Carroll County consistently ranks as having one of the top public education systems in the state. How will it be able to remain among the best over the next few decades?
Technology infrastructure and education, lifelong learning, investing in facilities to meet educational needs and growth in the county’s Career and Technology Center are key priorities to focus on, the Long Term Advisory Council’s education cluster concluded.
Lynn Wheeler, education cluster chair, said there were many issues surrounding education and it was important to narrow down priority areas that would be most pertinent.
According to her presentation, the cluster assumes education’s role will continue to increase as workplace demands change drastically, which requires constant learning. This will bring an increased demand for online training, credentialing and testing, according to the presentation.
The cluster also assumes the future will demand real work experiences; growth in vocational training, apprenticeships and business partnerships; and demand for access to hands-on learning, prototyping, tools and technology.
Technology support, “which is critically important to the continuing success of education,” Wheeler said, was a key focus of the education cluster.
Technology must be available to people in all education settings from schools and colleges to informal settings such as self-directed education opportunities at the library, she said. Because of that, tech support is necessary, not only in terms of hardware and software, but also in terms of the network.
“We have to be able to count on robust tech support,” she said.
Carroll will need ongoing technology infrastructure funding, and continued support of broadband and wireless infrastructure initiatives the county has been working on, according to the presentation.
Wheeler, who was director of the library system in Carroll for 14 years before retiring last month, said she’s seen technology — and how the library provides opportunity to use it — change. Two decades ago, the libraries were focused on providing computer access to the community. Now, the focus is more about access to WiFi, as more and more people have their own devices.
For years, Wheeler said, libraries have provided a role in helping children succeed in school, especially Carroll’s reading initiatives for kids birth through age 5. “And now we’re trying to focus that same initiative on tech skills,” like basic coding and the library’s makerspaces, she added.
Carroll Community College continues to be a central player in serving the community, especially in terms of technological education, said college President James Ball, who was a member of the education cluster.
Ball said evidence shows skills-based performance will be ever more important in the future. And as things rapidly change, he said, it’s crucial for Carroll to have that skill building locally.
The futurist who presented at the college last year emphasized the role community colleges like Carroll will have in a gig economy later down the road, where degrees are less important and skills-based performance will be more important, he said. One of the college’s goals is to help prepare a workforce for the future, Ball said, and programs and certifications for areas like digital design and fabrication, 3-D printing, drones, and cybersecurity are designed to launch students toward to a career path.
“The need to utilize that tech for any business is going to be huge,” he said.
Skills such as 3-D printing are becoming more important because automakers are using the technology to create parts, Ball said.
The drone program that Carroll Community College is launching is also a step toward the future, he said. As regulations around drones continue to develop and as drones are able to lift larger loads, being able to pilot them will be even more important, he said.
The college is continually working with employers to find out the needs of the local business community and bring members from the business community in on advisory committees to work to help provide that, he said.
“We feel pretty strongly that we’re having an impact, and we just want to be able to continue to anticipate what might be coming,” Ball said.
And while it’s hard to predict where Carroll will be in 30 years, the work LTAC has done allows them to look at trends and what needs to be supported now to potentially be better positioned in the future.
For Carroll County Public Schools, technology remains a constant thread in the fabric of future-oriented concerns. Board of Education President Donna Sivigny, who was a member of the education cluster, said CCPS needs a technology strategy. And that’s not just spending a large amount of money to buy devices for students, she said. It has to be an overall strategy that discusses the delivery of instruction.
“You need a lot of staff development and you need a lot of staff support in order to accomplish that effectively,” Sivigny said.
Wheeler said there was also agreement among the cluster that educational opportunities offered at the Tech Center and community college are important for the county, and that continued investment in those types of programs are good for Carroll.
Tech Center Principal Bill Eckles, a member of the education cluster, said it’s hard to look in the future and know what jobs are going to be important. But, the Tech Center works to create students who can be good problem-solvers and critical-thinkers, and then apply those skills to whatever the future brings.
Career and Tech “is designed for that problem-based learning experience,” he added.
In many industries, Eckles said, certifications and special task-level skills are more valuable than a college degree, and many employers are hiring based on skills like coding and being able to develop apps.
“You’re looking at, especially in the high-tech sector, an economy where it’s task-based,” he said.
Eckles emphasized the importance of lifelong learning for jobs in the future. And with the Tech Center being a big player in that type of education, the planned modernization and expansion of the building continues to be important for Carroll, he said.
According to the presentation, graduation requirements may also include more of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) emphasis, which would cause shifts in curriculum.
Sivigny said while the LTAC’s reports don’t look at specific projects, it has “general alignment” with many of CCPS’ goals and its vision for the future. Sivigny said in addition to the Tech Center project, it’s important to take the long view and think about additional tech programs in comprehensive high schools. It would allow students the ability to take certain tech education courses without it being their entire focus like it is for those who attend the Tech Center, she said.
“We might need to think about more things from that perspective,” she added.
A third area the cluster focused on was regular maintenance of buildings, which will continue be a pressure point, Wheeler said. No one in the group saw that changing radically.
“There will still be a need for facilities,” Wheeler said.
But, as with all areas of its findings, the scope of looking ahead is broad. Wheeler said the cluster didn’t get into the details of current projects, like what CCPS will do in terms of the Redistricting and School Closure Committee’s report.
“We tried to take a broader view of what we need to do,” she said.
In looking ahead, Wheeler said, a key revelation is the need for continuing education throughout a person’s life.
It used to be a person went to high school or college and that was it, she said.
“You were pretty much set for what you needed to know throughout life. That’s no longer the case at all,” Wheeler said. “The lifelong learning role is something that we realized was an opportunity if we do it and a threat if we don’t do it.”