World’s Best Workforce: Job program to aid students

FAIRMONT – During the waning hours of the 2013 session, the Minnesota Legislature passed an omnibus education bill, which had been signed by Gov. Mark Dayton on May 23. Part of this lengthy document creates the “World’s Best Workforce,” a simple name for a program that will have far-reaching effects on every public school student in the state.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, by the year 2020, almost three-fourths of all the jobs in the state will require some post-secondary education. Half of these jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or beyond, with the remainder requiring a certificate, diploma or associate’s degree.

“Without some type of post-secondary education, you’re probably not going to be employed,” said Fairmont Superintendent Joe Brown. “Getting out of high school and going directly into the workforce – those days are gone.”

The WBW legislation focuses on a five-point program to ensure students are prepared for post-secondary education and have developed a career plan, resulting in a well educated workforce that will inject economic vitality into communities as well as compete globally.

The first area strives to have all students meet clearly defined achievement goals and benchmarks, following a school board-developed plan to support and improve teaching and learning.

The second area aspires to have all third-grade students achieve grade-level literacy. Brown said the percentage of students meeting this criteria directly corresponds with the graduation rate. If students are unable to read at the appropriate level by the time they’re in the third grade, “rarely will they ever catch up.”

The third point puts the spotlight on equity. This includes closing the academic achievement gap among all racial and ethnic groups, regardless of each student’s financial means.

“We have some of the best faculty in the state of Minnesota,” Brown said, noting that 60 percent of the district’s teaching staff hold a master’s degree and one has a doctorate. “We have the capability, the facilities, and we have the kids” to achieve this.

The fourth point proposes that all students graduate from high school. Statewide, the graduation rate is 77 percent. Fairmont’s graduation rate is 89 percent.

“I was appalled that we’re only graduating 89 percent,” Brown said, noting that the local demographic would indicate a much higher graduation rate.

The fifth and final point of WBW legislation centers around students’ preparedness for college and career.

“At the end of the ninth grade, every student in Minnesota must have a career plan,” Brown said. “That plan has to be reviewed each year by the parents, the student and someone in the school district (staff).”

The annual review will revise and update the student’s career goals based on interests, aptitudes and aspirations.

Although the WBW endeavor includes a laundry list of goals, Brown said the Fairmont School District already has some of the policies in place, such as staff development.

“We’re already doing that,” Brown said, adding that each school day includes 45 minutes of staff development. “We’re ahead of some of the other schools.”

But much work still remains.

“The business community feels very strongly that public schools need to do a better job, and I agree,” Brown said. “This is a common issue.”

Brown recently attended a regional summit, sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, to support the creation of partnership between the state’s school districts and its colleges, universities and technical schools. The goal of this partnership is to have every high school graduate prepared for post-secondary studies.

“Forty percent (of high school graduates) are not fully prepared for college,” Brown said.

The Minnesota Department of Education and MnSCU have forged a partnership to redesign the state’s educational system, maximize available resources and expertise to better serve students and communities, and ultimately reduce the cost of post-secondary degrees and credentials.

Brown is encouraging community members to become involved in the development of the WBW by participating in an advisory committee.

“The purpose of the advisory committee is to have lay people, non-educators, involved,” Brown said. “They might do things differently, might see the need for different programs.”

The committee should reflect the demographic of the school district with regard to race, age and background, he said. He hopes the group will truly represent the diversity of the district by including residents, parents, students, teachers and support staff.

Anyone interested in helping develop the “World’s Best Workforce” by serving on the advisory committee should contact Brown or any school board member.