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How the education and business sectors can connect at a greater scale in the Upstate

How the education and business sectors can connect at a greater scale in the Upstate
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W. Burke Royster, superintendent of Greenville County Schools, speaks at a meeting of Upstate superintendents and college/university presidents at Tri-County Technical College in Easley. Photo provided

By Dean Hybl
Executive director, Ten at the Top

The word “coherence” is defined as “the quality of forming a unified whole” or being “logically connected and intelligible.”

When we think about building an Upstate that is economically strong, a good steward of its resources, and a place where all residents can grow and succeed, it seems logical that creating coherence among stakeholders working toward those goals would help make each partner and the entire region stronger.

Certainly, when you have multiple people, interests, and other factors involved, creating coherence is a challenge for any business, community, or endeavor. But imagine trying to create coherence when looking at the educational and future economic success of our children.

Just within the Upstate, we have 23 public school districts, plus more than 20 technical colleges, two- and four-year colleges and universities, and post-graduate schools and programs. If you add to that mix thousands of businesses, all with their own specific employment needs, that rely on the students produced through the education system, and then top it off with local and state governments who play varying roles in creating policies or setting spending rates, the result is a system where creating any level of coherence or connectivity can seem incredibly daunting.

Yet, studies have shown that regions that develop connectivity and collaborative opportunities that include all levels of education are able to provide valuable experiences to enhance the overall success of students. In a region like the Upstate where the educational success and economic success of our communities are very clearly connected, creating meaningful coherence and connectivity could provide even greater value for students and businesses.

It was with this backdrop that Ten at the Top and Public Education Partners recently convened the first meeting of Upstate superintendents and college/university presidents at Tri-County Technical College in Easley.

With more than 40 representatives from K-12, post-secondary education, and the business community in attendance, the participants clearly recognized both the opportunities for and the barriers toward creating coherence and greater regional connectivity.

Fortunately, in the Upstate we have a number of individual district, county, or multicounty examples of programs where the various sectors within education and business have connected to create opportunities for students as they move through the K-12 system, graduate high school, and move into post-secondary opportunities. The question in the room was whether we could possibly create a framework for developing similar partnerships and initiatives at a greater regional scale.

While many different values and opportunities were discussed throughout the meeting, a few themes kept bubbling to the top.

  • Intentional communication and dialogue are critical. The fact that this was the first meeting at the regional scale of K-12 and post-secondary superintendents, presidents, and provosts illustrates a deficiency and why there often seems to be a disconnect among teachers at different stages of students’ education. Developing some type of consistent dialogue across the education spectrum could eliminate some of the “inaccurate perceptions” that seem to exist among the various stakeholders as well as create a more seamless transition from one level of education to another. Then engaging the business community to be part of that larger dialogue would go even further in creating a coherent system that supports students through their entire path from the beginning of their education through entering the workforce.
  • Adaptability and commonality of curriculum is enhanced by collaboration. There are a number of Upstate examples where individual school districts, businesses, and colleges have worked together to develop a curriculum that supports their collective needs. Developing a system where those collaborative opportunities can be done on a larger, regional scale would increase productivity at all levels and also help deal with the reality that the needs of our businesses are ever-changing based on technology and other factors and our school systems struggle to adjust quickly.
  • Challenges are often similar, so why not learn from each other? It was clear from the dialogue that whether it is state and federal mandates or ever-changing real-world dynamics (like student health and safety), each educational entity is dealing with many of the same challenges. Rather than having to figure it out on their own, developing a platform for sharing of ideas, best practices, and ways to address consistent issues would alleviate repetitiveness and help grow the collective capacity.

Creating a culture of coherence, connectivity, and collaboration across the education and business spectrums in the Upstate will not be easy or happen overnight. However, often the first step in any pursuit is the hardest, so now that it has been taken, moving toward a “unified whole” is a pursuit that I hope and believe our education and business leaders are ready to tackle.

For more information about Ten at the Top’s efforts to build collaboration and collective capacity across the region, go to www.tenatthetop.org. For more information about Public Education Partners’ collaborative efforts with schools and the community to strengthen public education in Greenville, go to www.pepgc.org.

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