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 region that is economically strong, good stewards of our resources and where all residents have opportunities to grow and succeed, it seems logical that creating coherence among stakeholders working towards enhancing our economic vitality and quality of life would help make each partner and holistically 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 all supporting the educational attainment and success of their students. If you add to that mix thousands of businesses, all with their own specific employment needs, who rely on the students produced through the education system and then top it off with local and state governments and governing bodies 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 have developed connectivity and collaborative opportunities that include all elements of the education spectrum are able to provide valuable experiences to enhance the overall success of the students within the region. In a region like the Upstate where the educational and economic success of our communities are very clearly connected and there have been a growing number of collaborative regional initiatives in recent years, creating meaningful coherence and connectivity could provide even greater value for students and businesses across the region.
It was with this backdrop that Ten at the Top and Public Education Partners recently convened the first-ever Upstate Superintendents and College/University Presidents meeting 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 and the barriers towards creating coherence and greater regional connectivity between the k-12, higher education, and business sectors when talking about the educational and future economic success of the children in the Upstate.
Fortunately, in the Upstate we have a number of individual districts, county or multi-county examples of initiatives where the various sectors within education and business have connected to create a program or enhanced opportunity 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, there were a few themes that kept bubbling to the top:
• Intentional communication and dialogue is critical. It was pointed out that just the fact that this was the first-ever 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 between those teaching students at different stages of their educational experience. Developing and supporting some type of consistent dialogue across the education spectrum could potentially eliminate some of the “inaccurate perceptions” that seem to currently 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 journey 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 program of 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 at a quick enough pace.
• Challenges are often similar, so why not learn from each other? It was clear from the dialogue that whether it be 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 issues and challenges when striving to support students. 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 create a greater opportunity for growing 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 towards 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.