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Editorial: 21st century, ready or not

What should be the Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ top five priorities? What grade would you give local schools for their preparation of students for the future?
Your answers to these and other questions could help leaders in the region figure out the best way to help schools prepare students for the jobs of the future, especially those generated by the N.C. Research Campus. Suddenly, the future is now.
In the months after David Murdock announced the creation of the biotechnology center, the city of Kannapolis hired the Atlanta consulting firm, Market Street Services, to study its strengths and weaknesses. With Kannapolis changing from mill town to high-tech community, the need to improve K-12 public education surfaced as the most critical issue. The need would have existed even without the Research Campus, but the transformation of the local economy made it even more urgent. Market Street’s first report said:
– Finding: Kannapolis has lower educational attainment levels than the comparison communities, and performance and investment in the public school systems are also behind. – Implication:Kannapolis and Cabarrus County must step up efforts to improve overall public education performance, offer greater options for advanced and gifted students, and emphasize the linkages between education and employment.
Now Market Street is looking at how to make that happen. Its new study initially included only Kannapolis and Cabarrus, but leaders have since realized how integral Salisbury-Rowan is to the area’s fate. Part of Kannapolis is in Rowan and many Research Campus workers could come from here if they have the necessary education and skills. Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is headquartered in Salisbury. The fates of the two counties and their cities are intertwined.
So Market Street is drawing up a plan ó the Cabarrus and Rowan Counties Educational and Workforce Development Action Plan ó to explore needs and set priorities. Whether area elected leaders will embrace the plan is uncertain. But at least they’ll have suggestions from a broad group representing all interests in both counties.
Rowan and Cabarrus residents need to weigh in immediately; the survey period ends this week. You can find the survey online at www.cr21stcentury.info. Go to that site, click on project survey, and you’ll come upon several questions that will take about 10 minutes to answer.
The schools need more community involvement, and this is one way you can help. Everyone talks about the need for better public schools. Since “A Nation at Risk” came out 25 years ago, people have said little else about education. This survey narrows the scope of that debate to the schools in two counties that could soon be serving a cutting-edge biotechnology center ó if your young people are ready. If not, they’ll miss the opportunity to have high-caliber careers close to home. And companies and universities that settle into the Research Campus will import all their skilled workers from somewhere else.

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