by Colton Campbell

The Carroll County Education Collaborative (CCEC) has built its foundation on relationships and mutual trust, uniting the leadership of educational institutions across West Georgia to establish a common vision for student success from pre-kindergarten through a viable career.

Panelists at CCECDr. Kyle Marrero, president of the University of West Georgia, said it’s crucial for the members of the CCEC to never lose sight of the value of those relationships and mutual trust.

“Our ability to come together as leaders of our organizations as a community, and to openly network, should be applauded and never underestimated,” Marrero said during the collaborative’s third annual Education Collaborative Regional Summit. “It is the strength of these relationships that advance our collective purpose: to ensure that each student is motivated and supported to become employed, enlisted or enrolled.”

Education shouldn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, it should be one size fits one.

That’s how Dr. John Green, director of CCEC, characterizes the group’s approach. The summit brought together educators, business and government leaders, and community members for seminars and information sessions featuring expert speakers and break-out panels.

“There are 7.6 billion people on this planet, and every one of them is unique,” Green said during his opening remarks of the two-day summit. “This community will become greater if we increase the number of students who graduate high school either enrolled, enlisted or employed, and that’s our whole mission.”

Founded in 2015, CCEC includes leadership 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 groups 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.

Since 2016, the organization has hosted an annual summit in addition to quarterly meetings. This year’s summit was held at Carrollton High School.

CCEC invited educators and other stakeholders from communities surrounding Carroll County to the summit – with representation present from Douglas, Coweta, Haralson, Heard, Troup and Meriwether 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.

The summit hosted two keynote speakers: Dr. Tim Elmore, president and CEO of Growing Leaders Inc., and Dr. Tristan Denley, chief academic officer for the University System of Georgia. Elmore introduced the concept of “marching off the map” during his presentation on the summit’s opening day.

“We have to inspire students to navigate a brand new world – one for which we have no map,” Elmore said. “There's no guarantee that what we try won't work, but we have to understand that what worked in the past may not be what we need to pursue in the future. There are two kinds of people: pioneers and settlers. We’re tasked with teaching this new generation of students to be pioneers.”

Elmore challenged the gathered group of more than 100 educational leaders to balance being timely and timeless.

“We have to understand the realities and needs of today’s culture to prepare our youth for adulthood, but we also have to pass on the timeless values and skills needed to flourish today and in the future,” Elmore said.

Denley, who earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, shared data with the group showing how students perform at a higher level when they have a clear pathway in front of them – even if it’s a pathway with challenges and obstacles to overcome.

“The power of perception is high,” Denley said. “Believing you aren’t a math person doesn’t help you learn math. We have proven data that shows success rates are higher for students who think math will be useful in their careers rather than those who don’t – a different of 78 percent success, compared to 61 percent success.”

Denley said that often the level of skepticism students have about real-life applications determines their success in the classroom.

“If you think you can’t learn something, that struggle is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Denley said. “Ways we can make people feel comfortable with that struggle are crucial because it’s just a part of learning. None of us have learned anything worth our time without that struggle.”

The summit closed with a panel discussion focused on the community response to ensure student success among the key stakeholders of the collaborative: Marrero; Dr. Scott Rule, WGTC president; Dr. Mark Albertus, superintendent of Carrollton City Schools; Scott Cowart, superintendent of Carroll County Schools; and Daniel Jackson, president and CEO of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and Carroll Tomorrow.

Marrero described this time in the organization's history as being “at the precipice.”

“We’re at a time when we’ve seen several initiatives in our collaborative happen and improve, but there’s still so many great things we’ve yet to accomplish,” Marrero said. “We’ve put into place a good deal of purposeful action that’s been the result of meaningful relationships and our willingness to find solutions that are best for the students in the communities we serve.”

Cowart agreed, saying the group has “only touched the surface” of the opportunities that have been made available since the CCEC’s inception.

“To have group that's willing to come together the way the CCEC does and try to find community responses none of us can solve individually is unique not only in our state but nationally, as well,” Cowart said.

Rule said he was excited to inherit a position in the collaborative when he was named WGTC president in April.

“I see the partnerships and connections that are already here,” Rule said. “In the Technical College System of Georgia, we have a long history of working with business and industry to ensure our programs meet the needs of our educational programs, but what’s more difficult is interfacing with other higher education institutions and local school systems. I’m pleased to find these barriers have been knocked down to ensure student success is everyone’s first priority.”

Dr. Tristan Denley
Dr. Tristan Denley

Albertus echoed Rule’s remarks, saying education institutions often isolate themselves in “silos,” but that’s not the case in Carroll County, thanks to the CCEC.

“A lot of times, educators put their noses to the grindstone and stay in their own lane,” Albertus said. “This collaborative inspires us to pause and communicate with each other to see what everyone else is doing, and it’s a crucial part of our culture here in Carroll County.”

In his remarks, Jackson shared that businesses from around the state identify workforce development as their priority issue.

“Everybody’s talking about it, but not many people are doing something about it,” Jackson said. “We are.”

Others have taken notice the collaboration is working, too. Jackson said he was asked to speak at Harvard University last year to share about CCEC.

“I’m absolutely delighted we’re taking this to a regional level and sharing the model with the communities surrounding Carroll County,” Jackson said. “We’re all in this together. Let’s keep marching off the map.”

Posted on August 8, 2018