11/10/13 — Panel: Future of education rests in collaboration and preparation

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Panel: Future of education rests in collaboration and preparation

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 10, 2013 1:50 AM

Wayne County has much to be proud of, in terms of "high content and high rigor" in schools and collaborative partnerships between the school district and its colleges.

"(It) has an advantage that a lot of rural counties don't have," Dr. Hope Williams, president of N.C. Independent Colleges and Universities, told the audience attending the 4th Quarter Hot Topic Education Forum at Lane Tree Conference Center on Thursday. "You have the whole spectrum -- an outstanding community college and outstanding Mount Olive College."

She credited MOC with having a higher percentage of students from North Carolina than most colleges and universities across the state.

It also helps to have groups like WEN, Wayne Education Network, launched under the umbrella of Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, one of the forum's sponsors.

WEN, she said, is very similar to the Governor's Education Cabinet, started in 1993 to bring all the education leaders together to talk about what's important in education in the state.

"North Carolina has an incredible reputation nationally for all its education partners working together," she said "We have always seen that as an important thing to do."

A four-member panel was invited to speak about how the educational systems work collaboratively across all grade levels.

Citizens can expect to hear more about "K-20," from pre-K to age 20 and above, said Dr. Angela Hinson Quick, senior vice president, talent development, NC New Schools. Among the areas of focus, she said, are improving relationships throughout the educational process, the school calendar -- and the need to align with college calendars -- and the efficiency of purchasing and effectively using building spaces.

Steve Keen, chairman of the county commission, asked about going beyond the school buildings themselves.

"The commissioners are working very closely with the Board of Education," he said. "Any suggestions ahead on making investments other than just bricks and mortar, when the iPhone and iPad are tomorrow's classroom?"

Ms. Quick said the technology will eventually phase out but what is longer lasting are things currently being seen at schools like Wayne School of Engineering and Wayne Early/Middle College High School, which expose students earlier to college and career-ready programs.

"Math is the place that we really fall down" when compared to other countries, said Dr. Scott Ralls, president of the N.C. Community College System. "Math is the graveyard of college aspirations."

At the same time, more and more students are getting a jump on college.

"Last year, and I think this is correct data, around 1,200 articulated credits last year alone with the high schools here," Ms. Quick said. "That's pretty incredible. All the high schools here in Wayne County offer dual enrollment."

She said officials should also be "extremely proud" that the K-12 public schools focus on STEM, science, technology, engineering and math, courses, especially in the district's newest schools, Wayne School of Engineering and Wayne Early/Middle College High School.

Ralls said he is paying particular attention to how students are prepared for college and careers, and has been part of the realignment effort of articulation agreements with UNC.

"Eighty-seven percent of our students who transfer to any university transfer outside the articulation agreement," he said. "The challenge is not all of their courses count for credit. ... In just a few months that will change in a very positive way for students in our state."

Addressing the premium placed on education in the state, Dr. Steve Ballard, chancellor of East Carolina University said it's a very competitive world and the marketplace for jobs presents a challenge.

The state has a "huge need" for committed teachers who want to be prepared and stay in the profession, he said. Also vital to the economic growth in the communities and the state is a push for a more educated population.

An estimated 26 percent of the state has a four-year degree, he said. The goal is to raise that number to 37 percent by 2025.

"That's a very ambitious goal and it won't happen because of any one thing," he said.

Another element to consider, the panel agreed, is building a good education foundation for students early on. Ms. Quick said one way to do that is by focusing on content and curriculum that will engage students as early as pre-K.

"The results are pretty clear that students that don't get a good start are catching up forever," Ralls said. "We have to figure out how to make better use of students' time. These are really things that we have to face early on."