By Alisha Torres
Community schools across the nation are well known and growing in urban areas. While some may think that community schools are unsustainable in rural communities, there’s one coordinator who says they’ve got it all wrong. With a total of 930 residents in her community, representing King Elementary School with King Pride from the Gateway to Chippewa Forest in Deer River, Minnesota, and recipient of the Coalition’s 2018 Educator Leadership Award, is Full-Service Community School Coordinator, Deanna Hron.
As a veteran teacher, Deanna was dedicated to the community schools strategy in and outside of the classroom and led her school in social emotional learning and strong data practices. It was this commitment to equity that made her stand out as the best candidate to become her school’s coordinator as they ventured into their second year as a community school.
Deanna is on a mission to prove that rural districts can successfully sustain the community school strategy. Through meetings with the Minnesota Senate Education Committee, working with small local community groups, and building partnerships with the University of Minnesota, Deanna is spreading the news that rural community schools work. Just this past March, she attended a conference in New Mexico with the National Education Association where she demonstrated that rural communities are a vital and diverse component in the progression of community schools.
Across Itasca County, King Elementary has some of the lowest attendance rates in the region. With this knowledge, Deanna turned her frustration into motivation as she and her team began to build awareness on the importance of attendance. Everyone has a role, including staff, students, parents, guardians, and community members, in achieving this goal. An unexcused or excused absence is not just a number on a student’s record—it’s a story to uncover and an opportunity to find the root cause. And eliminating families’ hesitancy to communicate with school faculty was the starting point for Deanna.
“As we started to reach out and help our students’ families in various ways, other families began to reach out to us for things they usually would not typically reach out to a school for.” Deanna stated. The resources and services such as housing, legal advice, social work, and children’s dental care that the school was able to provide through Deanna’s collaborative efforts with the University of Minnesota built a foundation of trust that bridged the communication gap between the school, families, and community. As a result, parents began confidently calling to ask for help on basic necessities, and Deanna has witnessed several students’ attendance rates increase as well as student enrollment.
In such a small town where the next neighboring community is just short of 15 miles away, Deanna was blown away by the amount of support she’s received from local leaders in Deer River. This was proof that the community school strategy is an effective, sustainable solution to addressing the equity issues in her rural community.
By the end of the school year, Deanna hopes to establish more partnerships that are outside of her district with a broader range of social services. She continues to advocate through networking, spreading the word of the community school strategy, and sharing her story and its impact on her students, families, and community. Deanna strongly reminds everyone to “keep small schools in the back of your mind! Rural schools are where we need to go next!”