Education, business leaders call for more collaboration

January 4, 2012

It’s been a disastrous four years financially for Colorado education, with losses of more than $700 million dollars to district budgets.

Schools have had to freeze hiring, enact furlough days, increase fees and cut staff, programs and transportation. At the same time, schools are faced with larger achievement gaps, particularly in math, science and writing, more impoverished students, more non-English-speaking students and more federal education mandates.

With those challenges in mind, the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon discussion Wednesday at Palmer High School to urge business leaders, educators, government officials, community groups and parents to work more closely to help prepare students for the work force and ensure they have a more promising future.

“We need to find ways to give our education system more face cards,” noted David Csintyan, chamber president and chairman of  the state’s Workforce Development Council.

But that doesn’t mean just throwing money at the problem, he and the others speakers emphasized. The meeting is expected to lead to other roundtable discussions that will come up with collaborative programs. “We need to find ways to connect the dots,” Csintyan said. He noted that Congress and the state won’t do it all. “We have to take care of our own backyard.”

Colorado Springs School District 11 Superintendent Nicholas Gledich, who oversees 29,000 students, told the crowd, “It takes the entire community to make education successful.” He added, “It’s good for students and it is good for business.”

Participants agreed that all is not dire, and that some collaborative programs already exist, such as classes taught by business experts, volunteers who do such things as read to third graders and serve as mentors.  “But programs have ebbed and flowed, and much more is needed,” said Stephannie Finley, who chairs the chamber’s governmental affairs and public policy division.

When a community ignores education it results in students who don’t graduate from high school, students who don’t do well in college, students who aren’t equipped to enter the work force and who don’t connect with their communities through such things as voting and volunteering, participants said.

Part of the problem has been that community members and businesses often don’t know how to make these partnerships happen, including who to contact in the schools. “We need to make it more fluid, know what you need and how we can help,” said Finley, On the other hand, it has not been easy for schools to identify “the hooks”  to get the community, including businesses, interested, Gledich said.

“These uncomfortable conversations can lead to change, said Gledich, who is chair of the Pikes Peak Area Superintendents Association.  

Contact Carol McGraw:636-0371
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