Gov. Kay Ivey unveiled a new education initiative on Tuesday, focusing on three stages of education: early childhood, computer science in middle and high school, and post-high school workforce preparedness.
Calling this her first formal initiative as Governor of Alabama, Ivey said “Strong Start, Strong Finish” calls for various existing education groups to work together in a collaborative way from pre-kindergarten through workforce development.
The event was held at the Innovation Depot in Birmingham.
Standing at the lectern alongside Ivey were representatives from the state departments of Commerce, Education, Early Childhood Education and Labor, Alabama Community College System, School Superintendents of Alabama, A+ Education Partnership, Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools, Business Education Alliance, and the Alabama Workforce Council. Alabama’s Teacher of the Year, Dana Jacobson.
Ivey said, “Bringing this diverse group together today illustrates that we are all serious about education and the effect it has on the overall state but also how much it means for the success of individual citizens.”
In previous years, “Instead of working together, individual efforts have been divided, separated and just disjointed,” Ivey said.
“Alabama’s education system is ripe for some opportunity for improvement,” Ivey said, but was quick to add she isn’t blaming teachers for problems in education.
The initiative will focus on those three areas, Ivey said, to address current problems facing Alabama.
“Pre through 3” will focus on making sure students get a strong start, with a focus on reading, she said, adding that students who aren’t reading on grade level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.
Computer science jobs are growing, Ivey said, but students aren’t learning those skills in school. In Alabama, Ivey said 4,700 computer science jobs, paying an average of $82,000 a year, are currently unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants.
“CS for AL,” which stands for Computer Science for Alabama, will focus on ensuring students receive science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes in middle school and high school, she said, adding that courses in computer coding will also be made available.
“Advanced Training, Better Jobs” aims to increase the percentage of adults holding some type of post-secondary certificate or degree, Ivey said. According to Ivey, only 37 percent of adults in Alabama have obtained either a two-year or four-year degree or an industry credential, and by 2020, 62 percent of jobs in Alabama will require that level of attainment.
Few details of how the initiative will be implemented were shared, but Ivey said she didn’t anticipate needing any additional funding to get this collaborative working, because the work is ongoing. The group will work together in a new way, she said, through the seven Alabama regional workforce development councils.
Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) chairman Zeke Smith said Ivey asked the AWC to bring all of the various business and education groups together, in a public-private partnership, “to develop an attainment goal for the state of Alabama and a plan to reach that.”
Educators at the table
Jacobson spoke at the event and thanked Ivey for including teachers and educators in setting the agenda for the initiative. Speaking to Alabama students, Jacobson said, “We want you to know we are working for you to support, encourage, and educate you today for a better Alabama tomorrow.”
School Superintendents of Alabama Executive Director Eric Mackey said he is very excited that Ivey asked professional educators to be a part of the discussion, saying it was the first time in over six years that members of SSA have been asked for input.
Mackey said he is pleased that Ivey sees value in bringing business and education leaders together. “We are very happy to be working with the Governor,” Mackey said. “She’s got a great positive outlook and she wants to invest in education and she wants what’s best for the children and it is a breath of fresh air.”
Ivey said she invited professional educators and education officials to the Capitol last week, “and y’all, we had a very frank conversation about what we can achieve for our students when we work together better.” Ivey said the education and business sectors depend on each other and this initiative will keep the groups working together.
Ivey on state board of education, Sentance
When asked her view on the strain between the state board of education and state superintendent Michael Sentance, Ivey said, “I’ve been in office 106 days. The superintendent’s been on the job a little over 300 days. I just think, I’m hopeful that the state board will focus on providing all of our children a quality education in the upcoming days as we go forward. I think the superintendent might need y’all to give him a chance to bring about some of the needed reforms that everyone seemed to agree that needed to be brought about before he gets axed.”
Ivey, who serves as the president of the state board of education by virtue of her office, did not participate in Sentance’s evaluation on Tuesday, saying she didn’t think she should because she had only been in office since April.
When asked what makes this effort different from previous ones, Commerce Sec. Greg Canfield said, “What’s different is making sure that the various parts – Pre-K through 12, community college, universities – that they collaborate, share success, and I think they can do this in a cost effective and efficient manner.”
“It may not be new, but that commitment to collaborate is, and it can pay some big time dividends.”