Education and Workforce Summit set for Feb. 19 at Northeast State

Rick Wagner • Feb 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM

The Education and Workforce Summit sponsored by Sullivan County’s economic development program boils down to brainstorming sessions on ways to help local educators.

The summit, set for Thursday, Feb. 19, at Northeast State Technical Community College, will focus on finding solutions to problems local K-16 schools have in:

• Meeting new standards for high school graduation.

• Getting all high school graduates to qualify academically for the Educate and Grow scholarship.

• Increasing the number of county residents with college degrees.

• Fostering a learning culture in the county and working to ensure the county’s education systems are among the performance leaders in the state and nation.

“Education and economic development are linked. You can’t be successful in one without the other. They’re just linked,” said former Kingsport Mayor Jeanette Blazier, who is chairing the summit. “The very first question they (businesses and industries looking to locate in the area) will ask is: ‘How are your schools?’”

The 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. event will bring together education officials, those from business and industry, economic development professionals, parents and the general public.

“Maybe the community can come up with some traditional solutions and non-traditional solutions for problems facing the school systems,” NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership CEO Richard Venable said.

Venable said he believes school boards and school systems are more open to community input and help than ever before.

Blazier said the goal is not only to meet specified goals, but over time to raise the bar, since economic development and education are not about a finish line but about always going to the next level.

“This is a journey that never ends,” Blazier said. “You never arrive. ... You continue to grow, develop and learn how to do things better.”

Keith Wilson, NETWORKS chairman and publisher of the Kingsport Times-News, and Venable said NETWORKS chose Blazier to help put together the Feb. 19 summit because she helped put together the 1999 Kingsport Economic Summit and a follow-up summit that helped jump-start the city’s economy and resulted in, among other things, the developing Academic Village downtown.

“We can point to that summit as the beginning of our turnaround in the city of Kingsport,” Blazier said, commending current Mayor Dennis Phillips, City Manager John Campbell, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and city officials with continuing that momentum.

“This is not K-12. It is K-16,” Wilson said of the summit’s focus.

“A high school degree is no longer a terminal degree,” Wilson said of the realization people need to accept and embrace. “That’s going to help us more in economic development than any single thing I can think of to do.”

One area that needs attention is making it easier for those who started but did not finish college to go back and finish, often while working full-time jobs, Wilson said.

Blazier said the 1999 summit drew about 80 people, but she hopes the NETWORKS summit will draw about 100 people.

The event will start at 8:30 a.m. with registration and a meet and greet in the Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts, followed by the keynote address by Oliver “Buzz” Thomas at 9 a.m. giving an overview on education and work force development issues. Thomas is executive director of the Greeneville-based Niswonger Foundation, a Baptist minister, lawyer and author.

After that, Kingsport, Sullivan County, Bristol, state and Northeast State education officials will participate in a panel discussion of new high school standards and testing mandated by Tennessee.

After lunch, participants will go into breakout sessions on five focus areas. Blazier said each group is to come up with at least three priorities to help in that area or at least 15 ideas total.

The entire group will meet after that to review the ideas and sign up for which of the five areas they would like to help out with.

Wilson will recruit or seek volunteer “champions” of each area, with NETWORKS responsible to develop action items and progress measurements in each area.

The event is open to the public. However, RSVPs are due Friday. To RSVP contact Venable at 279-7681 or rvenable@networkstn.com.

For more information visit www.networkstn.com.

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