When Reinventing Isn’t Just a Catchphrase

So, what happens when county school superintendents, the mayor of the county seat, major institutions and companies big and small throw out the playbook for how secondary and post-secondary education was always run and join up on the same team?  It might just lead to reinventing an entire region and re-envisioning its future.

The Yadkin Valley Regional Career Academy in Davidson County – only in its second year of operation, but 10 years in the making – grew out of a conversation about the future of the county, sparked by the North Carolina New Schools initiative.  New Schools adherents commit to ensuring that every student graduates high school “ready for college, careers and life.”  Students in Davidson, and neighboring counties, though, were going in the opposite direction.

Over the last decade Davidson County, which is part of the Piedmont Triad, lost 5,500 manufacturing jobs, primarily in textiles and furniture.  These were family-supporting jobs that didn’t require post-secondary education or training, which meant college-going was not a tradition.  Indeed, high school completion wasn’t necessarily a priority.  When those jobs moved off, and new jobs arrived, the workers weren’t prepared to take them on.

The “first response” effort was on re-engaging displaced workers through postsecondary education or certification.  But what about upcoming generations?  A culture of higher education striving and attainment doesn’t happen overnight.  It has to be built.

In collective impact fashion, Triad education, workforce, civic and business leaders came together to explore what kind of high school experience not only could overcome the education deficits many area students had, but also inspire students and their families to set their sights on learning beyond 12th grade, and prepare them to succeed on that path.  They believed that finding a new way to move their young people onto higher education was how they could reinvigorate their region and economy and sustain it into the future. [Read more…]