Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, a DOE assistant secretary in the office of vocational and adult education, said her visit to the 12 for Life facility in Carrollton was “phenomenal” and “fascinating.”
“We have learned so much in this wonderful morning,” Dann-Messier said. “We don’t have the answers in Washington — the answers are on the ground, and we see that this is a model that needs to be replicated.”
Dann-Messier praised the “real partnership” between the public school system and the private company several times.
“There is a real and effective public-private partnership,” she said. “Lots of communities talk about it, but this one is real. They’ve got active, involved and dedicated business leaders who are working very closely with their education leaders to ensure that all students are prepared for college and careers. It’s a fantastic example of public-private partnerships.”
The assistant secretary, along with two colleagues also from Washington, were attending a conference in Atlanta and asked to visit a system that had successfully implemented a program such as 12 for Life.
The group, comprised of the representatives from both the Georgia and U.S. departments of education, leaders from Carroll County Schools and other local school systems, and leaders of industry from the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and Southwire, held a roundtable discussion on the future of vocational education after a tour of the 12 for Life facility.
Doug Wright, coordinator of the 12 for Life program, told the guests that the size of a business does not matter when it comes to the viability for an educational partnership — “it could work with any size company,” he said.
Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President Daniel Jackson echoed Wright’s sentiment, saying the partnership is “scalable.”
“You don’t have to do everything they do to be successful,” he said. “Like anything, being creative and thinking with innovation is key.”
Dann-Messier was able to visit both the College and Career Academy and Central High School during her visit, stops she said were eye-opening and gratifying.
“I am so impressed with the work that’s been going on in Carroll County,” she said. “I want to foster stronger collaborations like this one on a national level.”
The assistant secretary took the time to speak with several students on the facility floor, asking them about their roles and what the project means to them.
“One girl told me that this was helping her with her schoolwork and helping her be more engaged in the classroom,” she said.
Superintendent Scott Cowart said the visit was a great opportunity for the school system, but that the bigger takeaway was that there is “a lot to be proud of” in Carroll County.
“Listening to our business representatives and education leaders talk about everything that’s happening, we indeed have a community that we should be proud of and thankful that we live in,” Cowart said.
Mike Wiggins, executive vice president of Southwire, greeted the guests and gave them a tour around the facility, showing them the classrooms and machinery utilized by students.
“We wanted it to be unique from the get-go, and it is, which makes it so cool,” Wiggins said. “And we heard a lot of people saying we’d have to deal with a state-level government bureaucracy to enter into this partnership, and that just wasn’t true.”
Dann-Messier was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the assistant secretary in July 2009; she began her official duties in October of that year after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“We want to learn how these types of things are working,” she said. “So we can lift up the successful practices and share them with others.”