Zais visits Newberry, shares education philosophy

By Kevin Boozer

April 16, 2014

NEWBERRY — Dr. Mick Zais toured the Newberry County Career Center last Friday and talked with school district officials about the importance of career center education for South Carolinians.

Of particular concern to Zais is ensuring high school students who are not on a college track have the skills to find employment upon graduating high school and/or that the subgroup is prepared to pursue technical education.

Newberry County Career Center Director Buddy Livingston explained to Zais that the career center offers a great platform for students to get in line to pursue the 67 percent of jobs coming about through the manufacturing cluster.

Zais maintains that applied learning versus abstract learning such as quadratic equations or writing sonnets motivates and inspires students in a more needed way while at the same time prepares students to get jobs.

Zais believes courses that focus on the workplace equip students with more soft skills that employers look for than say a course in British literature or pre-calculus because students learn the expectations of the work place.

Such courses at the career center include computer assisted drawing and design classes, hydroponics, welding, crime scene investigation, and a course with a 3-D printer students use as part of Project Lead the Way.

Newberry County Superintendent of Schools Bennie Bennett told Zais that from the eighth grade on up students have individualized graduation plans.

Livingston said one of his daughters began college nearly as a sophomore because of credits she earned at PTC and the career center.

Mechatronics, STEM programs and green energy are other areas into which the career center either is moving or is positioning itself to include in curriculum. Livingston also said an agricultural mechanics program is being discussed.

“One obstacle we continue to face with manufacturing jobs is explaining how manufacturing is more technology than it was in the days of textile mills,” Livingston said. “I believe these are a key to getting the U.S. economy back on top (again).

Livingston asked Zais to look into issues related to hiring and retaining experienced teachers in fields of expertise such as HVAC, machine tools, building construction and health science fields.

Bennett said their district is 13 schools with one mission, one that supports and encourages the type of applied learning that takes place at the career center.

Later at the Newberry Rotary Club, Zais provided an overview of where he sees South Carolina education as a whole and addressed issues of poverty affecting student learning, some high schools he labeled “dropout factories” and other schools that he said rival the best and brightest of any.

“The system itself is the problem and needs to be fixed,” he said. “The 23 percent of students who do not graduate from high school have a hard time finding a job with which they could support a family.”

He mentioned the literacy problem facing South Carolina children and adults.

“Students who grow up in homes where parents use standard English grammar and who are read to have great advantages, while children from language poor home start out behind even though they learn at the same rate,” Zais said.

He said education is a service delivery challenge where students need to be provided the service of education that enables them to become competent in areas that lead to marketable skills in the workforce.

“Until we fix the education (system) we will never solve the problems of poverty,” Zais said. “Poor kids can learn. Countries with higher levels of poverty outperform U.S. students on international standardized test.”

He believes students need to be equipped for high tech manufacturing and skill trade jobs. To get there he called for educational, not political, reform.