The Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools (AIRSS) is a statewide education association that is focused on policy and advocacy for Illinois rural and small schools. AIRSS is the state affiliate of the National Rural Education Association (NREA) and we work collaboratively on issues of national, state and local concerns that impact our rural and small schools.

Our Vision

To serve as The Voice for all Illinois rural and small schools.

Our Mission

The Association of Illinois Rural and Small and Schools (AIRSS) shall serve its membership in matters concerning policy and legislation at the state and federal level, and ensure the rural context is included in all conversations.

Our Goals

Our efforts to address the needs, issues and concerns of our pk-12 rural and small schools are driven by three goals:

Our History

Note: this section is under construction. If you notice any errors, missing information, etc., please email info@airssedu.org. Thank you for helping us document a complete history of the Association!

The Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools (AIRSS) has been supporting public education in rural communities for over forty years (since 1982), from our home partnership at Western Illinois University. The organization recognizes that historical and significant recent challenges have adversely impacted rural and small schools.

In 2014 the AIRSS strategic planning and marketing committee re-repositioned the organization to create an active grassroots advocacy approach to supporting small and rural schools in Illinois. The shift in focus was to actively engage AIRSS as the voice for all rural and small schools and take a direct role in the work of state policy. Today that commitment to be “the voice” for rural and small schools is what guides every action.

As the only statewide association, solely focused on serving as the voice for rural and small schools, we are continually advocating on behalf of rural and small schools for legislation and policy that will encourage a high-quality education for all students.

In addition, AIRSS serves on and partners with a diverse group of organizations, boards and agencies that focus on strong advocacy on behalf of all public schools. We provide the rural context in these conversations that is important to our rural advocacy.

Executive Director Succession
  • Dave Ardrey March 2014 – Present
  • Steve Breckon July 1, 2009 – 2014
  • Bob Rogers 2001 – June 30, 2009
  • Dr. Frank Sorenson 1982 – 2001
President Succession
  • Dr. Jennifer Garrison 2023 – 2024
  • Mr. Edwin Shoemate 2018 – 2022
  • Dr. Patrick M. Twomey 2014 – 2017
  • Dr. Steve Webb 2013- 2014
  • Dr. Steve Graham 2009-2010
  • Dr. Gary DePatis 2007-2008
  • Ralph Marshall 2005-2006
  • Sheri Marshal April 25,2005
  • Kathy Hanneken 2003-2004
Past Board Members
  • Mr. Gary DePatis
  • Dr. Mike Curry
  • Mary Parker
  • Dr. Sandra Watkins
  • Dr. Vicki Van Tuyle
  • Dr. Steve Breckon
  • Jamie Dorsey
  • Steve Graham
  • Yvonne Buttock
  • Lynn Hartweger
  • Dr. Robert Hall
  • Bob Kidd
  • Jess House
  • Kathy Hanneken
  • Barb Woolam
  • Dr. Francis Karanovich
  • Don Kording
  • Bill James
  • Michael Barry
  • Bill Steichmann
  • Bob Trover
  • Ralph Grimm
  • Jane Michael
  • Dr. Jess House
  • Shari L. Marshal
  • Mike Davies
  • Mike Bartlett
  • Dr. Ralph Marshall
  • Dour Foster
  • Larry Bequaith
  • Alene Reuschel