Where Does the Small Rural School Stand? Exploring Different Perspectives
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The closure of small rural schools is the single most implemented educational change reform in rural areas of Canada (Wallin, 2007). Similarly, throughout the 20th century, rural school consolidation was the single, most frequently implemented educational policy in the United States (Herzog & Pittman, 1995). This study explores the why and how of this phenomenon. Rural education research has indicated that small rural schools across North America share common challenges unique to the rural situation (Bard, Gardener & Wieland, 2006; Blaine, Pace & Robinson, 2004; Mulcahy, 1993; Wallin, 2007). Many rural education researchers concur that some of these challenges arise from social, economic and political differences between urban and rural settings, but primarily, they stem from the consequence of globalization on trade, labour relations, regulatory control, or governmental rules and guidelines (Howley, 1997; Wallin, 2007). In response to these challenges, many policymakers and educational officials have initiated reform efforts in the form of small rural school closures and consolidations (Bard et.al, 2006; Corbett & Mulcahy, 2006; Hicks, 1999; Wallin, 2007). In this study, I carry out a qualitative analysis of the rationale behind these reforms, using one particular Eastern Ontario school board’s proposal (Boundary 2020) and a number of other documents as an exemplification of these closure and consolidation movements, and the various rural stakeholder responses to this reform. In an exploration of rural perspectives and philosophies, I bring alternative rural perceptions to the forefront and advocate for rural stakeholders to have a voice in the future of their schools and communities. Moreover, by acknowledging not only the existence of small rural schools in Ontario, including the notion that their future is threatened by plans such as Boundary 2020, this project serves as a point of departure for future rural education research in a province that tends to favour a metropolitan-inspired school system. Furthermore, by emphasizing the need to cultivate rural meanings and identities, I hope to encourage rural communities to nurture the strengths of their local schools through the development of locally responsive curricula and community-centered activities and opportunities, which could contribute to the sustainability of their local rural schools.