through the school’s hallways and explained to them the advantages Graham Local provides. They talked about unique learning spaces third-grade students use for different classes and the school’s outdoor environmental learning space behind the elementary school.

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“We believe this is the first time an official from the U.S. Department of Education has ever come to Graham,” Koennecke said.

Koennecke also wanted to show Chamberlain the Career Gear program the school has implemented. The program promotes STEM education and career paths for students. Career Gears has been put into the schools to help students graduate with a diploma and a certificate.

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It’s important the federal government realizes the challenges rural schools must deal with, Koennecke said.

“All rural schools face unfunded mandates by the state. We have to look at how we use our dollars to help students and develop teachers first,” he said. “When you are constantly getting changes to expectations by both the state and the federal government … those mandates usually come unfunded.”

The teachers at Graham work hard to stay on the cutting edge of education even with the tough circumstances.

“We hope to show that our teachers are working with our students to do innovative, problem based and learning and to use the environment around us with really a shoestring budget,” he said.

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