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By John Bailey jbailey@hickoryrecord.com Hickory Daily Record

NEWTON -- The image of greater collaboration between education, government and business in Catawba County started to come into focus Tuesday night during a Catawba County Commission meeting. 

The board unanimously approved a resolution supporting the K-64 educational plan. 

Catawba Valley Community College President Garrett Hinshaw championed the initiative, pitching it as a new formula for partnership in the county. 

"I'm really excited about the opportunities the commissioners have created by unifying our focus on the six major priorities to begin to work on immediately," Hinshaw said. "I think it's a game-changer for the community. ... We're just thankful they saw the value in what our educational systems and industries were supporting in terms of K-64." 

He said he's equally excited for all the students who will benefit. 

The K-64 (kindergarten to age 64) plan is to create a partnership between all three local public school systems in the county along with CVCC, other higher education institutions, industry and business leadership, county government and economic development organizations. 

The objective is to use resources in a concerted effort to provide all students with equal opportunities to be college- and career-ready. 

"To me, the biggest thing is the different groups, whether the government, private industry, or individual education groups have been able to get together and pull a plan together where we're all not trying to do different things." Catawba County Commissioner Dan Hunsucker said. "Basically, it's been about collaborating and coming up with a plan that will really move us forward, move our students forward, and hopefully have some opportunities so our children will come back here after college." 

In the resolution, the commission pledged financial backing for K-64, and Hinshaw said he was going to begin leveraging the support with aid from foundations, business and industry, and private groups that want to help. 

The commission's vote also supported the plan's focus on its six initial objectives. The first is "1-to-world" technology.

"We have to bridge the digital divide and really assure all of our kids have equal access to the technology they need to integrate into today's learning environment," Hinshaw said. 

The remaining objectives include: character and soft skills development, tech-savvy educators, work-based learning, employer engagement and career adaptability. 

Hinshaw said Catawba County is already a leader in the state when it comes to providing internships and apprenticeships. 

"This will put it on steroids," Hinshaw said. "This could help us move the needle on helping young people connect to employers so we can keep them here." 

The next step in the process will be the creation of a K-64 operating board by February. The board will be made up of one member of the Catawba County Commission, one member appointed by Catawba Valley Community College trustees, one member from each of the three school systems, one member from the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce and one member from the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation. 

The Catawba County Commission will also appoint five private business people to be part of the board. An executive director will also be hired by the K-64 board. 

"This is truly going to be a partnership where all of these entities are rolling their sleeves up and working towards common goals, and it's going to be a lot of work," Hinshaw said. 

His hope is that K-64 will provide opportunities to change the trend of local youths leaving the county by connecting businesses and industry to local education institutions so students can see the opportunities in Catawba County. 

Hickory Public Schools Superintendent Robbie Adell agreed that K-64 will be a game-changer for families and students in Catawba County. 

"My message to them...is one that really hasn't been talked about, but I think what they're doing is something that's needed to be done in Catawba (County) for years, and that is (to) really take a stand against poverty," Adell said. "That's really what this infusion of money is going to do in public education. It's going to allow us to better prepare children so when they graduate they have a choice whether they'll go into local industry and make good money."

Catawba County Economic Development Corporation President Scott Millar said he views K-64 as an economic initiative and education initiative.

"If it is successful in causing a parent to live in Catawba County in order that their child can go through K-64, then we might also be able to employ the child's parent in our existing jobs, creating a win-win for now and for our future," Millar said in an email. "I see a very important role of our businesses in understanding how the success of this program will provide them two generations or more of workers and our economy and our education will benefit." 

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