02/10/09 — Education Council sets sights on student skill levels

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Education Council sets sights on student skill levels

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 10, 2009 1:46 PM

Slightly more than two years ago a group of local business and industry leaders, concerned about the adverse effects bickering between commissioners and the school board could have, joined forces to smooth the waters and facilitated an ongoing dialogue between the two boards.

That goal apparently accomplished, they now have turned their attention to the quality of education in the county and to how good a job the county is doing of turning out qualified graduates to fill skilled trade positions.

While some facets of the effort are not new, such as the Wayne Occupational Readiness Keys for Success program, others are still in the process of being organized, said retired Wayne Community College president Dr. Ed Wilson, who is chairing the new Education Council.

The council falls under the organizational umbrella of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce and its Educational Advisory Board.

"The (original) group felt that it had been very successful and that we no longer hear the haggling like we have in the past," Wilson said. "They wanted this whole effort for the public schools to continue so they worked with the chamber and the chamber has agreed to facilitate that process.

"There is a lot of concerns (from industries) about the preparation of graduates, are they ready to go to work, and that there just aren't enough qualified graduates to fill the skilled trades positions."

Jobs and the quality of education were the top two most important issues raised during a poll of 400 likely voters.

By a two-to-one margin, most respondents thought the priorities should be quality of education over facilities and almost 50 percent said they would oppose a $98 million bond issue for school construction projects if it was based on increased property taxes.

However, 77 percent responded that they were more likely to support a bond issue if educational qualities and employable skills improved.

Serving with Wilson are chamber Executive Director Steve Hicks, schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor, Wayne Community College President Dr. Kay Albertson, Don Magoon of the Wayne County Partnership for Children, Jane Rustin of the Wayne County Public Library, Mount Olive College President Dr. J. William Byrd and Bill Thomas, mission support commander at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"This group is not the one responsible for the ongoing dialogue between commissioners and the school board," Wilson said. "Still it is a group concerned about the quality of graduates, improving the public schools and improving the perception of the public schools and doing some things for the public schools."

Wilson said the new group continues to organize and its committees are beginning to meet. Those committees include workforce development, business and education partnership foundation, teacher recruitment and retention, business and education programs, outcomes and assessments and education council finance.

The Workforce Development Committee has met for the past several months while some of the others are just getting under way, Wilson said.

The WORKS and Career Readiness Certificates (CRC) are ongoing projects that have proven to be very successful, Wilson said.

"We will be the No. 1 county in the state if everything moves along soon in terms of Career Readiness Certificates that have been issued," he said.

The CRC program tests in three areas: Reading for information, locating information and applied mathematics.

A gold National Career Readiness Certificate is awarded to those who demonstrate the potential to acquire the skills for 90 percent of the more than 12,000 jobs in the WorkKeys database. A silver certificate is awarded those who meet the skills needed for 65 percent of the jobs. Those meeting 35 percent receive a bronze certificate.

Wilson, who also serves as president of the Wayne County Economic Development Alliance, said alliance officials met with personnel directors from several of the county's larger industries.

"They were saying that these kids are coming out not prepared to come to go to work," he said. "That is what this particular program is all about, certifying folks to be prepared to go to work. We are hoping local business and industry will continue to do job profiles so we can match the skills of CRC to the skills that are required for a particular job.

"What is going to happen ultimately is that when a company comes here and looks at our community and they say 'what about your workforce,' we can say here are the number of CRCs. What we will be able to do that most folks won't be able to is to demonstrate that we have a workforce that has these skills to go to work."

Developing an educational programs document that outlines the types of educational services and opportunities in Wayne County will be the first job for the Business and Education Programs Committee.

"We want to do a living document that changes so that people can go to the Web page of the chamber and find out about early childhood education, the School of Engineering at Goldsboro High School, the Early Middle College at Wayne Community College, what Wayne Community College and Mount Olive College have to offer," Wilson said. "That is the No. 1 priority."

The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Committee is preparing to launch its efforts to look for incentives for teachers to come to Wayne County and incentives for people to stay here.

Some ideas include discounted housing and car sales.

"We want to put together a package that makes Wayne County a very attractive place so when they (local recruiters) are off at colleges of education or recruiting fairs that they have a package they can offer these people in addition to signing bonuses and whatever supplements are being paid," Wilson said.

The committees, Wilson added, are still in the process of prioritizing their respective goals and programs. In some cases, the search continues for committee chairmen.

"The whole idea is to get more people involved in the process in our community," he said. "A lot of wonderful things are going on in our public schools and people need to know about it and we want to get people involved."

County commissioners and school board members have been "very supportive" of the process, Wilson said.

"I realize it is a difficult time to try to get businesses involved in education because they have their own problems," he said. "But we are trying to get people from business and industry involved so they can see what is going on.

"We need everybody involved in education -- more parental involvement, business and industry." For more information on the council, call the chamber office at 734-2241.