VWSD, Ford join forces in education

Published 10:17 am Thursday, August 3, 2017

It is not very often the start of the school year for teachers and administrators at the Vicksburg Warren School District is highlighted by the use of laser lights, blaring music, confetti cannons, cheerleading squads and a balloon drop.

Then again, this is not your average start of the school year.

Thursday, during the system’s annual convocation event, the staff, teachers and administrators of each of the system’s schools were joined by more than 200 community and business leaders for an announcement that will reshape education in Warren County.

The event not only began the year for the teachers and staff, it also marked the first day for the system as an official Ford Next Generation Learning designee.

The partnership between the district and Ford will convert much of the system’s high school education into career academies aimed at making students more ready for college and careers, improving high school graduation rates and reducing the number of dropouts.

“What we saw was tremendous community support. As soon as there was a discussion to supporting students, everyone came to the table,” Cheryl Carrier, director of Ford Next Generation Learning, said. “What we are seeing here is a community that has a legacy of helping people. And this is truly a community that is wrapping its arms around its students.”

Meetings, discussions and planning sessions over the last two years led to Thursday’s designation, and the implementation of career academy tracts at both Vicksburg and Warren Central high schools.

The Vicksburg Warren School District becomes the first in Mississippi to earn the designation and the 25th in the country.

“What it means for the state is that you have someone here in the state doing great things,” Jean Massey, executive director for the office of secondary education in Mississippi, said. “You don’t have to go to Massachusetts or California to see something that is really good. And, you can see people from Mississippi making a difference.

“It shows people throughout the state that if Vicksburg can work hard and put these types of things in place, then we can too.”

Carl Leiterman, a national coach with Ford, has been with Vicksburg throughout the entire process.

“It was very easy when I came in to do what we call the Phase 1, exploratory to see if a community has the basic components for us to accept them. I spent two and a half days here. I interviewed 85 business people and leaders,” Leiterman said. “I called the Ford staff and I said I found the best kept secret in the South. I said Vicksburg is something we want to have in our community.

Leiterman said Vicksburg being the first in the state and 25th overall is a true accomplishment.

“We have a lot of communities in the network who are trying to get to this point. It is rarefied air. It is a wonderful thing for a community to be part of and we are looking forward to working with them,” he said.

During a prayer breakfast earlier Thursday, Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Chad Shealy said the partnership with Ford is just part of his and the board’s mission of improving education in Vicksburg and working to make sure students are “college, career and life prepared.”

“We are changing lives forever,” Shealy told a room of local pastors and volunteers at an event hosted at First Baptist and organized by the Junior Auxiliary. “We are teaching kids how to read. That sounds simple, but it is very important. We are teaching kids to count, number skills. We are teaching kids how to work in groups, relate to others. We are teaching kids how to have a business partner that is an adult. We are teaching them how to be productive citizens. It is amazing when you consider this is for all of our children. Not just the best.”

The development of these career academies not only has an impact on the quality of education, but also on the overall appeal of the area in economic development.

“I think it is very attractive to the business community, specifically because it is about going back to basics and getting our next generation of workforce and leaders to go through a process of learning skills,” Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce director Pablo Diaz said. “I think the communities that are going to succeed in economic development is all about what kind of workforce they can offer in the future. Coupled with what kind of quality of life as a community you can offer. I think it is important to us to remember that all economic development is workforce development.”

Carrier said being the first in Mississippi has its advantages, and places Vicksburg in the spotlight.

“When we get into a community and they are first in the state, they become the example for everybody. The state starts looking at what is happening, economic development begins to look at what is going down there, education starts saying this is the kind of thing we need across the state,” Carrier said. “So what I think is going to happen to Vicksburg — and it is already happening — are other communities are going to wonder what is going on and want to be a part of that.”

For the city of Vicksburg, which contributed to the funding of the program through the chamber, it is another feather in the cap.

“Awesome day for Vicksburg,” Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs said. “Any time you can be first in the state, with such an innovative program, it is good for the community, it is good for the students and it is good for the parents. It’s good for the state of Mississippi also.”

Post editor Tim Reeves contributed to this report.

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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