Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cape Fear Future Hosts First Commission Meeting of the Year

This Wednesday, the Cape Fear Future Foundation Board hosted the first Cape Fear Future Commission meeting of 2011.

The three school superintendents from the tri-county area participated in a panel discussion: Ms. Allison Sholar of Pender, Dr. Tim Markley of New Hanover, and Dr. Edward Pruden of Brunswick. The moderated discussion was led by John Gizdic, Vice President of New Hanover Regional Medical Center and team leader for Cape Fear Future’s Education Task Force. This team is focused on supporting our region’s K-12 school systems and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) proficiency. Therefore, the goal of this summit was to gain a better understanding of the challenges, strengths, and opportunities facing our schools and what the business community can do to help improve school performance.

A range of topics were covered in an attempt to educate the Commission and invited guests, while also engaging their participation and analysis of school performance. The meeting began with an overview of the three school systems and the current challenges they face. While they all confront a range of encumbrances, two main areas were identified: the shrinking federal, state, and local budgets which drastically reduce resources and also the challenge in keeping our kids in school.

Public schools are held accountable to both federal and state standards which leaves little flexibility. However, our regions’ schools have implemented a range of programs to better monitor individual student performance and overall graduation rates. The foundation of these school systems are strong; nonetheless, there is always room for improvement and, with reduced resources and personnel, it is challenging. Part of the meeting was dedicated to covering these programs and subsequent performance metrics, but the core of the meeting called on the business community’s input.

Dr. Tim Markley made an illuminating point: schools do not operate like businesses because when schools have a budget shortfall they still have kids coming through the door that they have to provide for. Therefore, the business community’s participation is a viable and valuable strategy that can help supplement this hindrance.

So what did the panel suggest businesses do? They welcomed the idea of summer internships for students and teachers in an effort to provide them a real-world view of life after high school. These internships would also help students understand the connection between their studies and their post graduate careers. Mentorships are also needed at all levels. Many children do not have the background or support they need to do well in school and these types of partnerships help fill that gap. Another recommendation was for business people to meet with principals and teachers to talk about best management and leadership practices. The panelists also expressed the need for outside individuals to actually visit the schools so they can get a better understanding of the framework in which the administration must operate.

The superintendents also cited current successful partnerships that they would like to see duplicated. For example, GE has had a long-term presence at Rachel Freeman School of Engineering where dozens of volunteers work with the students, coaching them on how math and science are used in their professions.

Williston Middle School is going to launch a pilot iPad program which will allow new opportunities for growth in education through technology, while supporting the utilization of 21st century technology. In Brunswick County, they will be using federal funds from Race to the Top to implement Project Lead the Way, a STEM education curriculum for middle and high schools. Pender County has several STEM programs in place as well, and they are currently expanding and improving their technology infrastructure by going wireless.

As the Cape Fear Future Education Team’s goal is to support K-12 education with a focus on STEM, the aforementioned programs should be highlighted and expanded to all schools. The next step will be a call for action to engage and partner the business community with our schools so we can provide our children and future workforce with the academic and communicative skills necessary to compete in our now global economy.

Education and quality of life are fundamental pillars of our community. The business community’s participation was vital to this discussion as they identify workforce preparation needs. The CFF team strongly believes a partnership between the business community and our schools systems is key for the improvement of our students’ education, future workforce skills, and economic development as a whole.

See the following link for the StarNews article:

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