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Policy Makers, Officials, and Advocates Joined Together in Examining Education And Workforce Development

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Business Council of Alabama’s Pathways to Policy Summit on Alabama’s Future held recently at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham – The Wynfrey Hotel spotlighted education and workforce development challenges and opportunities.

Speakers at Pathways to Improving Education and Workforce Development included education, workforce, and legislative leaders along with two nationally recognized education reform advocates.

The Business Education Alliance of Alabama sponsored the education and workforce development segment of the BCA’s Pathways to Policy Summit held Oct. 27-28 on education and workforce development, Alabama’s infrastructure crisis, and health care cost management.

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Former Alabama State Superintendent of Education and BEA Chairman and President Joe Morton, Ph.D., moderated a panel consisting of state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, chair of the House Education Policy Committee; Jeff Lynn, senior executive director of Workforce and Economic Development, Alabama Community College System; and Alabama State Superintendent of Education Michael Sentance.

Sentance, a former Massachusetts superintendent of education, who became Alabama state superintendent in August, said as superintendent he will address Alabama student deficiencies in math, science, and reading. “I came to Alabama because I believe I have something to offer,” Sentence said.

Sentance said Alabama students have low scores in math and science on the National Assessment of Education Progress, but he believes student scores can improve within several years with emphasis on math and science.

“Math demands focus,” Sentance said. “We’re developing a strategic plan for mathematics.”

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Sentance said he is working with the BCA along with academics, business leaders, educators, and school board members to create a committee of up to 30 members who will create a plan to address math challenges. He said cooperation can produce gains in student achievement.

Sentance said the Department of Education has no one on the staff with a master’s degree in mathematics nor is there anyone he can find with a math degree. He said a math education degree is not the same as a mathematics degree that includes content knowledge that can be used to assist school systems.

Lynn, newly hired by the two-year college system last month, said his vision for education includes explaining workforce opportunities for high school students. Lynn began working Oct. 3 with businesses, industries, economic development organizations, and communities to ensure that students, adults, and current employees receive the proper training, behaviors, and technical skills that are needed to secure and perform rewarding and in-demand jobs.

He is the former executive director of Louisiana’s LED FastStart, an award-winning and customized workforce development program, and has worked with private business and government agencies to promote customized workforce and recruiting solutions to new and expanding companies.

The BCA supports successful workforce development efforts that will prepare the next generation of Alabamians for rewarding and productive careers by attracting and retaining good jobs that will increase the net worth of Alabama households.

“We want to create a pipeline to articulate workforce to students, for example, in manufacturing,” Lynn said.

Rep. Collins said the Legislature will fund those programs that are working well. “Set goals and let K-12 and higher education develop those,” Rep. Collins said.

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Author, attorney and education reform leader Kevin P. Chavous, a former District of Columbia Council member and chair of the Council’s education committee, and Champions for Choice in Education Ambassador Lisa Leslie, a former WNBA MVP, also spoke.

Chavous said students improve when parents have “quality” school options.

“Two-thirds of high school graduates aren’t college ready,” Chavous said. “This is a prime opportunity to put our children out front in education.”

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“School choice is giving parents the opportunity to choose the best school for their children,” Leslie said.

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