The Bottom Line

Published 6:17 am Sunday, June 1, 2008

By Staff
Our schools, our students and our future
By Tray Smith
Over the past two weeks, this column has focused on local efforts to turn around Escambia County Middle School and national efforts to overhaul our education system. At the community level, however, we cannot wait for Presidents and Congresses to implement reforms in our schools and leave our students’ success to the whim of federal policy. We cannot allow isolated stories of success like that of ECMS to blind us from the greater competitive challenges our schools face. We must act independently to ensure our schools are preparing students for the growing number of job opportunities unique to our region of the country.
Globalization has created an international, interdependent economy in which American workers compete with workers from around the globe. But just as America’s workers compete with fellow workers, America’s communities are competing with communities from around the world. The localities that develop hospitable business climates are the localities that will flourish in a global, competitive economy.
Nothing is more important to prospective business leaders than education. Companies looking to expand operations in a particular area rely on strong schools and colleges to provide them with an educated workforce capable of performing demanding tasks. More personally, corporate executives rely on good schools to educate their own children.
Because of its proximity to the growing industrial economy of Mobile, Atmore is poised for extraordinary growth over the next decade. Providers for the new EADS/Northrop Grumman tanker facility, the Thyssen Krupp steel mill and the Austal shipyard will continue to search the Gulf Coast for attractive business sites. Reports that Volkswagen is planning to locate a manufacturing plant in our area further underscore the economic development opportunities we have. But if these corporations are not confident in the ability of our schools to educate their workers and their children, our growth will be stymied and a grand opportunity will be lost.
Public schools do not exist for the sole purpose of educating every child. Private schools could do that, although the government would have to subsidize tuition for lower income families. Public schools were created because of the logical belief that, because everyone benefits from having good schools, everyone should bear the responsibility of supporting them. But simply paying property taxes is not enough. Our community must share all of its resources with our schools, so that our students and teachers can complete the learning process with the confidence of having the community at their back. A revolving door must exist between the schools and their stakeholders, and a web of cooperation must be spun between them.
By giving our schools our full support and confidence, they will be able to develop into more professional learning institutions. But such a transformation will require a joint effort from the city, the school system, the business community, the tribe, and area stakeholders. It will require schools to be open to input, influence, and outside assistance as they attempt the difficult task required of them by more demanding colleges and corporations. Finally, it will require all of our citizens to stay informed about our progress, issue demands of our leaders, and support our growth.
The overriding goal of all of our efforts must be the development of a more rigorous curriculum that will keep our students involved and interested in school and make them more likely to graduate. The curriculum must be tied to the demands of colleges and the workforce, so that graduates can move on fully prepared for the challenges they face. We must explore opportunities granted by International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, and Career Tech programs. We must also offer programs for students uninterested in traditional education, and work together as a community to guarantee all of our kids enter elementary school on equal footing. These are the challenges we face. But it is out students who have the most to gain.
This is the last of a three-part series on education. The first article focused on the drastic improvements at Escambia County Middle School, the second on the role of education in national politics, and this last report on the state of education in the community.
Tray Smith is a political columnist for the Atmore Advance. He is a student at Escambia County High School and can be reached at tsmith_90@

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