Former CFO Leader Expands Rural Schools Program to Midwest

The Rural Schools Partnership, a program to develop resources and assets for southern Missouri schools, is the model for the Rural School and Community Trust’s new Center for Midwestern Initiatives to expand the concepts across a broader region of the country.

Gary Funk

Former Community Foundation of the Ozarks President Gary Funk will head the Center for Midwestern Initiatives for the RSCT. The CFO created the Rural Schools Partnership in 2009.

The common goal of both efforts is to promote place-based education, which encourages  connections between rural schools and the communities they anchor by instilling a commitment to their culture and heritage among students and educators.

Since its founding, the Rural Schools Partnership has created a network of more than 100 rural schools in southern Missouri, developed more than $4 million in charitable assets to support rural   education, and built the Ozarks Teacher Corps, a scholarship program to return teacher-education graduates to rural communities.

The Rural School and Community Trust is a founding partner of the RSP project. Its Center for Midwestern Initiatives program will work to replicate the program in a region that will initially include Arkansas, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, and South Dakota, all of which have strong rural-education networks.

“We will work with colleges in those states that have expressed interest in these concepts and share our goal of recruiting and preparing strong teachers for rural communities,” said Funk, now a Senior Fellow with the RSCT. “We also will work with communities to develop school foundations and build philanthropic assets, which are increasingly important to support schools.”

Robert Mahaffey, director of communications and marketing for The Rural School and Community Trust, said the new Center for Midwestern Initiatives will continue the RSCT’s long commitment to regional collaboration and partnerships.

“This is an ambitious project, and we think it’s a great opportunity to expand a successful model to  strengthen rural education in more communities across the Midwest,” he said.

The Rural School and Community Trust is a national nonprofit organization addressing the crucial relationship between good schools and thriving communities. Its mission is to help rural schools and communities grow stronger together.  Working in some of the poorest, most challenging places, the Rural Trust involves young people in learning linked to their communities, improves the quality of teaching and school leadership, and advocates in a variety of ways for appropriate state educational policies, including the key issue of equitable and adequate funding for rural schools.

For more information about the RSCT and the Center for Midwestern Initiatives, contact Gary Funk at or Robert Mahaffey, at For information about the Rural Schools Partnership, contact Julie Leeth at the Community Foundation of the Ozarks at or (417) 864-6199.