Increasing access to instructional programs in rural districts (with Chris Dodge)

If you’re providing therapy or tutoring services, contracting with schools, or offering professional development to K-12 professionals, you won’t want to miss this episode.

As someone who has explored the possibility of school contracts, I’m always looking to learn more about how school leaders make decisions regarding budgets and staffing. 

I grew up in the Chicago area; which meant I lived in a community with an abundance of organizations, transportation systems, and districts with a variety of programming options. 

But when I relocated to a different part of the state, I found that the communities around me were way different than where I’d grown up. While there are several large districts near me, the surrounding communities were smaller, with fewer resources. 

Public transportation can be minimal, if it exists at all; which makes it difficult for certain families to access medical and therapy services. 

Some communities don’t have stop lights, let alone grocery stores or daycare centers. This makes it difficult for families to give kids a variety of experiences.

School districts face similar challenges, because they’re less able to liaise with community organizations for field trips, after school programs, or educational placements for students needing special education. 

Serving high-needs populations becomes a challenge because many districts don’t have experts on-staff to conduct evaluations and provide specialized services. This means paying for outside consultants, service providers, and transportation fees for out-of-district placements. 

As a result, special education budgets for small districts can become unmanageable, putting school leaders in a very difficult situation. 

Cutting budgets can be devastating to all parties involved.

Students may lose access to services, or at the very least need to switch providers.

District staff have the burden of providing additional services or wearing multiple hats, adding additional responsibilities to their already full plates.

What people don’t often realize is the emotional impact this has on the leaders who carry the burden of making these difficult decisions.  

I often see negative comments about school leaders on various influencer accounts or in discussion groups. It can be very “us vs. them”. 

A lot of finger-pointing and assumptions about people in jobs that have an extremely high turnover rate (eg., directors, principals, superintendents). 

But I’ve yet to interact with a school leader who didn’t care about helping kids. 

That’s why I was so excited to talk with Chris Dodge, who’s had experience leading in both rural and urban districts. 

As lead learner in elementary school settings for ten years and currently the principal at the Thorndyke Road School is Worcester, MA, Chris works to create collaborative structures and systems that bring stakeholder voice into school level decision making, as well as strategies that promote student success and achievement. His schools utilize these systems to promote a vision of serving the whole child, ensuring that students' social-emotional and academic needs are being met. Most notably, in 2014, Christopher led the Dexter Park School in Orange, MA to become a MA Department of Education appointed Innovation School, awarded for its inclusionary practice work. Aside from the role as principal, Christopher has served on DESE's Principal/Teacher Advisory Cabinet, Commissioner Riley’s Return to School Teaching and Learning Working Group during COVID19, as well as on the MSAA (Massachusetts School Administrators Association) Executive Board. 

In this conversation, Chris shares common, but misunderstood barriers to school success that are prevalent in rural communities.

He shares:

✅Why transportation issues cause barriers to community engagement, educational placements, field trips, and instructional programming. 

✅Challenges small districts face when hiring contractors and consultants, and professional development providers.

✅Why districts cancel contracts with service providers and consultants, even when they have a strong working relationship.

✅What school leaders look for when selecting a contractor or professional development provider for their staff.

✅Why getting leadership training (e.g., degrees, certificates, experience) can be an asset to you, even if you don’t see yourself as a school administrator

You can connect with Chris on Instagram here:, on Twitter here:, and on LinkedIn here:
In this episode, I mention my free training called, “How to be Evidence-Based and Neurodiversity-Affirming (by Supporting Executive Functioning)”. You can sign up for the training here:

We’re thrilled to be sponsored by IXL. 

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Increasing access to instructional programs in rural districts (with Chris Dodge)