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Appears the interim director of Uptown Greenville has good knowledge of its operations. So let's look elsewhere, form a...

N.C. needs collaborative approach to education

Dan Gerlach
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Dan Gerlach

Robert Wynegar
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Thursday, April 19, 2018

When education leaders collaborate in response to economic needs, great things can happen. The many opportunities in aviation sciences, aviation systems and related fields at the College of the Albemarle and Elizabeth City State University — home to the only four-year aviation program in the UNC system — have made northeastern North Carolina one of the best places in the state for students to prepare for successful careers in the growing industries of aerospace and aviation.

Aviation in the northeast has been a good example of how interested partners — including ECSU, COA, public schools, local counties, private industry, chambers of commerce, Golden LEAF Foundation, the Coast Guard and others — have worked together to develop and integrate meaningful educational opportunities, in this case to help meet industry-specific training needs. Golden LEAF has provided $3 million over the past several years to COA and ECSU for facilities, equipment, and personnel to meet these demands. In the past two years alone, the Foundation has provided three grants in Pasquotank County alone to move K-12 education forward. But when it comes to aligning educational opportunities for individual students, North Carolina still has much work ahead.

From pre-k through K-12 to college and even throughout their careers, students move through several separate educational systems — systems that don’t always communicate well with each other, that measure student achievement differently, that each have their own bureaucracies and rules. These disparate systems can negatively affect educational and professional outcomes for students.

North Carolina is one of just five states without a cohesive statewide goal for educational attainment beyond high school — making it difficult to have an integrated educational system that supports students along each step of their educational journey. As a result, we lose a lot of talented students along the way: For every 100 ninth-graders in our state, just 30 of them will graduate with either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree within six years of starting college. This is not a bias toward academia for its own sake, but rather to meet the demands of employers in a global economy. This trend is not just a loss for those individual students — it’s an economic loss for North Carolina, too.

Again, it’s time for us to collaborate and innovate in response to economic needs. 

The myFutureNC Commission is working to help change that. The bipartisan group includes members from across the state in the education, business, government, nonprofit and faith communities. Its mission is to use the expertise and leadership from right here in North Carolina, complemented by national and state research, to establish a collective vision about our state’s educational needs and how to best meet them.

Our hope is that by the end of this process, the commission will recommend: a statewide goal for the number of North Carolinians who need education beyond high school; the benchmarks needed to help students succeed such as targets for kindergarten readiness, third-grade literacy, eighth-grade proficiency in reading and math, college readiness, and workforce alignment in critical areas; and the policy reforms and initiatives necessary to achieve these goals and targets.

To identify the goal, benchmarks, reforms and initiatives in a meaningful way, it’s critical that the commission hear from students, parents, teachers, employers, political leaders, and others from throughout North Carolina. myFutureNC is holding a series of listening sessions to hear from communities about their region’s economic strengths and to identify the education opportunities most needed to capitalize on those strengths.

The next listening session is from 2:30 to 5 p.m. today at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City. The event is free and open to the public, and we hope you will stop by at any point and join the conversation. It’s such a critical one for the future our students and our state, and we need your input precisely because these matters are so important to all of us.

Dan Gerlach is the president of the GoldenLEAF Foundation and Robert Wynegar is the president of the College of the Albemarle.

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