For many years, the focus of public education was preparing students for college.
But not every graduate was headed to a university, noted Dr. Jeff Price as he addressed the Annual Alliance Christmas Luncheon sponsored by the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.
To better address the educational needs of the non-college students and the business community, the school districts in Hardin County are shifting their focus to preparing students who are hoping to enter a trade school or secure a job following graduation.
Price, the superintendent of Hardin Northern Schools, said in recent years, there has been much emphasis on making sure students pass standardized tests and comparing the results of that testing system with other districts across the nation.
Teachers and administrators had been told the U.S. was falling behind other countries and needed to “up the standards.” All students from K-12 were to be prepared for college, he said.
“It’s a good goal, but I’m not sure it is the correct goal we should have,” said Price.
Many of those college graduates found themselves entering the world where there were no career opportunities in their chosen fields.
“We have a skills gap in the U.S.,” he told the group of businesses, professional and civic leaders gathered at the Hardin County Armory. “There are six million jobs open in the U.S. and the gap will continue to widen if we don’t help students focus on their careers.”
In recent years, he continued, the leaders of all county schools are telling their students attending college is a good decision, but there are other pathways open.
Two students may leave high school together with one going on to college and the other entering a career. While the college student is attending classes and paying tuition, said Price, the other student is earning money and staying out of debt.
“It could be hard for the student in college to catch up,” he said. “Economically, it makes sense. A good plumber will make more in his lifetime than a poor lawyer.”
The idea of testing students continually is also counter-productive to education, said Price. Testing may show how well a student knows facts, but it doesn’t put a value on their soft skills.
“We have put education on an assembly line,” said Price. “Our teachers and students have lost their relationships with each other because we are so focused on the tests.”
Employers are more often searching for employees who show up on time and work hard within a group,” said Price. Those are some of the lessons being taught in courses throughout the county.
“You can be proud of the work we are doing in Hardin County’s schools,” he said.
The six districts within the county system are partnering with each other, but also with businesses and schools of higher learning to train young people to perform jobs and learn marketable values.
“Each of the schools is looking for opportunities to work within their communities,” said Price.
The businesses willing to assist in monitoring programs, job shadowing or training programs should contact the local superintendents of the Alliance.
Students today are encouraged at an early age to identify an interest, Price said, and the schools are working to help make that interest a career.
The success of the new direction in education will depend on business leaders like those attendingluncheon, he continued.
“Ultimately, you are our partners,” he said.
Following Price’s presentation, Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance Director Jon Cross announced two new programs being developed by his office to assist in the partnership between local businesses and school districts and the development of connections between young professionals.
One program, announced Cross, will develop a job and career fair in February. The program will bring an estimated 500 high school seniors and local college students together with area business leaders to recruit full-time or part-time employees for summer jobs or internships. There are expected to representative available from manufacturing, agriculture, education, financial, healthcare, retail and service industries.
“As a first-of-its-kind-event for our community,” Cross said, “not only does it give students the opportunity to explore more career pathways and interview for job opportunities, it allows businesses to recruit a skilled and viable workforce and helps our community attract and retain a younger generation to live, work and prosper in Hardin County.”
The Alliance will also be developing a Young Professionals Alliance for young people between the ages of 21 and 40. The group will work together in networking, educational and social opportunities, said Cross.
By DAN ROBINSON
Times staff writer