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Copper Basin High School Principal Jared T. Bigham


The Tennessee Rural Education Association's formal goals for the Tennessee Valley Learning Network include plans to:

• Improve, expand and encourage access to educational opportunities for children in rural communities and schools throughout Tennessee

• Formulate and promote plans, proposals and subsidies in service and curricula in the best interest of rural schools, and provide a discussion forum on contemporary issues

• Propose and support legislation to benefit rural education, and prepare advice, counsel and testimony on rural education issues

• Enhance the quality of life unique to rural communities through education

• Preserve local determination and policies, and preserve inherent strengths of the rural way of life

• Recognize and promote excellence in education programs

• Work with state training institutions to promote quality training for rural teachers and school administrators

• Preserve the inherent strengths of the rural way of life as critical to the well-being and the vitality of Tennessee and the nation.

Source: Tennessee Rural Education Association

Educators in five Tennessee school districts are teaming up for professional development and curriculum help through the Tennessee Rural Education Association.

The newly formed Tennessee Valley Learning Network is a work in progress but already is making hard-to-get resources available to more educators, Copper Basin Elementary School Principal Ryan Goodman said.

The network, open to educators from Bradley, Marion, Monroe, Polk and Rhea counties, "kind of streamlines the resources available," Goodman said.

Typically, individual districts organize, host and pay for their own professional training, limiting the numbers and types of programs offered because of time and cost, he said.

But Polk County's network participants went to Rhea County for training last week to make the most of that district's training session and split the costs, he said.

"The main advantage right now," Goodman said, "is being able to reduce some of our expense."

Rhea County Elementary Curriculum Supervisor Ray Fugate said teachers and administrators also gain from discussing issues that range from the classroom to systemwide challenges.

"Right now, we're kind of identifying and prioritizing our issues," Fugate said. "Once we get that, we can work together as a group. Many hands make a light load."

Copper Basin High School Principal Jared T. Bigham said Polk County's five participants worked with their counterparts to establish joint professional development days for shared training.

Bigham said officials will focus some future development on how systems can work together strategically to improve training while keeping costs down.

Goodman said one benefit of simply talking with officials from other districts is that educators learn they're not alone. As the network evolves, the participating systems might team up on grants to share costs, resources and benefits, he said.

Fugate said the network will keep growing and expanding.

"With it being a work in progress, we have already seen it expand from what it was going to be," he said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Subscribe to his Facebook posts at and follow him on Twitter at