Back in the day of one-room country schoolhouses, each administered by a local board, Washington state had about 2,000 school districts.  There are now 295.  Preserving the remaining small districts, where schools are the heart and soul of often remote communities, is a mission for Jim Kowalkowski, who directs the Rural Education Center.


Jim Kowalkowski

The center is based in the Davenport School District, where Jim is superintendent. It was created in 1987, the result of collaboration between the Small Schools Committee of the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) and the WSU College of Education. At first, the center focused on gathering and sharing research that would help district superintendents and principals. Research topics included dropout rates, in-service instruction for teachers and the ever-popular “Cooperation vs. Consolidation.”

The center increasingly has became a voice for rural schools.  Jim has been director for six years. Like his predecessors, he often finds himself speaking with legislators and other state policy-makers.  He comes to the conversation armed with statistics. For example, the dropout rate — or lack thereof — at rural schools.

“The highest on-time graduate rates in our state are in rural schools,” he says. “Compare Spokane’s 60 percent rate to places like Harrington, with 100 percent.”

The college-center collaboration is still going strong, as evidenced by this week’s WASA Small Schools Conference in Yakima. Among the presentations: “Making Innovative Connections With Your Land Grant Institution.”  Jim was a presenter, as were two WSU education faculty members, Matt Marino and Hal Jackson.  To the best of anyone’s recollection, they were the first university researchers to speak at the annual rural schools conference. Matt explained his work  developing video games to teach middle school science, and interested 13 school districts in helping with the project.  Hal discussed plans for a forum that will unite schools, communities and university experts in helping students at risk of social and academic problems.

Such partnerships are a priority of two other conference speakers. Jake Dingman,  superintendent of the Oakesdale School District and chair of the Whitman County School Superintendents, spoke about a recent professional development day in Colfax. Arlene Hett, director of the College of Education’s School & Community Collaboration Center, facilitated the “Innovative Connections” discussion.

The WSU delegation in Yakima included Collaboration Center staffer Ashley Herridge, who provides support services for the Rural Education Center — helping continue a connection between the university and small-town Washington that’s now in its 23rd year.

Other faculty news
Jennifer Beller was in Tacoma last week to address the Pacific Lutheran University Wang Center International Symposium on Understanding the world Through Sport and Recreation. Her topic: doping in sport.
Tariq Akmal has been elected as a council member for the Middle Level Research Education special interest group of the American Education Research Association.