K12 Records Resources

June 09, 2023

What Should School Leaders Know About Rural Districts?


The success of school systems relies on knowing and accommodating the preferences of the community they serve. Rural educational institutions present unique challenges due to their complex nature, requiring a comprehensive understanding of the preferences of rural communities.

In this article, we will explore these preferences and discuss the importance of embracing digital solutions to meet their needs effectively.  It will pay special attention to insights into the rural school districts.

All claims in this article are derived from our national study conducted in 2022 called Communications with Education Systems.


What are the preferences of rural communities?

Success directly relates to how a district handles its community's wants and needs. A school is only as good as its biggest complaint, but you can only meet expectations when you know what they are. Rural school districts are particularly challenging to grasp due to their limited resources and technology gap. Misunderstanding will snowball into a failed school system, so learning about your community preferences is crucial.


Education level

Compared to their urban and suburban counterparts, rural residents tend to have lower levels of higher education. Trade school diplomas and certificates are more common than college degrees. Rural areas also have smaller enrollment numbers which leads to insufficient funding. Access to books, technology, and qualified teachers can become a problem without proper finances. 


To bridge this gap, introducing digital platforms can provide greater access to educational resources and opportunities for higher education. Surprisingly, low-income communities benefit enormously from paperless districts.


Community involvement

Community involvement is a crucial aspect of rural life. Residents are closely connected and invested in their communities.


While this can be a positive feature for the school, if negativity arises without a solution—it will spread quickly. It's essential to address the specific needs of the rural community and provide open communication so that families, educators, and administrators feel heard and supported. Well-structured communication will prevent detrimental wildfires from occurring.


Understanding what your community lacks and capitalizing on what it has is a wise way to meet them where they are at. Remember, involvement from your constituents can’t happen if they don’t have the resources or the means to participate.


Technological views

In rural communities, jobs tend to be more blue-collar and less reliant on advanced technology. As a result, residents may need more guidance about digital transactions and the use of technology in education. Our research suggests they are open to digital advances and are resourceful when borrowing technology from friends if they don't already have it.


Understanding that their resistance to streamlining may stem from a fear of losing tradition and their jobs allows you to empathize and redirect the conversation. One way to show the importance of digital technology is by demonstrating its potential to propel a student forward in their education.


Overcoming decades-long thinking requires a balanced approach of respecting rural community values and practices while still advocating for the benefits of technological advancements. Hone in on how technology will add to old ways, not take them away.


What are the preferences of rural over suburban communities?

Rural communities differ from suburban communities in many ways, the first being how attainable technology is.


Rural school systems need more access to technology. Community members often don’t have printers, fax machines, computers, and scanners available, posing a learning curve not seen as often in suburban groups. 


They do, however, have mobile phones. Most mobile phones now complete eSignatures and download documents. Obtaining information and completing tasks through a mode they are comfortable using will be a game-changer for integrating new technology and bettering school communication.


Given that rural communities find printers frustrating, transitioning to a digital platform further eliminates frustrations with school systems.

Using electronic forms, applications, transcripts, and payment methods instead of traditional paper-based processes is a much-needed alternative. Digital processes make everything much easier and far more efficient for everyone.


Rural households are far less likely to use checkbooks than suburban ones. They are also skeptical of the security of paper envelopes, adding to the challenges of traditional transaction processes. Therefore, introducing an electronic payment system can eliminate significant hurdles and replace them with greater efficiency and convenience.


What are the preferences of rural communities over urban ones?

Rural communities are skeptical of government institutions' use of tax dollars. Residents are often dissatisfied with institutions that require printed materials, checks, or faxed documents. They expect more efficient access, service, and communication from government agencies that receive tax money.


Therefore, rural community members actively seek better solutions but will require resource assistance. For example, if they lack internet access, they will need help obtaining it. Your schools can offer wifi hotspots for guardians to take home, guest wireless at schools, or identify nearby places with internet connectivity.


Given the limited exposure to advanced technology in many rural school systems, basic training, tips, or guides on using printers, copiers, and computers will be incredibly helpful. It's important to remember that many rural residents may not have much exposure to these devices, so a gradual approach to integrating new technologies may be necessary. Remember, it’s a process, not an overnight change.


Going paperless improves rural community satisfaction

Understanding the preferences of rural communities is crucial for the success of school systems.


By introducing digital platforms and addressing specific community needs, rural schools can bridge the technology gap and foster open communication.


Rural communities want more access to technology and electronic payment systems. Assisting with internet access and basic technology training will support the integration of new technologies. By meeting the preferences and needs of rural communities, schools can ensure their success.


Embracing digital technology benefits rural school districts in many ways—greater access to educational resources, fast data retrieval, increased organization, and improved community satisfaction.


Learn more about the benefits of going digital—download the full report to learn more.


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Fill out the form to download the full Communications with Education Systems Report.