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Key Factors Surrounding the Survival and Thrival of Rural Schools in Nebraska Through the Eyes of Superintendents: A Mixed Methods Study

Sadie Nicole Coffey, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Rural school success is crucial for the Nebraska education system. Without rural schools, many students and families would be without access to high quality educational opportunities. Despite the importance of rural education, the number of rural schools in Nebraska continues to decline, and “one thing is clear from academic research on rural schools: closings and consolidations can drastically change the flavor of civic life in a rural community” (McCullum & Merrefield, 2019, p. 1). Identity loss and identity crisis theories may explain why these rural schools in Nebraska continue to survive and thrive. Without the rural school, a community and communities in which it serves, lose its identity. The rural school is a cultural hub for abundant social activities that play a vital part in the soul of community life and identity. This study identified necessary components for a rural school to survive and thrive in Nebraska and compared ideas across different geographical locations, sizes of schools, community locales, and types of schools. Participants for the study were 79 superintendents (or their designee) of rural Nebraska schools with a K-12 enrollment of 256 or less. In addition, eight individual superintendents were interviewed. All participants first completed a questionnaire. Then, eight randomly selected individuals participated in an individual follow-up interview. Responses were compared across all participants within the questionnaire and interview process. An analysis of variance was conducted to examine the differences between surviving and thriving schools and schools by geographical location, size, locale, and type. Based on the results, rural Nebraska school districts are surviving and thriving across the state because of their community support and the state of their finances. Small rural schools in Nebraska have created unique partnerships, have student involvement expectations, and strong community support. Focuses such as local control and a sustainable solution to school funding were repeatedly recognized during superintendent interviews.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Higher education|Educational evaluation|Educational administration|Regional Studies

Recommended Citation

Coffey, Sadie Nicole, "Key Factors Surrounding the Survival and Thrival of Rural Schools in Nebraska Through the Eyes of Superintendents: A Mixed Methods Study" (2022). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI29323294.