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Rural Education: How One School District Works to Improve Student Outcomes in the Midst of a Declining Economy

Rural Education: How One School District Works to Improve Student Outcomes in the Midst of a Declining Economy

Rural school districts face their own unique set of challenges, and when six factories that employed many of the families in the community shut down due to a difficult economy, many of those challenges will be exacerbated. This is the position that Boonville R-1 School District is in, and as a result, over the past 10 years, the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch has climbed from 30 to 79 percent.

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing the district’s superintendent, Dr. Sarah Marriott, during a live webinar. Rather than choosing to accept that a decline in student achievement would be a natural outcome of the community’s challenges, she and her staff got to work implementing programs and initiatives to effect positive change and improve outcomes for all students.

In this post, we’ve pulled together many of the experiences, lessons, and insights that Dr. Marriott shared during the webinar interview.


What are you most proud of as superintendent of Boonville?

“There are lots of things that I’m proud of, but I’m most specifically proud of our students and our staff.”

“What programs are you most proud of implementing during your time as superintendent?”

“We’ve added some additional supports and really looked at what it is that individual students need in our school district.” 

What have been the impacts of the bond issue and tax levy increase that were passed?

“Anytime we can do something to make school better for our kids, we’re excited about that.”

What is the Communities In Schools Missouri Small and Rural Schools Project pilot program, and what has been the impact?

“I visited with our local senators and our local congress people but also other representatives throughout the state of Missouri and really just had some honest conversations about the challenges that students are bringing to our schools and then the challenges in which our staff are having in meeting those challenges, and in less than a year, we were able to secure grant funding through our state legislature to fund this project in Boonville.”

Describe your alternative learning program and the results you’ve seen.

“We have students that, for a variety of reasons—whether that’s maybe mental health, whether it’s behavioral, whether it’s social emotional learning, whether it’s chronic absenteeism, maybe there are other factors—that have not been successful in a regular, traditional classroom environment, and so, I believe it was about two years ago, we decided we needed to do something different. We weren’t meeting the needs of these kids.”

How are you using Edmentum Programs in your district, and what outcomes have you seen?

“Anytime I get a survey from research companies and they want to know what we love about the programs that we’re using, professional development is always at the top of our list for Edmentum—responsive, quick, informed, and just exactly what we’re needing.”  

What is the Future Leaders’ Academy, and what impact has it had?

“We wanted to make sure that we were empowering our teachers and, then again, developing that next generation of leaders because we have a terrific administrative staff, but they’re not going to be here forever.”

What recommendations or advice would you have for others trying to implement similar programs for their staff? How do they get started?

“Don’t be afraid to try something. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help and assistance.”

What advice would you give to a superintendent coming into a rural school district for the first time?

“Rural education is interesting. It really can be the very best place to work. I love it. You have the ability to make an impact, I think, much more quickly than maybe in some urban, larger areas.”

How has the community responded to the innovations you brought into the district?

“Anytime we can make sure that each student is getting what he or she needs in the classroom setting, the community is very supportive of that.”

We hope that you encountered ideas and strategies that you can use as you support students, teachers, and administrators in your district. For more leadership insights, check out these recent posts: 14 leadership insights from Dr. Margie Vandeven, Missouri commissioner of education, and Women in Education Leadership: 5 District Leaders Share Their Paths to Success.