“When people think of Mississippi, the first thing that comes to mind is not our educational system. When you look at all of the data, we rank at or near the bottom in virtually every metric that relates to education. But the steps that you are taking here today are excellent ones that can help to turn it around for your children,” stated Dr. Hank Bounds, State Superintendent of Education for MS, as he addressed the Education Summit 2008 in Ellisville, MS.
This eight county summit grew out of the strategic planning process for Jones County, the largest of the eight counties in southeastern MS. According to that plan, “Challenges with education was the biggest obstacle standing in the way of positive economic development in our area.”
When looking at the data for the State of MS, you can see the challenge. The state ranks as the lowest in % of adults over 25 with a high school diploma (72.9%); third lowest in bachelor’s degree or more for adults over 25 (16.9%); and highest in poverty at 21.0%. Dr. Bounds pointed out the direct correlation between high poverty rates and high school dropout rates adding, “And, there are states that are making determinations on how many prisons they are going to need to build by looking at reading scores in the third grade. It all ties back to education.”
The goals of the summit were fairly simple:
1. Celebrate our many accomplishments in education.
2. Learn why it is essential that ‘together’ we build on those successes NOW!
3. Leave with a sense of purpose and a mission to join together with a goal to helping make our schools second to none.
I related to the summit our own experiences in doing site selection projects for new manufacturing plants in rural America. The educational system and attainment are critical factors that we look at in our many searches. A trend we are seeing is that many new factories require that everyone in the plant have at least a two year, associates degree, and in some cases, a four year degree. Education is becoming the big differentiator and the competition is not just with neighboring towns and states, but rather with countries like China, Korea and others.
My travels around the USA have left me with a very favorable impression of MS. Our company has made multi-million dollar investments in three buildings in the state and I see their future as a very bright one, especially with the passion and enthusiasm that I saw at the summit on education.