The first LeadRural cohort.

Grants & Awards

Thoma Foundation Awards $200,000 to Empower Schools

October 20, 2022

This two-year grant funds the pilot of the LeadRural Fellowship—a coordinated and intentional effort to identify, cultivate, and support rural leaders and to give those leaders the ideas, resources, network, and partners to be successful in designing and implementing new solutions in their communities. The Thoma grant will support many aspects of the LeadRural Fellowship experience, including site visits, workshops, an annual retreat, recruitment and selection materials, development of programming, and technical assistance.

“We need strong, empowered leaders with diverse perspectives and experiences in order to foster thriving communities and equitable access to high-quality education in rural areas,” said Holly Harrison, Director of the Thoma Foundation. “As funders, we’re still new to education and we’re also excited by the opportunity to learn alongside the first LeadRural cohort as they are exposed to new solutions and resources and explore how to most effectively implement change in their schools and communities.”

LeadRural is the brainchild of Garrett Landry (Steady State Impact Strategies) and Brett Alessi (Empower Schools). Empower Schools has already seen promising early results in the rural space through the creation of the Rural School Innovation Zone (RSIZ), a partnership amongst three rural school districts and five higher education institutions, and regional workforce partners in South Texas. While retaining their unique identities, these smaller, rural districts can offer their students expanded access to college and career opportunities that no single district could offer on their own. In three years, the RSIZ has quadrupled the percentage of students completing a dual-credit course and nearly closed the gap with the state in the percentage of college-ready students. Now, Empower Schools and Steady State Impact look to build on their track record with the LeadRural Fellowship. 

“We are inspired by the work we have seen happening in rural communities across Texas,” said Brett Alessi, co-founder and partner with Empower Schools. “We have been able to pull together a phenomenal group of leaders for the inaugural LeadRural Fellowship and are excited to work alongside the fellows to support their vision for innovation in their communities.”

Read the Full Press Release Here

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