Bice encourages business and school partnerships

Alabama Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice spoke about the important connection between school systems, businesses and the economy during a July 30 Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce luncheon. (Reporter Photo / Neal Wagner)

Alabama Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice spoke about the important connection between school systems, businesses and the economy during a July 30 Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce luncheon. (Reporter Photo / Neal Wagner)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

PELHAM—In 2012, the graduation rate of Alabama high schools was 72-percent, an “unacceptable” statistic, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice said to the group of representatives from businesses across Shelby County gathered at the July 30 Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce luncheon sponsored by Legacy Community Federal Credit Union.

During the luncheon, Bice spoke of the important connection between businesses, the education system and the economy.

The education children receive in school is key not only to their future, but to the future of the economy and local businesses as well, Bice said, adding the school system had not adequately prepared students for success in the real world.

Upon assuming the position of state superintendent of education on Jan. 1, 2012, Bice shifted the focus of the education system to teaching real world thinking and problem solving in a re-imagined classroom where learning is “individualized and personalized.”

“We spent a decade preparing children to take a test and not preparing children to think,” Bice said. “We’re redefining the high school graduate.”

In addition to changing the way students learn in the classroom, Bice also set a goal of raising the state graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020.

“We needed all kids to graduate from high school, not just some,” Bice said. “This economy needs all the kids to graduate.”

By 2013, the graduation rate had risen by 5-percent, or “3,000 more high school graduates,” and it is currently at 80-percent, the highest in Alabama history, Bice said, adding “we are going to get to 90-percent way before we originally projected.”

Bice encouraged the businesspeople at the July 30 luncheon to support, challenge and partner with the school systems to help them innovate and improve.

The GSCCC education workgroup has already started this type of partnership with Shelby County school systems. By “working closely with teachers,” the workgroup plans programs that help students think about and prepare for life after high school.

This past year, the GSCCC began the “Keeping it Real” program, designed to teach freshman about cost of living and expenses. This year, the GSCCC will introduce a “Career Awareness Fair” to tenth grade students, introducing them to a variety career paths and educating them on education requirements and salary ranges of different occupations, GSCCC CEO Kirk Mancer explained.

Mancer said the workgroup is also planning a program about interview skills for eleventh grade students that will be introduced during the 2015-2016 academic year.

“Each year we’ll be in Shelby County schools,” Mancer said. “As the largest business group in the county, it makes sense to (partner with schools). Our members are the future employers of the students in Shelby County.”