Executives from over 75 businesses from across North Carolina gathered in Raleigh last week to discuss the state of public education in North Carolina.
Hosted by the Public School Forum of North Carolina, the convening was designed to educate and motivate business leaders from across the state who care about the future of public education.
Over the longer term, the organizers hope to build on the momentum this event generated and find ways to engage business leaders in working alongside education leaders and policymakers to support public schools and improve student outcomes.
“As business leaders, we understand that success for an organization demands the retention of great employees, a strong talent pipeline, adequate resources, and smart financial policies. Our school systems — the largest employers in most counties — need the same,” said Wake Stone Corporation Executive Vice President and one of the summit’s organizers Tom Oxholm.
The businesses represented at the event spanned industries, including technology, finance, media, construction, agriculture, and real estate, and ranged in size from small, locally-owned businesses to large, multinational corporations. A small number of education and nonprofit leaders also attended the convening.
“I spent 20 years in education and just believe deeply that public education is important. We have nearly 1.5 million kids in our state going to public schools, including my two kids. So I believe deeply in what we’re trying to do here and hope we can come together past any kind of differences for the sake of our kids,” shared attendee and CEO of United Way Eric Guckian.
During the opening plenary, attendees heard presentations on the educator pipeline, student outcomes, school finance, and ways business leaders can engage in education issues.
Among the presenters were Public School Forum President and Executive Director Dr. Mary Ann Wolf who shared data on North Carolina’s educator workforce and school funding.
Other speakers included Wake Stone Executive Vice President Tom Oxholm, Chatham County Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson, retired Watauga County Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott and EdNC CEO Mebane Rash.
“Public education matters. It is the cornerstone of thriving communities, of our democracy, and of a healthy economy. As a state that excels in creating a strong climate for business growth, we must be cognizant that one of the key elements of future economic success is a well-educated workforce,” said Public School Forum Executive Director Dr. Mary Ann Wolf. “We are thrilled to gather with business leaders to share data and to act collectively to ensure that all kids in North Carolina have high-quality, accessible education that leads to success both for individual students and our state’s future.”
Attendees also participated in breakout sessions offering deeper dives into several key areas: early literacy, teacher and leadership pipelines, the future of high school, school finance, and productive ways for business leaders to engage.
In each of these sessions, business leaders heard from prominent education and nonprofit leaders with deep experience and then had a chance to discuss the issues and ask questions.
During the second half of the day, former Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser delivered a keynote address on the future of public education and the critical role that business must play in shaping it.
“What does getting involved mean? On the one hand, it means reaching out to and working collaboratively with your local public schools and districts to add value in the classroom or the front office,” said Peyser during his address. “It also means sticking your neck out as a company or individual to get involved in policymaking at the local level, through active engagement with county or municipal officials and relative school boards.”
Retired Bank of America NC President Charles Bowman closed the event by issuing a call to action and encouraging fellow business leaders to engage on the education issues they care about, both locally and statewide.
The summit’s organizers will continue to attendees and their organizations to engage in next steps to support public education.
“Public schools are critical to the future of North Carolina and the business community must be an active partner in making sure that schools and students have what they need for success. Many thanks to the one hundred business leaders for joining us for this informative and collaborative event as we begin a process of working with educators and legislators on improving our state’s K-12 public education system,” said Oxholm.