First update for Rowan Education Collaborative as officials try to get recipe for success right

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 22, 2022

SALISBURY — Local education leaders gave their first update on work performed over two years in a pandemic and a series of leadership turnovers.

The Rowan Education Collaborative represents all the largest education entities in Rowan County and is made up of the Interim Superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools Jason Gardner, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College President Carol Spalding, outgoing Livingstone College President Jimmy Jenkins, Catawba College President David Nelson and Rowan County Board Commissioners Chair Greg Edds.

RCCC Vice President of Corporate and Continuing Education Craig Lamb introduced the panel and said the collaborative also includes the Rowan Economic Development Council.

Lamb said the county is rich in educational assets but historically poor in educational attainment by the people in Rowan County.

“The assets we have include the institutions you see here,” Lamb said.

He said one focus area is to increase educational attainment, prepare graduates to perform jobs in the community and focus on being an educational community to make graduates more competitive.

Edds drew a comparison to the pantries in popular cooking competition shows, where all the ingredients the chefs could ever want are waiting for them.

“It’s up to us as the cooks to really put together a good dish,” Edds said. “And it seems to me, over the years, that we’ve not really had the recipe right. We’ve been missing some things or a little too much of that or not enough of this, and so the question really becomes, ‘How can we bake a better cake here in Rowan county?’ ”

Edds said he and others in county government have a different perspective than the people in the education community and one word kept coming up: alignment.

“The question is, these companies that are looking at us, do they see that these and our other education organizations have what they need in order to train folks to bring them here,” Edds said, adding the Charlotte region has plenty of industrial real estate that is in demand now, and Rowan County has about 15 million square feet to add to the inventory.

Edds said the question becomes whether Rowan will become a community based around distribution or will it offer jobs with higher wages because the skills county residents have demand that.

“Talking with these folks, we pulled together this collaborative and began to talk about the word alignment,” Edds said.

Edds said he assumed this type of collaboration was already happening elsewhere, but was surprised to find Rowan County is one of the only places with a group like this.

Jenkins said Livingstone is dedicated to the collaboration. He had to leave the meeting early and gave his seat to Livingstone Chief Operating Officer Anthony Davis.

Jenkins said the college recognizes education is the surest vehicle for upward mobility and the collaborative members along with others from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina toured the college’s new science facility recently.

He said the new state-of-the-art building is available for use by other community groups, such as the public schools, similarly to how a laboratory in Gastonia was used to help provide COVID-19 services at no charge in the community at the outset of the pandemic.

Spalding said one of the best outcomes for the collaborative was the passage of a $45 million bond referendum before the pandemic that will pay for new  facilities that will expand technical programs. Spalding said RCCC looked at other technology centers when considering what to include in its new facilities.

Nelson pointed to improved articulation between RCCC courses and Catawba. He said the college now has 50 courses at RCCC that are accepted for credit at Catawba, and the colleges have other agreements for financial aid and participation in student activities.

“It’s an idea where a student can come to the community college and with the least number of barriers possible make the move to their four-year degree,” Nelson said.

He also commended the teacher pathway created by RSS and said qualified candidates can get scholarships at Catawba.

Gardner said he does not think a $26.3 million federal grant that RSS was awarded would have happened without the collaborative. One of the programs the grant funds is a lab school at Koontz Elementary that provides a full year of student teaching experience for education students at local colleges.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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