The history and the future of public education intersected Thursday at the MeckEd annual breakfast, which drew about 380 educators, advocates and business people to the Westin Charlotte Hotel.
Sarah Stevenson, who led the integration of Mecklenburgs black and white PTAs in the 1960s, was honored as the nonprofit advocacy groups education champion of the year.
Jaime Casap, Googles global education evangelist, talked about the need to reinvent public education for a changing world.
Local students, business people and Superintendent Heath Morrison outlined current efforts to weave technology and career experience into more traditional aspects of education.
The theme that united the speakers was the need for action.
Miss Sarah doesnt just talk about improving public education. Miss Sarah does it, Morrison said of the guest of honor.
Stevenson served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board from 1980 to 1988. She was the first African-American woman on the board. In 1980, she also helped create the Tuesday Breakfast Forum, a westside gathering where leaders still convene to discuss civic, educational and political issues.
As eight superintendents have learned, and as many of you have experienced, Sarah asks tough questions and expects real answers, said MeckEd Executive Director Bill Anderson.
Stevensons message to the crowd was simple: All of these children are our children. I have to keep telling people we dont have any bad schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. All of them are good schools.
But Casap said schools across the country are failing to keep up with tech-savvy students and provide paths out of poverty.
Why does my 12-year-olds seventh grade look exactly like my seventh grade? he asked.
Casap told everyone in the audience to think about their newest, coolest digital device, and think about a 5-year-old they know. Thats the worst technology they will ever see in their lives, he said. Its their Commodore 64.
For todays students, he said, internet access is like electricity, and leaving classrooms without wireless capacity is no better than deciding only part of the school will have lights or desks.
CMS just finished equipping all of its school buildings with enough bandwidth to allow extensive use of digital devices. Half the districts mobile classrooms will get access this year, with the rest scheduled to be equipped for Wi-Fi in 2014-15.
Casap said technology is an essential tool, but not the solution to educations challenges. The advice he gave was likely familiar to most in the audience: Teach children to be problem-solvers, encourage them to collaborate, hire great teachers and equip them with the technology they need.
Local speakers talked about efforts to make sure students get real-life job experience. MeckEds career pathways program pays for advisers in four high schools who recruit business partners to offer internships, apprenticeships and career advice.
If youre an industry and youre not involved, get off the bench, Pam Howze, a MeckEd board member who is training manager at Siemens, told the crowd. Thats your homework assignment.
Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms
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