Nationally, about 44 percent of all charters are professionally managed by either a non-profit Charter Management Organization (CMO) or a for-profit Educational Management Organization (EMO), according to data from 2014-15. Just 19 percent of rural charters are operated by CMOs or EMOs, however, with 81 percent run independently, often by local community groups, based on data from 2009-10.
In rural places affected by public school consolidation, the argument for keeping a community school through chartering often extends beyond academics. A school can provide a small town with economic benefits, employing residents and consequently helping out local businesses, notes Mara Tieken, an associate professor of education at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.
Less tangibly, Professor Tieken and others say, a school can be a powerful force for building relationships between members of the community and giving a town an identity.
…Part of working toward rural sustainability at River Grove and other charters involves nurturing a deeper connection between students and their hometowns through place-based education and involvement with the local community. At River Grove, this means lots of outdoor time and hands-on science lessons to reflect the natural setting of Marine on St. Croix.
The Sugar Valley Rural Charter School, a community-run school in Loganton, Pa., employs a similar strategy to bolster students’ appreciation of the local farming culture. The charter school, founded by a group of parents in 2000 after the closure of Loganton’s longtime K-12 public school, also teaches the region’s agricultural history to its 485 students.
…To encourage relationships between students and members of the community, the school has neighbors volunteer to give lessons in areas of expertise such as gardening, baking, and art.
…Back in the days of the traditional public school, she recalls, high school sports were a popular attraction for locals. She’s hopeful that building a new gymnasium and expanding the charter school’s athletic offerings will help rally neighbors around something to root for.