ASHEBORO (July 31, 2018)
myFutureNC (MFNC), a new statewide commission with a focus on improving educational attainment and economic opportunities for all North Carolinians, held a listening session at Randolph Community College on July 18 in the JB and Claire Davis Corporate Training Center.
About 50 people attended the event, which included focus groups and a panel discussion by educational leaders from the local area. The commission’s work is underwritten by grants from the John M. Belk Endowment, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Goodnight Education Foundation. RCC President Robert Shackleford and Gus Agudelo, a member of the Asheboro City School Board of Education since 2011 and a myFutureNC commissioner, were the local hosts for the event.
The listening sessions were designed to hear from communities about what they perceive as their region’s economic strengths and identify the educational opportunities that are most needed to capitalize on those strengths. The July 18 session was the last of nine sessions held around the state.
At the Randolph session, a representative of each sector of education from pre-K all the way to the workforce was invited to participate in a panel discussion, according to Trip Stallings, director of policy research for the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation of N.C. State University, who served as a moderator for the event. Participating were Holly White, director of the Early Childhood Development Center of Asheboro City Schools; Dr. Terry Worrell, superintendent, Asheboro City Schools; Dr. Catherine Berry, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Randolph County School System; Dr. Robert Shackleford, president, Randolph Community College; Dr. Angela Kern, associate professor of elementary education, Pfeiffer University; Dr. Dana Dunn, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; and Rick Powell, president of PEMMCO Manufacturing of Asheboro.
Questions posed to the panel included “What do you need to know that you don’t know?” “What would you like for these folks to know about what you do?” “What are the other partnerships that will make these relationships stronger?” and “What is the one thing in your sector that is the greatest barrier?”
The participants made a point of mentioning the great relationships and partnerships that had already been formed among the educational entities serving Randolph County, including the Pathways to Prosperity project in its third year between Asheboro City Schools, Randolph County School System, Randolph Community College and area industries, and transfer and co-admission agreements between the high schools, Randolph Community College, and the universities.
Dr. Kern noted the RCC/Pfeiffer University Early Education program had produced around 60 certified teachers for Asheboro City Schools and the Randolph County School System. UNCG’s Dr. Dunn mentioned the new co-admission program that was recently signed between RCC and UNCG, saying the program allows for more efficient use of the student’s time and students are more motivated because they can “see the end game from the very beginning.”
Dr. Shackleford told the group that they need to keep in mind that “we are not in silos. We have the same mission,” which is articulated in RCC’s slogan, “Creating Opportunities. Changing Lives.” He went on to say that he didn’t consider RCC’s students to be its customers. “Employers are our customers,” he said. “Students are our products.” He added that when we do our job right, both the employers and the students win.
From the employer’s perspective, Powell said the greatest immediate need is closing the skills gap. “By the year 2020, there will be over 3 million manufacturing jobs unfilled because of the skills gap. But the root cause is an interest gap,” he said. “How do we build interest?” Advising, parental involvement and mentoring programs were all mentioned as possible solutions.
And while all agreed that funding was always a challenge for every level of education, several participants said greater flexibility would ease that problem. “We need more flexibility in policy regulations on education so we can be creative and innovative and stretch those dollars,” said Dr. Dunn. Dr. Worrell agreed that outdated policies and procedures sometimes got in the way of progress. “We need to continue to listen, collaborate and problem solve and focus on individual students,” she said.
Earlier in the day, the attendees split up into focus groups based on three areas: pre-K to 12th grade, workforce development, and postsecondary education. Dr. Stallings noted that several topics came up during these sessions, including the unique challenges for the non-English speaking population, the importance of involving communities of faith, apprenticeships, soft skills, reconnecting people who have fallen out of the educational pipeline, and ways to involve parents more.
Special guests in attendance included Kristy Teskey, executive director, myFutureNC; Matthew Chamberlin, deputy director, myFutureNC; Gus Agudelo, Dan Gerlach, and Ricky Hurtado, all MFNC commissioners; Nation Hahn, EducationNC; MC Belk Pilon, John M Belk Endowment; and John Denning, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
For more information on this effort, go to myfuturenc.org.