Partnering Across Small Towns in Northwest Wisconsin
Outcome: Formed a unique partnership across school districts to share education practices and policy approaches to strengthen the region’s K-12 education system.
Collective Leadership Principle Learned: How to partner across small towns and generations in rural communities where isolation and independence are prominent.
New Paradigm Partners, located in Birchwood, Wisconsin, is a consortium of school districts that work to provide innovative learning opportunities to cultivate sustainable, healthy rural communities in north central Wisconsin. They serve small communities ranging in populations from 250 up to 4,000 people in north central Wisconsin.
How do they promote healthy, rural communities?
Schools serve as a hub for each community, connecting students and families from the area, many who bus in from remote locations. By themselves, the districts are quite small with as few as 250 students in a K-12 system. By working together across districts in the region, NPP is able to develop collaborative approaches to support development of quality teachers through shared in-service trainings. The collaboration also strengthens their ability to attract funding to support innovative programs such as a drug-free communities grant to reduce youth access to alcohol.
Because the schools are so central to the life of the community, NPP connects schools and the community, helping them work together on innovative programs. For instance, the town of Weyerhaeuser brings the community into the school to read to students, offers a summer reading program, and has local artisans share their work with students.
Creating collective leadership capacity.
People who grow up in this region or choose to move here, are very independent. Many stay because of the rich opportunities to be out in nature – the woods, lakes, streams – and to have their own space. Additionally, each small town has its own identity that separates it from the neighboring town. NPP has done a remarkable job of helping school districts interconnect around shared purpose. They have also helped each member organization connect to their community (see KLCC Bridge article below) to create a strong ownership of the success of the schools. They have learned how to honor the independence of people and communities and to help them also see their interdependence.