One of the most important hiring processes in our community is going on right now — that for the new Freeport School District 145 superintendent. Why would the Greater Freeport Partnership be interested in the school district leader — after all, isn’t the partnership’s job to promote and grow Stephenson County and not education? I would submit that the two are inextricably linked for several reasons:
1. Many people choose to live in a place due to school reputation. Notice that I used the word “reputation,” not quality. As we all know, perception is reality. And, if you ask anyone in the real estate business, the internet is the new expert. Zillow, GreatSchools.org, and social media all have their opinions about school districts and influence people long before they talk to an actual person.
Freeport’s schools are consistently ranked very low by these sites. From both anecdotes and data, we know that people are choosing to live outside of Freeport due to these reports. This reality is depressing property values and affects all of us, even if we do not have children in the district.
2. Our Stephenson County employers are desperate for skilled workers. There are currently nearly 600 open jobs within a 45-minute driving distance of Freeport. According to the Q12019 edition of Area Development magazine, the No. 1 factor in business decision to expand or relocate is availability of skilled labor. More than 65% of high school students do not go to college. This means that the onus is on the K-12 school district to produce those skilled workers for our existing and potential employers.
3. The future of workforce is changing rapidly. According to some current pundits, our country is in its fourth Industrial Revolution, defined by artificial intelligence, big data and the wireless networking cloud. The World Economic Forum recently published a Future of Jobs survey that projected that, by 2022, jobs skills like information and data processing will be highly valued and critical. Educators will be charged with focusing on developing problem-solving skills, digital acumen, systems learning, leadership skills and lifelong learning proficiency. (source: “Industry 4.0 and the Future of Work,” Debra Lyons). This will require an innovative leadership team who is willing to make some substantial changes to the way education has been presented.
Please express your support for the Freeport School District 145 School Board members as they give their time to the intensive interview and vetting process. During April, there were several community opportunities for input and the next steps include additional opportunities to meet the finalists in late May. Those will be published (tentatively set for May 20-22) on the school district website and social media. The partnership will work to help with this publicity as well. Our schools and our youth are worth fighting for. Please engage.
Originally published in the Journal Standard.