Rigorous early education lays foundation for success

By Joe Snell | DFW Newsflash | June 2017

Kent Eastman, the Texas Area President of Capital One Bank, offered an important message to educators and job specialists that had gathered to learn about the connection between North Texas school systems and tomorrow’s workforce.

“The research shows that third grade is such a pivotal year,” Eastman said. “Kids, if they’re not reading on level by third grade, they are four times less likely to graduate from high school, but that doesn’t happen in the third grade. It happens way back in preschool and early education.”

Eastman joined Michael Williams, former TEA Commissioner and UNT Dallas Distinguished Leader-in-Residence, as a key speaker at the DFW Marriott on April 20 to emphasize the importance of strong academic programs at an early age.

“A kid at 22, their chances of graduating from college has a lot to do with what they were experiencing when they were 3, 4, or 5 years old,” Eastman said.

The event, which is part of Fidelity Investment’s “To The Point Series”, outlined a number of educational and workface issues relating to the North Texas public education system including how our educational systems affect the business community.

“A strong workforce and education system is the key for attracting and retaining businesses and first-rate talent,” said James D. Spaniolo, President and CEO of the North Texas Commission. “As North Texas continues its incredible growth, and as businesses strive to stay ahead of market trends, education and workforce skills dominate the headlines.”

Williams highlighted the evolving role of teachers both inside and out of the classroom as a growing trend across the nation’s educational system.

“Educators are being asked to do a whole lot more than my parents, who are retired educators, were asked to do when they taught,” Williams said. “But the reality is that we still have a responsibility to provide learning to kids in classrooms. We still have a responsibility to give them resources that teachers need.”

It’s important for business leaders and politicians to understand the value of pre-kindergarten, Williams said, so that the importance of rigorous early education isn’t ignored at the legislative level.

So far this year, a number of state-wide legislative changes have made it clear those voices have been heard. One recent change, House Bill 2616, was approved by the House Public Education Committee and ends the suspension of children in the 2nd grade and below.  Another, House Bill 21, was passed by the Texas House of Representatives in April and increases per-pupil funding for more than 5 million public school students in Texas.

Workforce specialists were in attendance alongside top North Texas educators and were eager to learn  about how the education system would effect their recruiting programs.

“ We’re always looking to develop more programs that are innovative and going to benefit our employers in the long run, but also give our students and job seekers an opportunity to get a leg up with their skills and find a career,” said Brandi Harrison, a business development supervisor at Workforce Solutions.

Workforce Solutions is the development division of the council of governments in Arlington and oversee fourteen counties that surround Dallas and Tarrant counties. They offer workforce services, training, hiring events, and more to job seekers as well as companies looking to fill positions.

Harrison and a small group at her company were chosen to join Leadership North Texas, a graduate-level leadership program aimed at recruiting, developing, and supporting leaders who have a commitment to civic engagement, learning, and collaboration in the North Texas region. Harrison hopes she can use skills learned in that program to help her in particular with struggling rural programs that have lost jobs with the recent oil and gas downfall.

“We’re currently trying to find different programs to where those individuals that were displaced can be retooled and put into another position,” she said.

Dr. Susan Simpson Hull, Superindentent of Grand Prairie ISE, gave remarks before Eastman and Williams discussion. Dr. Hull, who comes from a family of educators, believes it’s more important to develop responsible graduates to enter the workforce rather than simply producing job seekers.

“We are responsible for developing a workforce that has integrity,” she said. “That understands the value of a true work ethic, that understands that customer service is bigger than being nice on the phone, because that is going to be the very foundation of our future generations,” she said.

Those skills, she explained, include teaching students how to be decision makers and deciding where they see themselves later in life

“We no longer talk about making our children college ready,” Dr. Hull said. “We talk about making them college, career, and community ready, and to do that we have to start very, very early.”