On the Move
For the first time in decades, the National Rural Education Association has a new executive director and a new home. The group’s leaders hope the fresh start will help them find a stronger voice and spark a surge in membership.
Bob Mooneyham, now retired after 25 years leading the Oklahoma School Boards Association, began work as the NREA’s director on March 15. His office at the University of Oklahoma college of education in Norman is the organization’s new home, after many years at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.
Mr. Mooneyham, an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma, replaces Joseph Newlin, who died last May. Mr. Newlin had led the NREA for nearly 20 years. Al Eads Jr., a retired superintendent from South Carolina who is slated to become NREA president in October, had been the interim director.
Mr. Mooneyham hopes to make the NREA a household name in the thousands of rural school districts across the country. “I want the NREA to be recognized as the most influential education organization in the United States and the world,” he said recently. “You have to have ambitious goals.”
To him, the numbers make sense: Almost 42 percent of the nation’s 89,600 public schools are in rural areas or small towns, according to federal data, which means the NREA’s goal of raising its membership from 1,200 to 10,000 isn’t just a fantasy.
The rural education group dates back to 1907, and reaching the ambitious membership goal by the time the NREA turns 100 would be something to celebrate, Mr. Mooneyham said.
The NREA’s board also wants to increase the group’s role in educational research and gain a stronger legislative voice in Washington.
“The rural schools of America are not receiving proper attention from Congress, and we feel very strongly that the rural children of America need to be served with the same fashion and with the same priority as other children in the nation,” Mr. Mooneyham said.
“We’ve got to develop our grassroots membership,” he added. “A very high percentage of the rural population do vote and what is happening, in many instances, is a disproportionate share of federal funding goes to children whose parents don’t vote.”
The NREA also wants to make professional training more available to rural educators, he said. And, the association is looking to expand the number of workshops and conferences it offers, and to tailor them to its members’ most pressing needs.
—Alan Richard firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared in the April 10, 2002 edition of Education Week