Schools and Economic Development

The concept of schools as "good neighbors" in their communities has undergone some serious redefining in recent years.

School districts are discovering that evolving relationships with private industry and local government entities are providing mutually beneficial results, far beyond the scope of anything they’d envisioned. Some of these newly derived partnerships have produced positive educational results and, quite literally, opened doors to previously unheard of uses for these public buildings.

Not only is private industry looking to provide a means for training and grooming its future workforce, it sees an investment in a community’s educational infrastructure as means of promoting employee retention. It also helps to provide real-world learning opportunities for students and needed services to the public.

Some may call it stretching the boundaries and definitions of community involvement, but so far, everyone has realized major gains.

Reading, Writing and Branch Banking
At Riverside High School in Belle, W. Va., you can drop your kids off for school, take care of your banking at the BB&T bank, see a doctor at the on-site branch of the Charleston Area Medical Center and check books out of the Kanawha County Public Library — all without ever leaving the building. This isn’t an anomaly, but a growing trend of providing community services in West Virginia’s public schools.

Of the 825 public school buildings in the state, 97 were built in the last 10 years. About 15 to 18 of those new buildings have additional public services, says Dr. Clacy Williams, executive director of the state’s school building authority, the autonomous state agency charged with all school facilities renovation and construction.

Though Riverside High is the only one housing a bank, other schools have public libraries with computer centers, health clinics, fitness centers and state police detachments.“It takes a lot of coordination of services,” says Williams.“We’re extending the usage of the school building beyond the bell-ringing period. They’re community buildings, and our effort is to try to provide community services.

“Where this really becomes feasible is when you’re serving rural communities,” says Williams. “We attempt to do this everywhere we can.”

For example, Williams says that in some communities, medical facilities may be anywhere from 10 to 45 miles away, making accessibility an issue. “Relocating those services was a great community service,” he explains. It also promotes community cohesiveness.

The benefits, both monetarily and otherwise, are numerous because private money is being invested in public schools. Williams relates that the local hospital contributed approximately $500,000 to the construction of Riverside High School for the inclusion of the medical clinic on the premises.

This makes more and better things available to the students. At Riverside High School, the public library also functions as the school library, and the school nurse is part of the clinic, eliminating duplication of services. In case of emergency, a doctor is immediately accessible. And, through the school’s marketing and vocational education programs, students work at all three of the facilities on campus.

Even college preparatory students make use of these work-study opportunities because, according to Williams, “we perceive college to be more than a liberal arts program.” Making greater use of the buildings means that some of the schools stay open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. In addition to the outside services, they also offer adult basic education classes, and local universities may offer some classes at the public schools. “We have a kind of ‘two-shift’ thing in our vocational schools,” he says.

Williams proudly adds, “We were one of the first (states) in the country to have all our schools online,” explaining that the legislature made the funds available to get all the schools wired for the Internet. The state boasts a number of distance learning centers that also find use by businesses for teleconferencing.

Determining where to put auxiliary community services is made a part of the school facilities planning process. When looking at new school construction projects, Williams says they meet with local school officials to see what services are needed in that area. Then they attempt to set up cooperative efforts with local businesses and government, as well as state agencies — whatever is deemed appropriate and feasible.

According to Williams, buildings are designed to provide both internal and external access to the auxiliary service areas. They also factor security into the school designs to allow limited, controlled access to the buildings after regular school hours.

During the next 10 years, Williams says the state is scheduled to build 91 schools, which will replace a total of 151 schools, many closing due to declining enrollment. Though he doesn’t expect all of the new schools to house additional community services, Williams says they will be a part of many of the schools slated for construction. While Williams says he can see a need for some federal branch offices, such as social security, no plans are foreseen for inclusion of these services. He did, however, say that he possibly could see including federal services if those agencies were amenable.

The “win-win” in this program is that schools get better facilities and outside services are able to operate more cost effectively. “The real secret to this (working) is being an opportunist,” Williams says.

There’s Intel Inside
A very common and pervasive complaint these days is that students graduating the public school systems in this country don’t possess the skills required to fill today’s jobs, particularly in the areas of math, science and technology. To combat this problem, a number of private industry giants are putting their money where their mouths are, insuring that students may receive the education and training they need to function in a 21st-century business sector.

Rio Rancho, N.M., located in suburban Albuquerque, is home to Intel Corporation’s largest manufacturing plant in the world. “We wanted to give back to the community,” says Jim Reed, K-12 education manager for Intel’s New Mexico location.

Since 1980, Intel has been a presence in the New Mexico public schools, primarily in Sandoval County where a large portion of its employees live. When Rio Rancho became a separate school district in 1994, Intel was there to help with the process, donating $30 million to build the Rio Rancho High School, Reed says.

The donation of funds for the high school came with the understanding that Intel wanted “a high-quality educational program for the students,” says Dr. V. Sue Cleveland, superintendent of the Rio Rancho Public Schools. Additionally, “they wanted to contribute to the economic well-being of the state,” because, as the largest employer in Rio Rancho, they have a vested interest in insuring the availability of a high-caliber education, says Cleveland. There, the education system has a direct bearing on Intel’s business success.

“Workforce development is always part of the educational process,” Reed says. But “quality of life issues” find their way into the equation when it comes to attracting and retaining capable employees.

Cleveland says that New Mexico has seen a tremendous surge in growth and has a built-in need for people trained in science and mathematics. In addition to Intel, it is the home to the Los Alamos and Air Force Research Laboratories, as well as a division of Sprint PCS.

Naturally, most of Intel’s contributions are in what Cleveland terms as their “mission areas,” specifically math and science. Those contributions were, are and continue to be quite substantial.

Intel offered major initiatives in professional development for teachers. The company initially offered the “Applying Computers in Education” (ACE) program from 1998 through 2000, to show teachers how to use technology in the classroom. The 40-hour summertime program trained 200 Rio Rancho Public Schools classroom teachers on how to integrate technology into their curriculum. Ten “master teachers” were trained as peer educators.

At the end of the ACE training, master teachers received laptop computers, scanners and software. Classroom teachers received scanners and software for use in their classrooms.

In 2001 and 2002, the ACE program was recreated as “Intel Teach to the Future.” The company trained an additional four master teachers and provided professional development to 148 more classroom teachers.

Master teachers were given laptop computers, $5,000 worth of equipment grants and software. The classroom teachers received software, their choice of a piece of technology equipment and college credit paid for by the Rio Rancho Public Schools. Intel continues to provide refresher courses for master teachers, Cleveland explains.

Intel’s primary commitment to math and science education has been extensive and, the superintendent remarks, they continue to give generously in time, talent and equipment.

According to Cleveland, the major emphasis is on science research and student involvement in science fairs and competitions. Intel has provided mentors for students’ science fair projects and for designs entered in the annual Robo Rave robotics competition. They’ve also furnished personnel to help with science fair judging, made speakers available to address classes and help seniors with college preparation.

In addition, the company has assisted with donations of electronic supplies, materials and training, and donations of surplus office equipment and furniture. They have provided the district with grants through the Intel Foundation and aided in writing grant proposals for submission to other organizations.

Previously, Intel provided small donations to fund “nonmission” areas, such as library books and the fine arts, Cleveland says. These donations recently were scaled back because of economic downturns in the semiconductor industry, she adds.

Company employees with students in the public schools can contribute time to the schools and, for each hour that employee volunteers, the school receives money, Cleveland says.

The public schools maintain an ongoing dialog with Intel, but Cleveland says their interaction isn’t invasive. “They want to be supportive rather than directive.

“We’re a state with very limited resources,” she explains. Private companies help to bridge what could be a very wide gap.

“We’re talking about partnerships on a much higher level, on a much more meaningful level,” Cleveland says.

ROBBIN M. RITTNER-HEIR -- Rittner-Heir is a freelance writer from Dayton, Ohio, with education experience. She can be reached at .