Many northern Nevadans know me from my prior career as a college basketball coach or as the executive director of the Sparks Chamber of Commerce. However, what many people don’t know is that deep down, the title I’m most proud of is teacher. Now don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoyed my time coaching and worked with some very talented young men and I absolutely love the opportunity I currently have to work with this area’s business community. But, I am most passionate about education. I started my career as an educator and my time as a high school teacher definitely holds a special place in my heart.
Over the last six years working for the Sparks Chamber of Commerce, I have had the fortune to work with many of our area’s most successful professionals, entrepreneurs and community leaders. They all have told me how important a quality education system is to the growth, development and sustainability of this community’s economic sector. Some of the reasons are self-evident: smart employees are good employees and local businesses will always rely on a well-educated labor pool for success.
However, other reasons may be more obscured. Quality education breeds curiosity, curiosity drives entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs are the backbone of the local economy. Without an educational system that strives to instill curiosity from a young age, the region will struggle to have homegrown talent that drives the economy.
Similarly, quality education is a key draw for recruitment and economic development. The most talented employees demand a high quality of life for themselves and their families, and a cornerstone of that is the quality of the education system. It will always take more than good pay to bring in top talent; to entice them to relocate, they have to have confidence in the local education system.
Likewise, the types of businesses that northern Nevada wants to attract in order to diversify and strengthen the local economy will evaluate all aspects of the community. While a friendly business climate will always be a top consideration, companies strive to set up shop in a place where their employees will be comfortable raising their families. One of the main factors in that decision is definitely the quality of the educational system in the area. All the tax breaks in the world will never make up for a lacking public school system.
Recently, I had the fortune of discussing the relationship between business and education with Steve Hull, assistant superintendent of public affairs for the Washoe County School District. Steve was adamant that business depends on education and education depends on business.
“Many people don’t realize that we try to run the school district with the same strategy and planning that are required of a big business,” he said. “We have a five-year plan that is updated annually. We monitor and measure ourselves against the goals we have outlined in the plan and take action to areas that are lacking or need correction.”
Steve pointed out that the general perception is that the mission of the education system is specifically to prepare students for college. In fact, the mission is to get children college- or career-ready.
We also discussed some of the ways that the business community can support the education system, in addition to monetary help. He provided me with three key areas that can play a major role in a child’s education.
1) “We need to expose as many students as possible to the world of work. We need businesses to allow students, even at an early age, to take tours and participate in job-shadowing. We always encourage our high school students to participate in internships and this, obviously, can’t be done without the support of the local professionals and companies.”
2) “We always encourage business women and men to join various education committees and task forces. The input and experience we receive from a wide variety of professions is invaluable. We know the local business community has high expectations for the school system and it’s always nice to have their help in achieving excellence.”
3) “One of the easiest ways a business can support education is to simply be understanding and supportive when employees, as parents, actively participate in their child’s learning. There are certain activities, whether it’s parent-teacher conferences, field trips, etc., that can sometimes require parents to take time out of their work schedule. The more employers understand this, the more we can involve parents in education. And, parent participation dramatically improves a child’s education.”
The Sparks Chamber is adamant that, as businesses rely on education for success, the business community has an obligation to support the local education system. With that in mind, we are proud that we have so many of our members participating in a variety of education-focused groups. Good education is constantly evolving and is not something that can be simply outlined by a state or federal government. Rather, it is the product of the interest and actions of a community.
Len Stevens is the executive director of the Sparks Chamber of Commerce. For information on the chamber, log on to www.sparkschamber.org.