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Rural Issues and ESP conferences stimulate new ideas

With so many rural schools in California facing declining enrollment and budget cuts, schools in these districts face additional difficulties attracting and retaining teachers, said CTA President David A. Sanchez, addressing attendees at the ninth annual CTA Rural Issues Conference held Jan. 16-18 in Las Vegas.

“I’m grateful you have made a commitment to participate in this conference,” continued Sanchez. “I congratulate you and the conference committee for your efforts to ensure quality professional development opportunities for CTA members who teach in rural areas of the state.” Preceding the Rural Issues Conference this year was CTA’s Education Support Professionals Conference on Jan. 15-16, also in Las Vegas.

CTA members Ruthie Lancaster, a library aide at the Trono Unified School District, and her colleague, Jamie Gossett, a paraprofessional and part-time office assistant in the High Desert school system located near Death Valley, agreed that one of the most valuable benefits of their CTA membership is the outstanding professional development and networking opportunities available at CTA-sponsored events like the ESP and Rural Issues conferences.

“Isolation is a huge factor for school employees and the students we serve in many of California’s more rural locations,” said Gossett, “and we of ten don’t have the financial resources of urban or suburban school districts, but we face the same challenges and responsibilities.”

“You have to be really creative and inventive,” said Lancaster, “and the ideas and insights we get at programs like these conferences are invaluable.” In her keynote speech at the Rural Issues Conference, Rachel Tompkins, president of the Rural School and Community Trust, addressed the issues raised by Lancaster and Gossett, outlining some of the characteristics that can make success in rural school systems more difficult to achieve. Chief among them are economic and cultural diversity; declining enrollments; and a high variation of educational achievement among adult populations in such communities.

“The purpose of the Rural School and Community Trust is to foster basic organizing among all constituencies in rural communities, helping them to build the kinds of relationships that can lead to the improvement of public education,” said Tompkins.

“People coming together to work for the common good is what we’re all about.” President Sanchez also emphasized characteristics of rural education in California that can contribute to the challenges of teaching and learning in such communities. “California is among 12 states that have the most diverse rural student populations, but more significantly, California has some of the poorest rural districts in the country,” he said.

The Rural Issues Conference offered 40 different workshops and training sessions, while the ESP Conference featured 12 — including creating safe school environments; working with children living in poverty; ESP membership promotion and community outreach; understanding Program Improvement; and the bargaining and financial implications of declining enrollment. All were specifically tailored to teachers and ESP members who work in rural schools.

Assistance with the collective bargaining process is especially significant to CTA member Mike Shanteler, foreman in the Air, Heating and Refrigeration Department at the Redlands Unified School District, and rec ipient of CTA’s 2009 Education Support Professional Person of the Year Award, presented during ceremonies at the ESP Conference.

“Being connected to CTA has really empowered our members at the bargaining table,” said Shanteler, “and we have been able to forge a very positive working relationship with the teachers association in Redlands, so that our board and administration aren’t able to divide and conquer when it comes to working with us.” In his remarks to ESP Conference participants while presenting Shanteler’s award, Sanchez said, “Mike has worked with the school district on Indoor Air Quality issues, using his knowledge and ongoing training to make sure the students and employees of Redlands schools breathe healthy air. There is no doubt that his efforts have led to reduced illness and increased energy efficiency.” Sanchez also cited Shanteler’s exemplary work in the association, including his service as vice president of the Redlands ESP Association and his organization of an annual golf tournament that raises an average of $5,000 each year to provide scholarships to the children of RESPA members.

Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

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