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Rural Innovation

Expanding opportunities everywhere

We work with rural communities to forge new partnerships and develop new ways to share resources so that students in rural areas have access to a high quality education and are equipped for college and career success.

Why Rural Innovation Matters

Over one-third of K-12 students live in rural communities and small towns. Often, students from these communities face economic distress, health crises, and decreased access to the same opportunities as students from larger districts. Because of this, rural regions offer unique opportunities for multi-sector partnerships across K-12, higher education, and industry, that are responsive to local and regional workforce needs. Recent collaborations have shown what is possible when districts, higher education, and industry partners come together to multiply options available to students while intentionally building pathways that lead to increased job creation and entrepreneurship across the region.

The Empower Schools Solution

While making sure each district retains its unique identity, we bring together key stakeholders to ensure young people have access to more and better work-based learning and postsecondary options in high school, and are equipped for college and career success beyond. We help our partners form a bold vision, set up appropriate structures to make them sustainable over time, and ensure local stakeholders are invested in making sure they are working for students and the community.

How Rural Innovation Works

Rural Innovation allows communities to share resources in new ways on a more sustainable basis to ensure all students are equipped for college and career success.

In South Texas, for example, the Rural Schools Innovation Zone enables high schools to offer specialized academies where students earn career-specific certifications and hands-on experience by facilitating partnerships between rural districts, institutions of higher education, and regional industry partners. Students have the opportunity to attend an academy at any of the high schools within the Zone as well as the opportunity to attend college classes on campus with a higher education partner.

Project Spotlight

Rural Schools Innovation Zone by the Numbers

Districts & partners

The RSIZ is an innovative partnership amongst 3 rural school districts and 3 higher education institutions in South Texas.

Career Pathways

The RSIZ currently has 5 academies that each offer unique and high-quality pathways for students from each of the three high schools to earn career focused certifications and college credentials: medical, welding/construction/electrical trades, science and engineering, education, and JROTC.

Graduation Rate

The RSIZ graduation rate is 7 percentage points higher compared to their statewide peers, including urban districts.

Dual credit completion

The RSIZ dual credit completion rates are 13 percentage points higher compared to their statewide peers.

“[The] Rural Schools Innovation Zone has the potential to significantly expand opportunities for students in our smaller districts. These three public school districts are doing more than just talking about the issues; they are actively fostering ways to use collaborative and innovative approaches to prepare our students for success beyond high school.”

– Mike Morath, Commissioner | Texas Education Agency