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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Not My Mother's Public School

My mother walked to school. She carried her lunch, usually cold biscuit and a slice of bacon or ham in a lard bucket. Dry Creek School only had eight grades, but she loved school so much that she took the eighth grade three times. The first time she studied 8th grade arithmetic, the second time algebra, and the third time geometry. Finally, having exhausted the teacher's knowledge and ability to teach and the school's store of textbooks, she moved out into the world, educated by Arkansas standards in 1939. Life intervened, and marriage and children, but when she was in her early 40's she took and passed her high school equivalency exam and attended nursing school, becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse.

Dry Creek School, Searcy County, Arkansas

People often view the present through the lens of the past, either thinking or wishing things were "the way they used to be."  But a lot has changed since 1939, and education is one of them. The goal of this blog is to draw on my experience of 32 years as a teacher in the public schools and 15+ years as an education activist to inform people about and reflect upon the ways that education has changed, continues to change, and needs to change to meet the needs of children, families, and communities in the 21st century. 

Lavina Grandon bio:
Lavina Grandon is a retired teacher with 32 years of experience teaching in public schools.  She earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from College of the Ozarks in 1970 and a Master’s degree from the University of Central Arkansas in 1996.  In 2000 she qualified as a National Board Certified Teacher by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She was named Teacher of the Year by her school and in the Northwest region of Arkansas in 1998, High School Teacher of the Year by Phi Delta Kappa in 2002, Arkansas Rural Teacher of the Year by the Arkansas Rural Education Association in 2004, Arkansas Rural Person of the Year by the Arkansas Times in 2004, and finalist for National Rural Teacher of the Year in 2004. She is currently a board member of Southern Echo, Inc., the Rural Schools Collaborative, and the Valley Springs Foundation, a past board member of the Rural School and Community Trust, and a past member of the Valley Springs School Board.

In 2003-2004 Grandon led the state-wide grass roots opposition to an effort by the Governor of Arkansas and his allies in the Legislature, press, and business community to consolidate any school district with fewer than 1,500 students. As spokesperson for a coalition of grass-roots and rural education interests, Grandon organized local, regional, and state-wide rallies; led a media campaign; produced educational materials; and helped shape a positive reform agenda that led to greater educational equity and adequacy for public school students. This group was successful in getting many of the reforms passed that garnered Arkansas a 5th place overall ranking in Education Week’s  2012 Quality Counts report on the state of education in the nation.  They were able to get the minimum enrollment number reduced from 1,500 to 350 students and still fight to save every rural school they can from consolidation.

To promote quality education for all students, Grandon and other leaders of the grass-roots group formed a permanent advocacy organization, now called Rural Community Alliance, that has more than  1,700 members in 61 local chapters in low-wealth rural communities throughout the state. The purpose of Rural Community Alliance is to empower low-income community members to improve their schools and their communities, creating a better quality of life and more opportunity for themselves and their children. The organization uses an intergenerational model of organizing, engaging community members from the youngest to the oldest. RCA  works in state, regional, and national coalitions to promote education quality and equity as well as rural prosperity.

After retiring from teaching in 2007, Grandon became the President and Policy and Education Director of Rural Community Alliance. She leads the organization’s education advocacy in issues its members determine to be important to them as well as several issue campaigns of which the organization is a part:  The Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign, the Arkansas Grade-Level Reading Campaign, and the national Formula Fairness Campaign. Currently the group is advocating for expanded pre-K opportunities, after-school and summer learning programs, increased parent and community involvement, improved teacher and administrator preparation, the Arkansas Dream Act, and opposition to unlimited charter schools and vouchers.

Grandon is married with two grown children and four grandchildren.

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