Teachers are key in high-stakes economic development: BIZLife Magazine

BIZlife Magazine is a local pub focusing on local movers and shakers in the Triad’s business community. In this month’s issue, they ran a story highlighting GCS’ Mission (im)Possible scheme.

Take a gander:

Donnie Turlington
Teachers are key in high-stakes economic development

When internationally known and respected corporations like Honda Aircraft, Inc., FedEx and RF Micro decide to locate or expand facilities in the Triad, who are the lead characters in the success story? Government leaders? Economic development specialists? Teachers in area schools? Without a doubt say those closest to the ongoing effort to bring new industry to our region, teachers are indeed a vital component in the process.Case in point: In February, the Triad became the new home for the international headquarters and planned production facility to be built by Honda Aircraft, Inc. When the high-tech facility is fully operational, turning out the newly developed HondaJet line of business jets, the payroll will reach nearly 300 jobs with an average yearly salary of over $70,000. According to area business leaders, the quality of teachers in Guilford County was a crucial factor in Honda’s decision to land in Greensboro.

Pat Danahy, president and CEO of Greensboro Partnership, was part of a team effort in attracting Honda to the area. “Employers know that the ability and effectiveness of school teachers directly affects the quality and trainability of the workforce.” As science and technology-based companies become increasingly prevalent in the local economy, Guilford County Schools is taking steps to ensure that all students are in a position to take advantage of future workforce opportunities. And the effort begins with making sure the right teachers are in place to prepare students for the growing demands of the high-tech workplace.

In Guilford County, schools with higher concentrations of poverty, that typically lag behind in test scores and other academic achievement measurements, hiring and retaining the most talented teachers is especially critical. To address this special need, the county launched its Mission Possible program at the beginning of the 2006-07 school year. The goals of Mission Possible are to foster an environment of learning and improve student achievement by increasing the effectiveness of principals and teachers and increasing the number of effective teachers in these critical need schools.

Mission Possible offers qualified teachers special training, smaller classes and a healthy incentive package if they take a position at one of 21 schools where the need for improved academic performance is most acute. The object, officials say, is for the schools to become professional learning communities with supportive leaders and collaborative work environments, staffed by teachers who are most able to provide students with the knowledge and learning skills they will need to succeed in the future.

Lori Bolds, principal at High Point’s Welborn Middle School – a designated Mission Possible school – sees first-hand how the program will benefit students as well as the future workforce. “Providing our students with a program that encourages them to strive for excellence and gives them an opportunity to succeed will have a lasting impact in maintaining Guilford County as a desirable place to live, learn and work.”

Welborn math and science teacher Angela McNeill says it’s already evident the program will help previously unmotivated students identify more options for their future. “Right now, many students at academically challenged schools do not consider college or technology-related careers an option,” McNeill says. “By establishing that foundation early, we can help them overcome the obstacles that prevent learning and better prepare them to enter college and the tech-driven workplace of the future.”

Early results indicate Mission Possible is working on several fronts. Following its launch, Action Greensboro in partnership with the University of North Carolina system provided a $2 million grant to GCS to expand the program by adding two high schools. The US Department of Education further supported the effort with an $8 million grant that added seven elementary and middle schools to the program starting with the 2007 school year.

As our schools continue to improve, area business leaders say the region will reap economic development benefits for years to come. Danahy says, “A lot of factors go into determining whether a corporation will consider locating or expanding in your area, but one of the top factors is the quality of the public schools. If you don’t have a quality school systems, you don’t even get in the game and you can forget about a corporation considering your area.”


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