3/13/16 Building on education momentum

Building on education momentum
By Allen E. Gant, Guest Columnist, The Times-News 3/13/16    
Reprinted with permission.      

   Momentum can be an elusive thing — hard to generate and easy to slip away.

   We have captured momentum here in Alamance County, a strong sense of progress in improving public education. Now it’s up to us to build on our successes and resist any calls to scale back our aspirations for the future of the Alamance-Burlington School System.

   Consider how far we have come. We have forward-thinking leadership in our schools led by a skilled, experienced and charismatic superintendent, Dr. William Harrison. He is building a positive spirit that is uplifting teachers and administrators in the schools, and he is tackling difficult issues with a strategic approach that will position our schools well for decades to come.

   Dr. Harrison is working collaboratively with the Board of Education and County Commissioners, and it is especially gratifying to see those two public bodies working as partners on behalf of our schools. This is the way good local government should function and it is wonderful to see our elected representatives cooperating and sharing information as they work together to find constructive solutions to challenging problems.

   Among their greatest accomplishments was the decision to take the first step in raising the local salary supplements for ABSS teachers. Those raises were long overdue, and just a start on the progress we need to make in raising teacher pay. But we have made the first investment, recognizing the value of the committed educators who work every day with our children, and that is something to celebrate.

   There have also been major investments in academic programs and learning resources that are directly benefiting students at every grade level. Class sizes have been reduced at highest-need schools, targeting extra resources to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed and prepare for a bright future. In addition, new language immersion programs were added at four schools, and there are other new initiatives for science, technology, engineering, math and arts programs. At the high school level, we are thrilled with a proposal to launch an International Baccalaureate (IB) Program that will be open to all ABSS students, and the Virtual Academy online learning program is also being expanded.

   These are just a few examples of the many programs being added or enhanced — tangible investments in student learning that will pay immediate dividends. You can feel the momentum when you visit the schools and talk with the teachers and children.

   And you can also see the impact of upgrades in our school facilities. Deferred maintenance is finally being addressed, with new carpets and floor tile and fresh coats of paint. Never underestimate the importance of a clean and bright learning environment to spark energy and a positive attitude. In addition, 22 schools are being upgraded with new technology resources — critical tools our children need to prepare for success in modern society.

   All of these steps forward are the result of thousands of people in our community who decided it was time to speak out on behalf of education. To be frank, we were silent too long and have some catching up to do. But to the credit of the citizens of Alamance County, we didn’t resign ourselves to mediocrity in our schools.

   There will be voices in our community in the weeks and months ahead who will say, “we can’t afford this,” or “they’re dreaming too big.” Those are the voices of the past. We cannot afford any old-time thinking. We have embraced innovation and the future. We have captured momentum, and it’s a wonderful thing for Alamance County.

   Allen E. Gant Jr. is chairman and CEO of Glen Raven, Inc. and a member of an education support group in Alamance County