Melding education and business

Posted: Monday, August 16, 2010

Kenai Peninsula School District

Superintendent Steve Atwater is hoping local businesses will help him begin to shape a future for the school district, a future that acknowledges the fact that college isn't for everyone - far from it.

The school district recently posted an online survey on its website aimed at local businesses. It asks what business owners and managers think about what kids are or aren't learning, and what they should be learning in order to successfully join the work force.

We encourage our local business leaders to participate.

Our school district currently follows a curriculum heavily weighted toward preparing students for college, just like many public school districts across the country. That curriculum is an expression of a generations-old American family's dream - to send the kids to college and, thus, a better life.

The reality is much different. In Alaska, just like the Lower 48, not quite half our high school students go directly to a university after graduation. Of those students, only about half actually earn a college degree within the first four to five years.

What happens with the rest? They find jobs in the service or retail industries, or in the trades. Some of those may return to college later in life, but they aren't depending on a bachelor's degree to make a living.

Atwater knows this. He also knows the Peninsula district's current curriculum could be doing more for that non-college bound crowd.

The survey will provide a framework for a business-educator summit hosted by the school district Sept. 16. Atwater hopes to have healthy attendance from business leaders, Kenai Peninsula College, the Alaska Vocational Technical Center in Seward and others.

The goal? Hopefully, to come up with ideas that build an alternative curriculum, with courses that create defined career pathways for those students who aren't going to college.

The district isn't abandoning the current college focus. But Atwater says we need to address the needs of those students who want to be health care aides, construction workers and future retail managers. And we need to address the needs of the industries that will hire them.

"We want to be in sync with their expectations," Atwater says. "We want a tighter partnership with industry."

Go to and click on the "Click here to begin the Business Survey." Let Atwater know what you think.

In short: We can provide a better education for non-college bound students, but only if we get involved.

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