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Local Roots Take the Lead: Lessons From Rural Charter Schools

Kelly Robson
Brandon Lewis
Juliet Squire

When rural charter schools succeed, what conditions enable their results? Local Roots Take the Lead is a new website from Bellwether Education Partners that offers school leaders, funders, and authorizers a starting point to answer this question. 

We profiled four rural charter schools that outperform neighboring schools: Roots and Wings Community School in Questa, New Mexico; Crossroad Academy Charter School in Quincy, Florida; Glacial Hills Elementary School in Starbuck, Minnesota; and Prescott Valley Charter School in Prescott Valley, Arizona. 

Title image for Bellwether publication "Local Roots Take the Lead," September 2019

Through in-depth school and community visits and hours of interviews with school leaders, teachers, parents, authorizers, school board representatives, district leaders, and community members, we surfaced three themes that are important for those considering the potential of rural charter schools: 

  1. Rural charter schools face many of the same challenges as charter schools in other geographies, but these challenges manifest differently or with greater intensity.
  2. State policies are often designed with urban schools in mind and create unintended challenges for rural schools, including rural charter schools.
  3. Successful rural charter schools tend to have close and lasting ties to their community.

The four schools profiled also offer lessons about how to fill unique gaps in a local education market, work through common sector-wide challenges, and persevere despite the unique challenges of rural geography. 

Local Roots Take the Lead is not meant to be an endorsement of a particular school approach or a step-by-step playbook for launching a successful rural charter school. Instead, the website offers insight into the diversity of rural charter school models and the challenges and successes that school leaders have encountered.