by Colton Campbell
The keynote speaker at the fourth annual Education Collaborative Summit, hosted by the University of West Georgia last week, ascended the stage wearing a long, baggy T-shirt. However, at the end of his presentation, Dr. Adolph Brown descended the stage in full academic regalia, complete with a doctoral tam.
His costume changes over the course of his presentation to more than 300 education, business and community leaders from across West Georgia represented the transformation Brown has seen in his life – from a child raised in the inner city to the founder, president and CEO of The Leadership & Learning Institute.
“People like you and organizations like the Education Collaborative led me to where I am today,” Brown told the audience. “You all know that the tree is in the seed. Thank you for supporting the seed that I was. I changed over time – not overnight – because of people like you.”
Founded in 2015, the Education Collaborative includes representatives from the University of West Georgia, West Georgia Technical College (WGTC), Carrollton City Schools, Carroll County Schools, Oak Mountain Academy, the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations and businesses. Its mission is to build Georgia's workforce by ensuring every high school student graduates ready for enrollment in higher education, employment or enlisting in the military.
“I am so honored to be a part of this group of professors, policymakers, business leaders, educators, government officials and many others as we work to improve the success of our children and young adults,” said Dr. Micheal Crafton, UWG’s interim president, during his opening remarks. “We have the same goal: increasing the number of students who graduate from high school with a concrete plan for their future in mind. My hope for the day is that you make connections with people who are as passionate as you are and discover how you can work together to continue changing students’ lives.”
Since 2016, the organization has hosted an annual summit in addition to quarterly meetings. This year’s summit was held in UWG’s Campus Center Ballroom, with more than 300 engaged participants attending.
The Education Collaborative invited educators and other stakeholders from communities surrounding Carroll County to the summit, with representation present from Douglas, Coweta, Haralson and Heard counties. That’s part of the Education Collaborative’s current goal: to share its model with other communities to encourage collaboration among their school systems, higher education institutions, and local business and industry.
Following the keynote address, summit attendees were invited to participate in more than two dozen interest sessions that ranged in topics from workforce development to mental health and tied to the summit’s theme of “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges.”
This year’s summit had a special focus on three challenges: how what happens to children from birth to age 5 influences their future success, the overwhelming life issues that make it difficult for some students to succeed, and the transition from high school or college to careers.
After the interest sessions, attendees reconvened in community planning sessions in which community responses were developed to address one of the three issues affecting local students’ success.
Dr. Laura Smith, associate dean of UWG’s College of Education and director of the Comprehensive Community Clinic, spoke on the importance of child development between their birth and fifth birthday.
“There’s a saying that if an egg is broken by external forces, the life inside the egg ends, but if the egg is broken by an internal force, life begins,” Smith said. “That’s the work of our community at large: to really identify and reduce or eliminate the external forces that impede our youngest learners from being able to live and thrive.”
Daniel Jackson, president and CEO of Carroll Tomorrow and the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, spoke on students’ transition from high school or college into their chosen careers, saying workforce development is the “No. 1 issue” in American industry.
“When we interact with businesses and industries that are looking for a place to launch or expand, the first question they ask us is whether our community has the workforce to sustain their business,” Jackson said. “I am always so proud to point to this Education Collaborative as proof that aligning the needs of our industries with what our students are learning at all levels of our educational institutions.”
Amanda Carden, director of student support with Carrollton City Schools, spoke on the overwhelming life issues that make it difficult for some students to succeed, saying the circumstances like poverty and childhood trauma can’t be “turned off” when they arrive to school.
“Each of those circumstances drives a nail – a hard nail – into the barriers to their success,” Carden said. “There’s nothing luxurious about education. It’s essential to a person’s survival, but we want our children to thrive – not just survive. I hope this summit will be a call to action on how we can collaboratively address these overwhelming circumstances and have a significant effect on whether our children have the opportunity to flourish.”
Brown – an author of several books, including “Real Talk: Lessons in Uncommon Sense” – ended his presentation by praising the collaborative’s constituents, saying widespread cooperation among different institutions and entities is often attempted but rarely achieved.
“For me, the definition of collaboration is bringing together those who have with those who do for those who need,” Brown said. “It sounds wonderful in theory, but when you bring in different personalities and needs, it can become challenging. You all have put those differences aside for a larger common goal. That you’re celebrating your fourth year of collaboration speaks volumes about your community.”