EDITORIAL: Regional education

By NEMS Daily Journal

Elected officials, school administrators, and civic leaders from across the PUL Alliance counties – Pontotoc, Union and Lee – met Thursday afternoon in Pontotoc to take the first public steps toward realizing the educational attainment potential related to the Toyota presence in Northeast Mississippi.
After two years of study and research, the alliance, the CREATE Foundation in Tupelo, eight school districts and a special planning committee unveiled the concept for a $35 million Center for Professional Futures near but not on the Wellspring campus of Toyota on U.S. Highway 78/Interstate 22 near Blue Springs.
The CPF, whose operations eventually will be supported by income from Toyota’s 10-year, $50 million endowment for education enhancement in the PUL Alliance counties, is modeled after a similar, successful enterprise in Frisco, Texas.
The Texas center offers “cross collaborative” education for high school students, a model that has strongly influenced the choice made by the Toyota Education Endowment Fund Advisory Committee. The committee also evaluated programs at a dozen other similar centers across the nation, from Virginia to California.
The CPF will use state-of-the-art teaching and technology to prepare students for state-of-the-art jobs, or further education.
Toyota will have no control of the CPF, and the auto giant will not have any part in its governance, which will be overseen by an independent board of directors from the PUL Alliance counties and schools, but which has not been fully formulated. The board will hire a principal to run the campus and collaborate with the school districts.
Preliminary work has begun to raise $35 million to build the facility, and those funding sources could be a combination of state, federal and private-sector funds, including foundation grants.
The regional focus parallels the goals of the PUL Alliance, the successful, equally shared regional partnership that developed the 1,800-acre Wellspring site.
The idea of collaborative education has been implemented in many states, and it has proven effective in enhancing and strengthening school districts and campuses.
Students, who will apply for admission to the center, will be based on their home campuses, but will travel to the center for the classes in which they enroll. Courses probably will include computer graphics and animation, pre-engineering and architecture, legal studies, and health sciences technology – and possibly others.
The regular extra-curricular activities and athletics so attractive to many high school students will remain based on individual campuses.
None of the school districts in the PUL Alliance counties could afford alone to implement a program like the Center for Professional Futures, but carefully using the Toyota endowment, which will grow beyond $50 million, makes it regionally possible.
The first payment, $5 million, is expected in May from Toyota, on schedule.
The global economy has played havoc with Toyota’s plans, but in public statements the company remains firmly committed to eventual production at the PUL Alliance site.
Developing the center is viewed by the advisory committee as the Alliance’s unique education investment opportunity.
Union County advisory committee member James Byers said at Thursday’s announcement, “We’d like to leave this place a little better off than we found it.”
We believe the center concept reflects vision and rare cooperation that can make more than a little difference in our region.