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Rural Innovation

Expanding opportunities everywhere

We empower leaders in rural communities to forge formalized and lasting partnerships that allow schools to provide a variety of robust college and career pathways that lead to success in school and life.

Why Rural Innovation Matters

One in five K-12 students attends a rural school. Often, students from these communities face economic distress and decreased access to the breadth of opportunities that students from larger districts experience. Because of these limited resources, 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 family-sustaining careers and economic development throughout a region.

The Empower Schools Solution

While making sure each district retains its unique identity, we bring together key stakeholders to share resources efficiently and 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 between 3 rural school districts, 3 higher education institutions, and nonprofit and industry partners in South Texas.

Career Pathways

The RSIZ currently has 5 academies, housed at the high schools, that each offer unique and high-quality pathways to students from any of the three districts 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 & Industry Certifications

The RSIZ has tripled the percentage of students completing a dual-credit course from before the RSIZ to now (from 15% in 2019 to 63% in 2021), well-surpassing the state average of 25%. Additionally, the 26% of RSIZ students receive an industry certification each year, outpacing the state average of 13%.

“[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