The Alachua County Education Compact was launched with great expectation in May 2015. The 27 organizations that signed the agreement pledged to transform education and improve job and career opportunities for Alachua County students from birth through community college.
Over the past year, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce has coordinated both planning efforts and activities to carry out this mission. [[USE HOME LOGO]] interviewed some of the leaders involved for a discussion of what has been accomplished and the opportunities for the future.
The discussion outlined plans to form a Human Capital Foundation, a PreK-20 Committee and a Business Coalition. Work on the compact also helped propel discussion of the formation of a children’s services council in Alachua County. The compact organizers are planning an education summit that will set the agenda for action by these groups.
The group included the following:
• Gordon Tremaine, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Alachua County.
• Karen Clarke, assistant superintendent of curriculum/instructional services/student support for Alachua County Public Schools.
• Elio Chiarelli, a financial adviser with Kidder Advisers.
• Ian Fletcher, vice president of education and talent alignment for the chamber.
1. What has pleased you about the progress?
TREMAINE: What energized me the most was the inclusion of birth to five in the conversation about community education. It’s such a critical time in a child’s life; 85 percent of brain development occurs in the first four years, and we tend to focus on K-12 in conversations.
Most people see what happens in the first five years as nursery school or day care — as if what we want to do is park children somewhere where they’re nice and safe while mom goes to work or dad goes to work and hold them there until they’re ready for education.
We’re seeing the import of the early years in breaking the cycle of generational poverty. If we can be successful in educating children in poverty, they will be more stable, have higher executive function, be better trained, and be able to hold better jobs and earn better wages.
Twenty-five percent of children in this county live at or below the poverty level. Poverty has to do with the number of words children hear. It’s really important to be able to sit with a child and interact — that serve and return.
If you’re working three jobs, it’s tough to do that.
The working vocabulary coming into school of a child who is born into poverty is about a third of the working vocabulary of one born into a middle-class household.
Every time a child doesn’t pass a grade, we have a per-child cost. Every time a teacher who’s begun to become seasoned leaves a school system over frustration that children aren’t ready to be in school, there’s a cost.
CHIARELLI: No one argues that we need more money to improve education. But, I think (what) communities often struggle with is involvement — getting people actively involved in the education process.
I love that the Education Compact provides a bridge linking our school system, early learning providers and the community businesses.
As a business owner, I wasn’t sure what my involvement in the educational system could be — other than that I have a child, and she’s in the early learning system. The compact provides me and other people in business with a vehicle to promote education. That might be though their personal time or their talent or their treasures. Specifically, I’m involved as the chair of the Human Capital Foundation — raising the funds to put the goals into action.
2. How has this work opened your eyes?
CHIARELLI: As a white, middle-class American, that’s my circle of influence. If you don’t ever get out of that circle, that’s what you know to be true. Getting involved in these type of things expands your truth. What it helps you realize is that while we have a quarter of a million people in our county, 57,000 of them are living in poverty.
I would have never guessed that that much of our population is living in poverty. What’s even more eye-opening is looking at the poverty line for a family of three, which is $22,000. You start looking at your own lifestyle and saying, “What can I do with $22,000?” I spend $840 a month to put my child in preschool. I’m spending half of the average poverty income on my child’s education.
We hope that when we get other business owners and other community members involved, we can expand their circle of truth.
Working on the compact, we learned about a number of resources and programs that exist in our county that none of us were aware of. We want to foster collaboration among people with these resources so we don’t reinvent the wheel and duplicate effort.
TREMAINE: The general goodwill of our community only takes us so far. We also live in a state that does not fund early learning or public education terribly well.
We need to recognize that there’s something in it for everyone to have quality education from birth on up. It’s not just about the kids. You can say that the kids have a right, but you can also come at it from the viewpoint that business needs a talent chain. We need to be raising up people who are able to take the jobs that need to be filled.
We can’t sustain all the innovation that is coming to Gainesville just by hiring doctoral students, just by hiring people who invent things. There’s a whole nexus of people who have to be able to hold jobs at many different levels to support our entire economy.
CHIARELLI: Putting education in perspective for a lot of students and, more importantly, a lot of parents is important. A lot of times, people feel that if my child doesn’t want to go to college, they’re going to fail at life. Nothing may be further from the truth.
My wife works at UF, and she’s hiring an entry level position with a published salary of $41,000. They got 57 applications: 10 Ph.D.s, 15 master’s degrees. We’re in an overly educated environment.
TREMAINE: State and federal funding only goes so far in building the talent chain.
The state and federal governments tell you, “This is how far we’re going to go,” and that’s it. Now, it’s up to the local community to decide, “OK, what are we going to do? What’s our stake in our own community?”
We need to come up with local solutions, and I think that’s what the compact is trying to do.
3. How are those local solutions taking shape?
CLARKE: Over the years, we’ve had a lot of really great things going on in our community for education, but many of them occur randomly.
We have begun mobilizing those resources to focus on one goal: our pre-K through college education system. There are a lot of folks who are really excited about getting involved in working toward the same goal.
For example, there’s a lot of community involvement with mentoring and tutoring within our schools, but no one person has a handle on how many people are involved. Some businesses and organizations have adopted schools, but we don’t know how many people are truly involved. We talked about mobilizing our efforts, having a hub. We want to find out if we have any gaps or overlaps.
Being able to bounce ideas off each other has made us all better at what we are doing. I now have a better understanding of programs that the Harn is able to offer our students or what’s coming out of UF’s College of Music.
4. What are some examples of emerging community collaboration?
CLARKE: One example involves our enhancement of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. That would not have been remotely possible without support by community partners and UF.
UF engineering students work with our robotics teams. Infinite Energy has provided volunteers, including judges at competitions, and financial resources.
There was a big focus in our conversations on the arts and cultural parts of the community. The Cade Museum is interested in coming onboard.
A lot of expertise resides in individual colleges at UF. It makes more sense to pull College of Engineering students to work with robotics, rather than College of Education students. We tap into the College of Nursing for our FluMist program. We have many partnerships with UF and Santa Fe, but we want to strengthen them and make the public aware of them.
A lot of people assume that we have interns and pre-service teachers in our schools, but that’s just the surface of what’s really going on. The new students coming in each year need activities, whether it be volunteer hours or other opportunities.
FLETCHER: There are so many things that are happening. The Parent Academy is up and running. SWAG (Southwest Advocacy Group) is supporting the children’s services council. The first robotics competition was really successful.
So many things are going on with the Early Learning Academy at the former Duval Elementary. The Professional Academies Magnet at Loften High School is planning a job fair. Internships and job shadowing has to be built out.
The Human Capital Foundation will have 15 members, and each member will be required to help raise funds. We’re going to take a look around the state of Florida and around the nation for opportunities to seek grants from private foundations and public agencies.
We’ve put together a PreK-20 Committee. This group, which will include representatives of the school district, the University of Florida, Santa Fe College and Saint Leo University, will look at the strategies and how to operationalize them. The PreK-20 Committee will go to the Human Capital Foundation and say, “Here are the five things that we need funding for.” The Human Capital Foundation will say, “Here are two of the five that we can fund now, and we will look at raising the money to fund the other three long-term.
The Business Coalition will be made up of members of the business community that will engage partners.
We also plan outreach to service clubs, business organizations and churches. The resources that it will take to accomplish our goals far exceed what any of us have. The school board doesn’t have them. The chamber doesn’t have them. The business community doesn’t have them at this point.
The biggest thing we want to accomplish is build bridges between education and the business community. I envision the education summit as moving us forward on the discussion of collaboration.
We are seeking keynote speakers from large corporations and foundations that have made a difference and panel discussion with other speakers from successful local programs. This community thinks “education first,” but I don’t believe it thinks, “How can we help with education?”
So much has to be done through our outreach and the education summit to say to the business community, “Listen, this is going on in the neighborhoods. We’d like to implement these programs. We want you to be involved.”