Columns | Northwest Herald

Eye On Illinois: New school council will be useful if the right people listen


I pulled those 12 acronyms from two recent school newsletters (from the K-5 school and the K-8 district office), and anyone who has attended a curriculum night or school board meeting knows I could keep right on going with more alphabet soup: IEP, IAR, SEL, AHEAD, SRO, GT/LD … .

Aside from a general observation about how it often can be difficult for outsiders to understand the language, I wanted to make myself feel better about being stumped Tuesday upon encountering AIRSS, The Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools.

The news peg was implementation of Senate Bill 1787, which earned unanimous approval this spring and became official with the governor’s signature in August. Emily Hays, of Illinois Public Media, reported the AIRSS suggested the bill to state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria. It creates the Rural Education Advisory Council, set for its first meeting in January. Hays noted the legal requirement that the council include five superintendents, a principal and a student. There is no guarantee of direct teacher representation.

The REAC is new, but association is not. According to, “AIRSS was established in the early 1980s, chartered in 1987, merged LOCON in 1994 as an affiliate and restructured in 2014 to focus on grassroots advocacy, policy and legislation oversight.”

I could’ve summarized that, but why pass a chance to throw in another acronym? Here’s another: the AIRSS is the state affiliate of the NREA.

Aside from Cook, every county in Illinois has a school that meets the rural or small criteria. While the most obvious common challenge is transportation, the association noted part of the new council’s focus is reminding state lawmakers and education officials that racial and economic diversity is not unique to cities and suburbs, including “migrant children and other families who are leaving their homes for a safer, quieter, supportive environment. They deserve the same education opportunities afforded to other locales.”

Although caring administrators can competently carry their faculty’s concerns, a teacher’s voice definitely belongs on the council. Perhaps we could sacrifice one of the superintendent spots? Still, it’s worth noting that no matter how a seven-member council is populated it won’t be possible to adequately represent the unique concerns of individual communities.

But some voice is better than none, and this council has the potential to be a useful communication channel. AIRSS Executive Director David Ardley said only Colorado has “a legislated commitment to listen to the needs and concerns of rural and small schools.”

Like anything new in government, the council risks disappearing in the bureaucratic pool. The value will come from the ground up; the potential impact relies on open ears at the top levels.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at