Members of the Aspen Education and Society program visited the state last week and paid a call on DeKalb County Schools Thursday, the only rural school district on the Aspen 2012 Tennessee tour. Aspen works with local, state and national education leaders to share and build knowledge about how school systems can improve.
The groups meet with various groups/stakeholders to listen and learn together and to put aside the political and ideological posturing that too often characterize education debates. They highlight the best work from the field, synthesize the best research and provide a forum for its distribution to those who can use it.
The Aspen Institute is in constant conversation with policymakers and practitioners, which helps foster a more productive dialogue for change. The Aspen group consists of many Education Legislative Assistants from the following Representatives: Jim Cooper, Phil Roe, Lamar Alexander, Marsha Blackburn, and Diane Black, along with several committee members representing the Majority Education Policy Advisor from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions staff.
The meeting Thursday morning started with the group of nineteen from Washington interviewing Mark Willoughby, Director of Schools and Central Office staff Michelle Burklow, Lisa Cripps, Gina Arnold, Dr. Danielle Collins, Lisa Bell, and Clay Farler. The day continued with a tour through DeKalb County High School led by Principal Kathy Hendrix. Interviews followed with four focus groups: Teachers, Principals, Students, and Community/Parents.
Director Willoughby, during his meeting with the Aspen group, addressed the issue of rural districts funding and concerns that they receive equal treatment by the state regarding Race to the Top monies
Willoughby said "our rural school system has 2,844 students. Are rural school districts receiving equal treatment by the state? No," he said. " Our rural school system received $243.00 per student from Race to the Top (RTTT) funds. Our urban counter part received $414.58 per student from RTTT funds. We should have received $171.58 more per student. If we were receiving equal treatment we should have received $487,973.52 additional money.
Is that equal? No," said Willloughby
"The state average of funding per student is $9,084.00. Metro Nashville's average is $11,080.00 per student. In DeKalb County, its $7666.00 per student," said Willoughby
"Our students are funded $1,418.00 less per student than the state average." he said.
"Should our rural school district be funded the same as the state average we would receive $4,032,792.00 more dollars to benefit our students," said Willloughby
"Should our rural school district be funded the same as Metro Nashville we would receive $9,709,416.00 more dollars," he added.
The Aspen Institute mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues.
The Aspen Institute does this primarily in four ways:
Seminars, which help participants reflect on what they think makes a good society, thereby deepening knowledge, broadening perspectives and enhancing their capacity to solve the problems leaders face.
Young-leader fellowships around the globe, which bring a selected class of proven leaders together for an intense multi-year program and commitment. The fellows become better leaders and apply their skills to significant challenges.
Policy programs, which serve as nonpartisan forums for analysis, consensus building, and problem solving on a wide variety of issues.
Public conferences and events, which provide a commons for people to share ideas.
The Institute is based in Washington, DC, Aspen, Colorado, and on the Wye River on Maryland's Eastern Shore and has an international network of partners.