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By John Bailey jbailey@hickoryrecord.com Hickory Daily Record
Updated March 24, 2017

HICKORY – The connection between local education, local government and local industry got stronger Wednesday when the primary partners in the K-64 initiative signed a Memorandum of Understanding.

The Catawba County Chamber of Commerce hosted the historic moment during its Future of Catawba County Summit at Moretz Mills.

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, area industry and business leadership, county government, and economic development organizations.

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

The seven primary partners in the initiative include Catawba County, Catawba County Chamber of Commerce, Catawba County Economic Development Corporation, Catawba County Schools, Catawba Valley Community College, Hickory Public Schools and Newton-Conover City Schools.

Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) President Garrett Hinshaw championed this initiative, pitching it as a new formula for partnership in the county. At the summit, he said the concept of K-64 really isn’t a new one.

“Everyone in this community has been talking about K-64 for probably about the last eight to 10 years,” Hinshaw said. “What we are doing here today is bringing it to reality. Stop the talking, develop a plan and then execute it.”

He challenged the audience to visualize a third-grade classroom at any public school in the county and imagine what they would see.

“You see smiling faces. You see potential. You see diversity. You see excitement. At least that’s what I see when I think about that third-grade classroom,” Hinshaw said. “Twenty-five little kids sitting there. Every one of them believing at that point of time they can be successful in the future.”

He went on to say by their high school graduation, five of those students will be heading to college, and then asked, what is the community doing about the other 20?

“Are we truly celebrating them within our private sector, within our families, within our educational system,” Hinshaw said. “Are we celebrating what they’re going to do after they walk across the stages here in Catawba County?”

He sees K-64 as the foundation for an answer to that question.

“Every one of those little third-graders deserves to be celebrated if they choose to go into our military, if they’re going into the workforce directly, if they’re going to earn a credential less than a four-year degree,” Hinshaw said.

The initiative is focused on six priorities. They include connecting every student with technology in and out of the classroom, soft skills development like team building, developing tech savvy educators, developing more work-based learning, encouraging employer engagement and helping with career adaptability for adults.

The memorandum sets the foundation for a K-64 Board (made up of the partner organizations, including five from local industry) and an executive director – hired by the board – to oversee these initiatives.

County funding for the initial two years of K-64 is possible due to the county’s practice of holding debt service funding constant as existing debt obligations are paid off and reserving any excess funds to finance future construction projects, according to the memorandum.

Funding beyond the initial two-year commitment will need to be evaluated subject to factors including K-64 impacts, the county’s financial position and school construction needs.

The memorandum goes on to explain, participating partners understand the initial county funding is not sufficient to sustain K-64 and recognize funds from participating partners, business, industry, the community as well as non-profits are necessary for continued success.

The Catawba County Economic Development Corporation President Scott Millar thinks the first issue for the K-64 Board is to understand the economic impacts of education and the lack of growth, two issues the county needs to deal with.

“K-64 is a unique packaging of programs that should address both of those because really it all comes down to, are we going to be successful when we recruit that mother that’s looking at us?” Millar said.

“If we’re the same as everybody else, they’ve got no reason to come here. We’ve got to be different and better…than places like Mooresville and Wilmington and other programs out there.”

Millar sees the six priorities of the initiative as something that sets it apart from what’s happing in other communities, and admits ultimately, the key for K-64 will be how strong the community will support it.

Local school board members are equally excited about both the resources and partnerships K-64 could create for their students.

“We’re moving towards making sure each one of our kids have the resources and opportunities to obtain some of the technology they need,” Hickory Public School Board Chair Reginald Hamilton said during the Summit. “Another aspect of it is being able to support and have the resources we need to bring in some of these top teachers from other areas. With K-64, we’ll have the opportunity to do that.”

Catawba County School Board Chair David Brittain said it’s critical to have this level of community involvement and commitment with local education.

“We’re at a day and time where community makes as much of a deal as everybody else in education, whether state, federal, local level, connecting all of the community plays just as important a role,” Brittain said.

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