Leveraging Resources to Improve Schools and Communities
June 5-6, 2007
On June 5 and June 6, members of the education and rural development industries will come to UMM to participate in the Fifth Annual Symposium on Small Towns. The theme of this year's Symposium is "Leveraging Resources to Improve Schools and Communities," and will focus on for the relationships between rural communities and schools to identifying needed resources during challenging times.
In the past, the Symposium has focused on helping rural leaders share solutions to common challenges of rural communities. "This year, it's not so much about answers, but creating space and time for people with both school and the broader community perspectives to come together and focus on the exploration of issues - what are the challenges, where are the opportunities and where are the resources," explained David Fluegel, of the Center for Small Towns.
The theme of the Symposium came from a variety of sources. Fluegel explained that relationship between schools and communities has always been important for the Center because of its function as an outreach extension of UMM. "This school/community relationship is of vital importance for our office, and we have a history of convening groups around this issue," Fluegel said.
Additionally, work with Minnesota Campus Compact, a group of higher education institutions that works with community and school relationships, is a partner in the planning of the Symposium this year also created support for this theme.
The Symposium is dedicated to creating awareness of small town issues and a celebration of rural living. Originally envisioned by Roger McCannon, former director of the Center for Small Towns, the general purpose of the Symposium is to have a celebration and learning experience centering on small towns and rural communities.
"There are very few opportunities for rural leaders to come together to talk specifically about small towns," said Benjamin Winchester, Coordinator of Data Analysis and Research at the Center for Small Towns. Winchester also explained the Symposium helps provide a way for leaders in small towns to grapple with many of the changes their communities are facing.
"Rural Minnesota is no longer strictly agricultural. Our small towns aren't dying. We're mythbusters in this area, trying to show the strengths of our small towns and talk about changes in a positive way," Winchester said.
This year, participants will be encouraged to consider the ways we learn, how the roles and structure of learning institutions are changing, and how schools can help communities while still meeting their academic missions.
As with previous years, the Symposium is highlighted by a number of keynote speakers, a public policy forum with legislators from rural communities, and showcases that highlight successful community initiatives. "The legislative forum is always good," said Winchester. "It's important to see how [legislators] view things related to small towns." This year, keynote speakers include Charlie Kyte, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators and Joe Graba, Senior Policy Fellow and Staff Member of Education/Evolving at Hamline University.
Student involvement is a key component of the Symposium and the work at the Center for Small Towns. Anywhere from two to 10 student employees at the Center will be involved this year "helping with the coordination and support people feeling comfortable at the conference and on our campus," Winchester explained. "Students are great ambassadors for our University," he added.
The Symposium is hosted by the Center for Small Towns and partners this year include Minnesota Campus Compact, Minnesota Public Radio, and the University of Minnesota's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.