Superintendents discuss workforce development at State of the County gathering

When educators in Madison County walk the halls of their schools, they see thousands of students who, in the not-so-distant future, will step into roles similar to those occupied by audience members at the Madison County Chamber’s annual State of the County luncheon.

“Children are our future,” said Joe Cronk, superintendent of Anderson Community Schools. “If we don’t train them, if we don’t coach them, if we don’t educate them well, then what does that say for the future of our community?”

Cronk and his counterparts from two of the county’s largest school corporations took part in a panel discussion to inform business leaders what their districts are doing to develop the next generation of workers, executives and government officials.

The superintendents agreed unanimously that developing qualified and capable workers for the years to come starts with innovation in current classrooms. They said companies are no longer satisfied with employees who meet only the most basic requirements.

“We also need for them to be able to solve their own problems,” said Melissa Brisco, superintendent at Alexandria-Monroe Community Schools. “(They need) to be able to be given a task and figure out how to manage that task with some ambiguity at times. Those are skill sets that we need to be pivoting in how our instruction happens in the classroom.”

In addition to providing a forum for leaders from Alexandria, Anderson, Elwood and Pendleton to provide economic development updates from their communities, Wednesday’s luncheon at Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino marked the first time public school superintendents had addressed the gathering. Inviting them made sense for several reasons, organizers said.

“The No. 1 issue that we hear from businesses across all sectors is there’s still a people shortage,” said Clayton Whitson, president and CEO of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce. “Workforce development is at the forefront of our thinking, and it’s logical that we hear from our educators.

“Bringing in three of our major school systems here in Madison County to talk about what they’re doing (can provide ideas for) ways that we can partner, business and education, to fill those gaps.”

For the superintendents, the forum provided an opportunity to tout various programs their districts offer in industries including advanced manufacturing, nursing, graphic design and other specialties. It also reminded them of their role in shaping the direction of their communities.

“Our purpose is to serve the community and to produce students that will continue creating a positive impact in our communities — whether they go to college and come back to work or they go straight into the workforce, (or) they go into the military,” said Mark Hall, superintendent at South Madison Community School Corp. “We as a school have to create programs that produce…students to go out and fill those jobs.”

Innovating in the classroom, according to Brisco, is a formidable undertaking as school districts compete to hire and retain a shrinking pool of well-equipped teachers.

“We have to be very creative about how we meet those challenges,” Brisco said. “You just have to find the right people, and that’s very challenging right now in the time in which we live with the teacher shortages and everything else.”

This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.