Officials from the Kansas State Department of Education visited the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday to get business leaders’ perspective on what schools need to teach.
It turns out that high scores on assessment tests are less important than a work ethic and the ability to be a self-starter.
Linda Bonewell, human resources director at Fuller Industries, said that along with technical skills, successful employees need “the soft skills ... ethics, communication and dependability.”
Leading the meeting were Dr. Randy Watson, incoming Kansas commissioner of education; Brad Neuenswander, the interim commissioner; and Jay Scott, KSDE assistant director of Career and Technical Education. They were joined by Sally Cauble, Dodge City, the District 5 representative on the Kansas Board of Education.
Watson started 2015 by hosting community discussions with hundreds of people on the direction of K-12 education in Kansas. Now the talks have expanded to local Chambers of Commerce.
Jan Peters, president of the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development, was among those at the meeting who answered the questions: “What are the characteristics, qualities, abilities and skills of a successful 24-year-old Kansan?” and “What are the needs of business and industry and what skills and abilities are lacking in today’s 24-year-old?”
“I want them to see a bigger picture than just themselves,” Peters said. “I want somebody that can communicate. ... I want them to know the basics. ... I want a 24-year-old to have some work experience, (and) they should have an appreciation that the job is not an entitlement.”
Janine Burton, a Barton Community College graduate now working as a paralegal, said some of the classes she took in college should have been required high school courses, starting with personal finance.
“I think that customer service should be a required course in high school,” she added. Students should also learn how to prepare for a job interview and how to write a resume.
The final question posed Tuesday was: “How can business and industry partner with K-12 and higher education in creating the 24-year-old that has those skills and abilities?”
Great Bend USD 428 Superintendent Brad Reed said the district has hired a full-time career counselor to work with students, starting in the eighth grade.
The district has also started a partnership with the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce that will allow students to graduate with a special designation, such as, “Graduate of Promise.” To earn the designation, students must participate in internships and mentoring.
Bonewell said businesses can partner in after-school activities; she’d also like to see more opportunities for community service.
“A lot of great things are going on in school districts across the state,” Neuenswander said.
The outcomes of these conversations will be collected and used at a Kansas Board of Education retreat in August, to help guide the state’s strategic plan for education.
“We need to listen to business and industry,” Watson said. The message he took away from the meeting in Great Bend: “Get kids involved in work experience at a young age.”