Availability of a highly skilled workforce is a key component of Maury County's advantage for new investment and expansion.
To ensure that a steady pipeline of talent continues flowing to the county’s growing labor market, leaders from business, industry and education have banded together to create a workforce development ecosystem that begins in elementary school and continues through college.
Maury County Public Schools, for example, entered into a dual enrollment partnership with Columbia State Community College that will give high school students the chance to take courses in high-demand fields, such as mechatronics and computer programming, and receive college credit at the same time.
“Students can also use the credits they earn through the dual enrollment program to transfer to a four-year college or university," says Dr. Janet F. Smith, Columbia State Community College president. Two years ago, a student from Columbia Central High School completed enough dual enrollment credit hours in high school that she only needed one semester at Columbia State to obtain her degree.”
The arrangement, Smith says, allows students to move through degree programs more quickly and enter the workforce at a faster rate. “Employers are excited about having a growing pool of talent that is not only meeting the needs of existing industries but is also attractive to relocating companies," she says. "The more we develop our workforce, the greater the opportunity we have for attracting new industry, which increases employment opportunities throughout the county.” In 2016, the Maury County school system implemented the Seven Keys to College and Career Readiness across all 22 of its schools.
Keys one and two ensure that students are performing at grade level in math and literacy before entering middle school. Keys three and four ensure students are adequately prepared for high school. Keys five, six and seven prepare students for college and careers. “We begin the work of college and career readiness the minute that a kindergartener walks into the building on day one. Over the last 15 months, we have tried to work closely with the business community to tell us what we need to be doing, for kids, so that they are ready to compete,” says Dr. Chris Marczak, Superintendent, Maury County Public Schools. “As the school system performs, so the county performs.”
Full STEAM Ahead
The town of Mt. Pleasant is embarking on a first-in-the-nation program by partnering with local businesses and organizations to implement a STEAM – which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics – curriculum across the elementary, middle and high school levels. The STEAM model is based on experiential learning and arms students with valuable problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. “We want students thinking like creators and not consumers,” says Dr. Ryan Jackson, Mt. Pleasant High School principal and executive lead principal of the Mount Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone.
“For over a decade, we’ve created this paradigm for students where the focus was simply on the consumption of information. You regurgitate that on a standardized test, and you’re left with what? So the question became how do we leverage models such as project-based learning and connect them with community and business partner resources in order to empower students to solve local and even global problems?” Jackson points to the project between the high school’s AP Environmental Science and pharmaceutical company Sanofi as an example.
Sanofi researchers and engineers worked with students to develop an amphibious drone that collects stagnant water to analyze for the Zika virus. Marczak says project/problem-based learning is just one part of an innovative mix of changes the district plans to implement in the near future – the most recent being the DIPLOMA (Digital Integration Plan for Learning on Mobile and Accessibility) initiative which equips students and teachers in grades 3-12 with laptops. Marczak says he views the primary role of educators to prepare students for careers, whether by preparing them for college or giving them skills if they enter the workforce directly. "It's always been my perception that our job is to get kids good jobs,” Marczak says.