School & District Management

Carrying the Torch for Rural Schools

August 09, 2005 3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

Looking out at the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument from her 15th-floor apartment here, Joyce L. Conrad has the chance to reflect on a city in which she and her family have left their mark.

But the 79-year-old rural education advocate isn’t finished yet. Her ongoing work reaches from the halls of government across the Potomac River in Washington to the nation’s smallest rural schools.

As the executive director of Organizations Concerned about Rural Education, or OCRE (pronounced oh-kra), Ms. Conrad continues the work of her late husband, Charles O. Conrad, who died suddenly last year at the age of 80. Mr. Conrad founded OCRE in 1988, and ran it until his death.

Joyce L. Conrad, 79, the executive director of Organizations Concerned about Rural Education, listens as a featured speaker talks to the group during its July meeting.

Ms. Conrad keeps the OCRE Web site updated and organizes the group’s monthly meetings, which are held in Washington and convene representatives of OCRE’s two-dozen member organizations. Members range from the National Education Association to national public-utility associations.

The meetings provide a place for discussion of rural education and keep intact the small network of rural-minded policy experts in Washington. OCRE sees itself as representing the interests of millions of people who are members of the participating groups, though it has a yearly budget of only about $30,000.

As the matriarch of rural education policymakers in Washington, Ms. Conrad brings her native North Dakotan sensibility and heart for rural people to her part-time work, colleagues say.

“These people need to be represented,” Ms. Conrad said of America’s rural residents during an interview at her home last month.

OCRE was founded with the idea “that the rural areas not be forgotten” in federal policy debates, said Dale Lestina, who for many years was the NEA’s chief lobbyist and has been OCRE’s president since it started.

Major Victories

Now retired from the teachers’ union, Mr. Lestina helps Ms. Conrad carry on OCRE’s mission by promoting some of the group’s causes on Capitol Hill. Over the years, OCRE has shared in such significant victories as the 1997 creation of the federal E-Rate program, which provides discounts on Internet service and aid for telecommunications equipment that have been a boon to rural schools.

Charles Conrad and OCRE also led the campaign to expand use of “qualified-zone academy bonds,” or QZABS. The federal program, enacted in 1997, helps high-poverty rural schools renovate and repair buildings, and buy equipment, by reducing interest payments for school districts.

Ms. Conrad said her husband was a great advocate who cared deeply for his causes. “He always believed in what he was selling,” she said.

A Family Mission

Charles and Joyce Conrad moved to the Washington area from North Dakota in 1977. A Navy veteran of World War II, Mr. Conrad took a job in the Commodities Future Trading Commission during President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

The family had been in the publishing business in North Dakota, and ran a daily newspaper based in Bismarck for 15 years. Ms. Conrad was the editor, her husband the publisher. They also advised Democratic politicians in the state, and wrote some local history books together.

The couple’s three children include North Dakota state Rep. Kari Conrad; U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is their nephew. Charles and Joyce Conrad and other relatives helped raise the future senator after his parents died in a car accident when he was 5 years old.

Sen. Conrad was an author of legislation establishing the Rural Education Achievement Program, or REAP, which provides extra federal money to hundreds of small school districts.

“The Conrad name is almost synonymous both with rural schools and communities,” said Kari M. Arfstrom, the vice president of OCRE and the associate director of the Association of Education Service Agencies, based here in Arlington.

Ms. Conrad said she isn’t thrilled these days with the way Capitol Hill treats rural education causes. President Bush has proposed eliminating many federal programs that provide extra money for rural schools, even while rural areas face declining enrollment and economic challenges, she noted.

“There isn’t enough emphasis on rural development,” Ms. Conrad said of federal policymaking. “Schools are part of that.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2005 edition of Education Week as Carrying the Torch For Rural Schools

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Video Education Week Leadership Symposium: Resource Center
Resource Center for K-12 education’s premier leadership event.
1 min read
School & District Management Cash for Shots? Districts Take New Tacks to Boost Teacher Vaccinations
In order to get more school staff vaccinated, some district leaders are tempting them with raffles, jeans passes, and cash.
8 min read
Illustration of syringe tied to stick
Getty
School & District Management National Teachers' Union President: Schools Must Reopen 5 Days a Week This Fall
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wants five days a week of in-person school next fall.
4 min read
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, talks during a news conference in front of the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching on Sept. 8, 2020.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, talks during a news conference in front of the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching on Sept. 8, 2020.
Mark Lennihan/AP
School & District Management Principals and Stress: Strategies for Coping in Difficult Times
Running schools in the pandemic has strained leaders in unprecedented ways. Principals share their ideas for how to manage the stress.
6 min read
Illustration of calm woman working at desk
Getty