The Muscogee County School District is among the five systems the Georgia Department of Education has selected as pilot participants in a new program, the Economic Development Partnership.
Whitfield County, Marietta City, Newton County and Wayne County are the other school districts in the inaugural year, the GaDOE announced in a news release.
The EDP program seeks to promote improved relationships between local school districts and business, the news release says. The program is loosely modeled after GaDOE’s STEM and STEAM certification for schools. It aims to meet the workforce development needs of Georgia’s employers and expand opportunities for students. The designation is endorsed by the Georgia Economic Developers Association (GEDA).
“We have been pleased to partner with the Georgia Department of Education in the development and rollout of the Economic Development Partnership,” GEDA President Kevin Shea said in the news release. “We are excited about the potential for an improved partnership with school districts and GEDA member economic development organizations throughout the state of Georgia, to enhance communication and opportunities for business and quality of life and place.”
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Alignment of common priorities among education and industry leadership is a central tenet of the program, the news release says. Pilot school districts will work with GaDOE staff to deliver the program and broaden it so all interested school districts could implement it during the 2019-2020 school year.
“It’s our primary goal and responsibility to equip students with the tools they need to live successful, rewarding lives after they complete their K-12 education,” GaDOE superintendent Richard Woods said in the news release. “As the primary emphasis for so many businesses has shifted from physical location to future talent, it’s critical that we facilitate a stronger connection between our educational system and the business/industry community. The EDP program will make that connection an ongoing reality in Georgia’s public schools.”
The Economic Development Partnership will include required leadership training and a review of local Career Pathway offerings, as well as components that can be scaled or modified to fit communities, the news release says.
In an emailed interview Thursday with the Ledger-Enquirer, MCSD superintendent David Lewis said the GaDOE’s Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) Department issued a call for participants in the Economic Development Partnership pilot program in July.
“Because of our current involvement in economic development, such as the various staff members serving on committees for Columbus 2025 and partnerships we’ve developed with Pratt & Whitney and TSYS, I felt that seeking this designation would validate our effort,” Lewis said. “After the initial submission, our CTAE director, Victoria Thomas, participated in a webinar with the nearly 20 other districts that applied. The webinar was followed by a questionnaire, which was used by the selection committee to narrow down to the chosen districts.”
MCSD’s participation in the program, Lewis said, “demonstrates that our district understands the role of education in economic development. As the community has learned from the efforts surrounding Columbus 2025, as well as economic development initiatives in general, having a K-12 system that responds to the needs of the workforce is an essential element to attract and sustain businesses. So, this program will not only benefit MCSD, it will benefit the entire community.”
Asked how, when and where MCSD will implement this program, Lewis said, “GaDOE has not provided any information to us about how the program is designed, other than stating that it is modeled after GaDOE’s STEM/STEAM certification for schools. The difference being that when we complete the required process, the Economic Development Partnership designation would be awarded to the entire school district, rather than an individual school.”
Asked about the cost of the program and the source of those funds, Lewis said, “No information has been provided to me regarding any costs for this program. If the program is designed like GaDOE’s STEM/STEAM certification process, there would be no costs. For STEM certification, schools are required to meet specified criteria that is verified by GaDOE in order to receive the certification.”
Lewis added, “Being chosen for this pilot is an honor. As we work toward becoming a premiere school district, this is certainly among the characteristics that will set us apart from others across the state and the country. We are pleased that Georgia is forward-thinking in developing this program, and we are pleased that MCSD is among the chosen few to lead the way.”
GaDOE communications director Meghan Frick told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email Thursday the four pilot school district will help determine the criteria for EDP designation.
“We know the ultimate goal is to encourage best practices within a school that can strengthen relationships between education and business, and strengthen career education, but we want to make sure the designation is both achievable and ambitious,” Frick said “We want to be sure what we’re asking for is within reason for a school district to do, and we want it to be a recognition of practices that actually work to increase education/business collaboration.”
Possible examples of EDP activities, Frick said, include teacher externships, student internships, a review of local Career Pathway options to determine if those align with industry in the area and leadership trainings.
“We chose districts in different regions of the state,” Frick said, “and one of the reasons we chose Muscogee is because they’re doing a lot of great work in this area already. They have a very strong work-based learning program, from their partnership with Pratt & Whitney to the automotive program students you wrote about at Jordan High School.”