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Workforce Development – Does Education Really have an Influence?

Textile Heritage

During March’s edition of Greenville Forward’s Momentum series, we discussed this topic in depth and ultimately decided that yes, education has an immeasurably important impact on workforce development.


Greenville’s history is heavily rooted in textile mills. We were once known as the “Textile Capital of the World” and a drive around Greenville will reveal the evidence left behind from our dominance of the industry. During this conversation, participants pointed out that, though rich, the textile culture had an overall negative impact on the importance of higher education as related to success in the workforce. While imparting a strong work ethic, that culture deemed high school degrees the only necessary education required to work in the mills, a lifelong career path.


And though we might live in a culture two generations removed from our textile heritage, the Momentum participants argued that many of the remaining textile families’ mindsets have not changed to match the current economic climate – where a higher education degree is minimally necessary to achieve significant workforce success later in life. One attendee said, “Some of the textile grandfathers still believe you don’t really need education and that your family would view you as ‘uppity’ if you sought one. Some are afraid of success.”


A key theme that arose was that education must not only teach basic tenets of knowledge, but a passion for continued learning, where you learn how to learn and rapidly change from one thing to another so that you can adapt as the job market grows and changes.


An additional topic that came up was the vast need for those with technical abilities and the lack of a qualified workforce. ADEX Machining was brought up several times as an example of a high technology-driven company building specific aerospace equipment for clients like Boeing. How do we direct the education of some to meet this need? Is it even reasonable to do so when the job market landscape might be different in a new way when they complete their education?


The overwhelming understanding that kept coming up was that we must prepare our young people for a variety of careers  — while preparing them to be ready to learn and absorb new skills along the way. We also need strategic partnerships among parents, teachers, college educators, and community leaders. We need to strongly link drug abuse and unemployment and seriously address our dropout rates in Greenville County. And we need to address the culture of our textile heritage – insisting that higher education is a must to achieve success.


So, shall we get started?


It’s Super Tuesday — A Reflection on Voting

I was a political science major at Furman and though I haven’t studied political theory in three years, the interest in politics remains quite strong for me. I am interested in all of it and try to read about everything on both sides of the coin when I get the chance. Which is why today is such an important and fascinating day. Today is Super Tuesday, and if you aren’t familiar with what that means, it is basically a major line in the sand for the active hopefuls still itching to become the Republican nominee because it is when the largest number of states at one time hold primaries to select delegates to the national convention.

And I wouldn’t be a good political science major if I didn’t take this opportunity to talk about how important it is to vote. Our system of democracy that works (most of the time) is the envy of many other countries around the world who have risked their lives at times to have the opportunity to use their voice. We take advantage of it in our country and it is truly shameful.

Many people will tell you that voting doesn’t make a difference, that their one vote doesn’t really count. They will tell you that they can’t make a difference in a state that swings the other way politically from them and that it just doesn’t matter. But the thing that resonates with me is that voting is not just about a ballot box. Often, we can make more influence by voting with our dollars, with our life decisions, and with our careers than we can in any other way. You are voting when you buy local, organic goods. You are voting when you commute on your bike to work instead of in your car. When you donate to a nonprofit working to promote education-related endeavors in your community. You are even voting when you aren’t voting. Even a nondecision has an impact.

So the moral of this story on Super Tuesday? We the people live in a democracy made up of voices that govern our country. Whether you realize it or not, you are using yours. Consider using it wisely by actively voting each day for the things that matter to you and taking the time to visit the ballot box to use your hard fought rights. Your influence is greater than you think…

After Eye on Education — Our Eyes are Still Open Wide

Last Friday, Greenville Forward and Greenville County Schools partnered to present Eye on Education. To me, it is one of the best programs we are involved with facilitating because it connects civic leaders, community leaders, government servants, and anyone in between with the schools in our community. With minimal commitment (only your time), anyone can visit at least two schools in the school district, hear a speech from our superintendent, and interact with the principals on the ground in our community. It is truly dazzling and an opportunity to understand what is really happening in the schools.

Often, we talk about how frustrating it is to shoulder the weight of South Carolina’s negative education stereotypes when our schools have so much to celebrate. We talk about how we wish comedians wouldn’t disparage our state on the national stage. But the fact is, there are many schools in South Carolina that are struggling — and we acknowledge that there are students struggling in our own community.

Last Friday wasn’t about the struggle. It was about the triumph. Our schools in Greenville County have much to celebrate.

The session began last Friday morning with an address from Superintendent Dr. Penny Fisher. She threw out a few statistics and morsels of information that I found very worthy of sharing. She said that Greenville County no longer has a single school on the bottom priority list. She celebrated the healthy lunch programs. And she said that all schools are moving towards a model of project based learning where students are able to learn why they are learning what they are.

Overall, our participants visited four schools: Cherrydale Elementary, League Academy, AJ Whittenburg Elementary, and Wade Hampton High School. I took some notes that our participants said after the buses returned us back to the Resource Center for follow-up discussion.

– Passionate principals make all the difference.

– Cherrydale is made up of 97% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch plans. However, they are still focusing on innovative education tools like single gender classes, multiple intelligences styles of teaching, character development, and looping (where teachers travel with students from grade to grade). Cherrydale also has a 25% male staff, which is highly unusual. The students also take college field trips even though they are in elementary school so they will set their sights to going to college now.

– League is a magnet school for communication arts and strives to incorporate creativity in every capacity. There is a camaraderie of support among staff and students.

– “I was impressed by the commitment and dedication of the Cherrydale principal despite challenges of poverty.”

– “The importance of good teachers is still the most important thing.”

– “Community involvement is key to the successes of schools and you can become involved with that process by serving on school improvement councils.”

And when asked to choose one word to describe what they saw at Eye on Education, participants used the following:

“Innovation”   “Leadership”   “Inquiry”  “Community”  “Respect”  “Technology”  “Character”

Eye on Education 2012 certainly was successful in every sense of the word. We intended to open the eyes of legislative leaders and community members to the good work happening in our schools. We wanted to celebrate our principals who work so hard to give students in Greenville the best education possible. And we wanted people to leave surprised, pleasantly and passionately surprised.

Next year, we are hoping to expand the school visits and offer lunch at one of the schools’ healthy lunch cafeterias. If you missed this year’s session, know that you can always do a visit of your own — all you have to do is schedule a tour with the school.

Thank you for following our journey last Friday, whether you attended, read our live tweets, or are now reading this blog. Learning even the smallest facts about our schools in Greenville is important and we are delighted to facilitate this process. We truly believe that creating a community that values learning can happen in Greenville and we were delighted to move towards that goal with this edition of Eye on Education.

Interested in Higher Education’s Impact on Workforce Development? Read on…

Greenville Forward has been successfully implementing a dialogue-building program called Momentum for nearly four years now. The program fulfills one of our four main activities that we do as an organization to be sure Vision 2025 comes to fruition, opening dialogue around key issues. The month of March is concluding our three-month focus on Learning (one of our six main focus areas) and we are rounding out the conversation with a Momentum Series topic close to the heart of many industry leaders in Greenville. Read below to see what we will be talking about and how you can be sure to reserve your spot on March 1.

Higher Learning: Bringing Higher Education and Workforce Development Together.  

Greenville County is a learning community.  This is what Vision 2025 says about Greenville’s future.  We recognize that being a learning community is vital to our vibrancy, our wellbeing, and our success as a region.  We see our citizens engaging in post secondary education while we dramatically increase our efforts in workforce development, thus establishing ourselves as a world class, economically viable community.

The importance we place on higher education and workforce development in our community is paramount. The nature of work is changing and preparation to be a part of and remain in the workforce in this environment is also changing.  More job opportunities will require post-secondary education and degrees in the future, with the development of a high quality and engaged workforce being key to our success.   We are no longer competing on a regional scale for economic development issues, but rather on a world-wide scale.  It will be increasingly important that we have a workforce that knows how to operate in a globalized marketplace, that thinks critically and makes informed decisions in a highly complex environment, and keeps up with the technological changes and opportunities around us.

With this ever-changing landscape, how important is it for Greenville to stay ahead of the curve in training a highly educated and engaged workforce?  What role do institutions like The University Center, Greenville Tech, Furman University and Clemson play in moving forward?  Greenville’s economic competitiveness depends on the educational readiness of our workforce, so how can we ensure that our traditional higher educational systems have a specific focus on workforce development needs?

When: Thursday, March 1, 2012

 11:45a.m to 1:00p.m.

Where: Greenville Chamber of Commerce

24 Cleveland Street

Greenville, SC 29601


$10 ($8.00 for Greenville Forward Members.)

Enter Promo Code before you purchase on Eventbrite.

Includes lunch; payable at the door. The series sells out quickly.

Reservations are required since space is limited to the first 30 signups.  Cash, checks, Visa/Mastercard accepted.

NOTE:  We order and pay for lunches based on RSVPs. If you register and your plans change, please notify us so we can cancel your lunch.   

To register, go to or email

Greenville Forward’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for greater Greenville by engaging citizens in continually updating, promoting, and facilitating a community vision for 2025 and beyond.

Vision 2025 dares to imagine a community whose growth is fueled by creativity, ignited by the power of ideas, and fired by the goal of excellence. Vision 2025 is just a glimpse into the future of Greenville. It’s a commitment to improving our community to match the changing times around us.

Special Membership Offer from Greenville Forward TODAY ONLY

We are all about the 2025.

As an organization moving Vision 2025 further, any number including a combination of 2025 reminds us of our goal and how we are doing in achieving the dreams and goals for Greenville County. 

So, on this 20th of February, we celebrate reaching 250 members with this one-day membership offer.

As long as the date reads 2/20, all new memberships to Greenville Forward will include a buy one, get one free option. You can join at any level and give the free membership to someone else for the exact same value.

Visit www.greenvilleforward/join now, fill out your information, and we’ll email you to see who you want to receive the free membership.

This one-day offer is an opportunity to grow our membership and our Vision 2025 community even more. Thank you for believing in Greenville. 


Conversation Cafe – How do we Create a Learning Community?

Here at Greenville Forward, we have asked this question several times. Partly because it is one of our six main focus areas, and partly because we are concerned about how Greenville will continue to move forward if we are not valuing learning in our community. How will we have a strong work force pushing us on if we are not educated and committed to continually learning? On Wednesday morning, Greenville Forward used the Conversation Cafe style of forum to address this question at Spill the Beans.

Despite the early morning meeting, the participants came away with some wonderful ideas for making learning an integral part of the fabric of our community. I was delighted to hear some new ideas I had not considered before and was challenged to think about learning beyond how I define it in my own mind.

And per my usual style, here are some notes that captured the response of the participants:

What communities beyond Seattle are we aware of that are thinking about this question and how are they addressing it? What programs are they using and what is their plan of action to move forward?

What is the motivation for learning and why should we communicate its importance to adults and children?

How do we recruit and attain talent in Greenville? We need to create an atmosphere where people want to be part of what is happening in Greenville.

What are the emerging fields that will really recruit and attain people in Greenville? We need to have a population that fosters learning.

How can you get every part of the community involved with learning? Everyone learns in different ways so there should be different modes of learning.

You need to get into the neighborhoods because people learn best in their own environments, like community centers.

There are many wonderful programs and experiences out there that people just don’t know about. For example, the Warehouse Theatre presents plays with important themes, etc. There is also Learning in Retirement at Furman. Do people know about that program? There are barriers of cost to many of these programs.We need to find enough things that are “free” for people. But there are still challenges of transportation.

How do we bring dialogue to other communities who are not coming here. How many learning opportunities are there downtown? Could we expand them to other communities?  We could engage not just people but also businesses.

If you were raised educated than you naturally encourage learning with your children. But some people do not have that background. At the grocery store, some parents might use it as a learning tool – perhaps the grocery store could be involved with that and provide “learning sheets” for children.

The difference between learning and education – even in the school we can create a learning environment versus an educated environment. The idea of community must start in the home. Education was never meant to be something that stopped at 3:00.

If more establishments like Spill the Beans opened up for events like this, that would be huge.

There is a community here that is glad to not be in school because “I won’t have to learn anymore.” This is not a result of teachers failing but what the community does to “blame” the schools.

How can you make being smart in school equally as cool as being captain of the football team? — “Pay people million dollar contracts to put an idea into the hoop instead of a ball.”

Sometimes learning means “extra work” – but if people love where they work, they are interested in continuing to learn. Top companies create a business culture that values learning and where people want to be engaged.

Momentum Recap: Inclusion in our Classrooms

Last Thursday, Greenville Forward hosted February’s Momentum Series with a dynamic conversation about inclusion on our classrooms. The topic can be a bit confusing, but the overall goal of the conversation was to consider how our classrooms measure up to the goals set for them in Vision 2025. Specifically, Vision 2025 states, “In 2025 the proportion of minority educators in Greenville County mirrors the proportion of the minority population. All students and educators have access to multi-cultural experiences, foreign language instruction, and teacher and student international exchange programs including opportunities for students and teachers, Pre-K – 12, to interact with and learn from students and other instructors across the globe.”

To put this goal in layman’s terms, the Vision basically hopes for two kinds of inclusion, racial and international. So last Thursday, a group of educators, statisticians, community volunteers, nonprofit leaders, concerned businessmen and women, and experts on the topic gathered around a table to assess how Greenville is doing on these two major fronts.

Overall, the general consensus was that inclusion is difficult to define. For many, it is hard to even broach the subject when the biggest problem with many of the minorities in classroom is the extreme poverty and insufficient nutrition facing many of these students. How can you worry about students’ opportunities to interact with international cultures when you are more concerned with where they will sleep tonight and whether or not they will receive dinner?

There were many other important comments that I jotted down while listening to the conversation. I am providing them below to offer a sense of the conversation and the important points made by many of our participants.

“Berea High School is composed of 40% Hispanic students. It is hard to find native speakers to become faculty members.”

“The lack of Hispanic faculty is a cycle that must start in high school to inspire Hispanic students to go on to college.”

“Are we truly connecting potential Hispanic teachers with the need in the field of education for them to fill positions?”

“What kinds of field trips could we create to show students Hispanic culture in our community?”

“Is the school district communicating enough with parents and communities? Perhaps school principals could share with the communities around them the vast needs they have for some of their students for food, shelter, and safety.”

“There is often a disconnect between at-risk children and performance. Is Johnny reading at a lower level because Johnny is homeless?”

“Those that are on the ground need to continue to do the work they do and build relationships with one another to partner in overall goals.”

“Contact principals in your area to see how you can become involved with supporting their schools.”

### One of the main things I noticed as an observer is the recurring theme of the importance of communities supporting schools. It seems that if the communities surrounding schools offered support in the form of food donations, supporting nonprofits that work with the homeless, etc. only then can they begin to fully address inclusion in the classroom.



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