Toyota funds might be used for high-tech learning space

TUPELO – The committee tasked with determining how to spend the Toyota Education Enhancement Fund has identified projects that include a regional high-tech learning center.
“They’ve kind of zeroed-in on two main areas,” said Mike Clayborne, president of the charitable CREATE Foundation, which will oversee the endowment.
The two areas suggested by the Toyota Education Enhancement Advisory Committee are the regional high-tech learning center and a regional consortium for education advancement.
In February 2007, when Toyota announced its plans to build an automotive manufacturing plant near Blue Springs, northwest of Tupelo, the company also promised a $50 million donation to schools in the PUL Alliance.
The donation actually will be $5 million a year for 10 years, with the first payment expected in 2010.
“Toyota committed to start their first payment in July of next year,” Clayborne said. “The plan at this point is to spend up to a million dollars of that money on the projects that have been identified. The rest will go into the endowment fund.”
Clayborne said the learning center will be modeled after the Career and Technical Center in Frisco, Texas, which members of the advisory committee recently toured.
The CTE serves about 30,000 students from four Dallas-area high schools, Clayborne said, and includes a courtroom for mock trials, TV and radio studios, computer and animation labs, and medical and veterinary science labs.
Clayborne did not know specifically what might be offered at the learning center here, but said it’s not currently available and will “give kids the opportunity to get exposure to other career-building activities.”
The learning center would be built in Blue Springs, Clayborne said.
“In order to actually construct a physical facility, there’s obviously going to be additional dollars from other resources, and we are pursuing that,” he said, adding that until construction is complete, a virtual school program might be offered.
Clayborne emphasized that the center will not train Toyota workers.
“It has a much broader focus,” he said.
Eight school districts, including the line districts in Nettleton and Baldwyn, are in the PUL Alliance area of Ponotoc, Union and Lee counties. The advisory committee has met with the local school superintendents, whom Clayborne said will be invited to tour the Frisco facility.
“I will go to see what it has to offer,” said Ken Basil, superintendent of the Union County School District.
The concept of a regional high-tech learning center sounds great, Basil said, but he would like to make certain the Toyota endowment benefits as many of his students as possible.

Contact Ginny Miller at (662) 678-1582 or ginny.miller@djournal.com.

Ginny Miller/Daily Journal