August 14, 2018


Rural Partner Guest Blog: New Hampshire Rural Superintendents Continue Blazing Professional Network Trail

As part of our ongoing collaboration and partnership with the Rural School and Community Trust, we are proud to kick off an ongoing series of guest blogs, penned by RSCT Executive Director Rob Mahaffey. Each post will highlight a program, district, community, leader or research working to improve educational opportunity for our nation's public rural schools and the communities they serve. Rob Mahaffey can be reached at 

Rural Educational Leaders Network (RELN) at Plymouth State University enters third year

Driving into Plymouth, New Hampshire, one immediately appreciates you are in a small, vibrant, New England community anchored by a thriving higher education institution, Plymouth State University.  Founded as a teacher preparation Normal School, this place is much like my town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia—home to Shepherd University.  It was an honor to spend two energizing days with the educational leaders of the Rural Educational Leaders Network.

Superintendents in the North Country of New Hampshire share concerns with educators across rural America including declining enrollment and school closures, struggling economies and diminishing budgets, retention of well-prepared and experienced teachers, and sustaining a supportive, mutually-beneficial relationship based on school and community engagement. Often these leaders lack a professional network to address these issues and develop locally-based solutions.  By virtue of the rural experience, these school and district leaders are frequently geographically isolated and lack of resources necessary for authentic rural professional learning experiences diminishes access to professional support.  

While the development of virtual online professional learning networks (PLNs) is one solution to the geographic isolation, they are available only to those with reliable high-speed internet access and often topics and conversations do not fully connect with the realities and interests of rural educational leaders.  In order to effectively develop solutions to the issues faced in rural areas, both in and out of the school house, it’s necessary for rural superintendents and other school leaders to have access to PLNs that are specific to their particular rural context and to their learning goals.

Community philanthropy plays a key role in creating a viable solution to this issue.  The Rural Educational Leaders Network (RELN) at Plymouth State University is one such example.  Made possible by private philanthropy, the network is fully funded through a generous endowment by the late Ann Haggart.   In life, Ann was an educational entrepreneur and in her final years observed a break down in the school-community relationship.  Her support and that of Plymouth State University made is possible to support educational leaders in developing their practice. 

RELN is able to provide a colleague professional learning network for more than 80 New Hampshire rural school and district leaders, and those aspiring to those positions. The work of the group is driven by the overarching idea of developing the school-community partnership is to ensure all students are “college and career ready” in combination with the mission to provide a PLN for New Hampshire’s rural educational leaders.  The network model is based on the premises of relevance, continuity, and sustainability. 

Network membership is open to school and district leaders in rural New Hampshire and in combination with topic development ensuring each meeting is highly relevant to the membership.  Each year, three quarterly meetings are held and a two day summit in July hosted by Plymouth State.  Between face-to-face gatherings, the network connections are sustained through online communications shaped by the summit setting the foundation for conversations moving forward and allowing members the opportunity to make connections with prior conversations and learning.   

In my opinion, and based on the experiences and value RELN participates place on this network, opportunities for rural school leaders to partner with a higher education institution and private philanthropy abound.  Please share your thoughts and consider such a network for your community and region.


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