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Secondary education, economic prospects and the future

Area leaders attend community-wide forum

Editor’s note: This is the first segment in a two-part series on the importance of education determining economic prospects for Spring Valley and its residents.

SPRING VALLEY — A community-wide forum was held in Spring Valley Tuesday evening, where major stakeholders and education advocates gathered to hear about the importance of secondary education and how it will shape the economic prospects for the area.

Featured speakers of the evening included Hall High School Superintendent Mike Struna and Illinois Valley Community College President Jerry Corcoran.

The sponsors of the forum were Hall High School, IVCC, city of Spring Valley, Spring Valley Boosters, Spring Valley Partners for Progress and the North Central Regional Betterment Coalition (NCRBC).

J. Burt of the NCRBC opened the meeting speaking about what holds LaSalle, Bureau and Putnam counties back from being able to advance economically with the changing world.

“In the old days you could graduate high school and find something to do and end up having a decent middle class life, but those days are gone,” he said.

Based on a recent study, Burt revealed the area has an abundance of low-skilled, low-wage jobs.

“We have a lack of people who haven’t obtained any kind of education or certificate beyond high school, and we have been continually confronted with a significant broke problem,” he explained.

It’s become obvious that post-secondary education is needed to reach the middle class today — whether it be a four-year college, the military, two-year college or trade school.

“In order to make changes, we need the mayor, superintendent, aldermen, teachers, their boards, the unit, members of the business community and participation of citizens and community members,” Burt explained. “Everyone has a part to play … being engaged is key. You have to understand where we are right now in order to get where we have to go.”

On that note, Struna opened his segment in saying Hall High School has the biggest role in preparing students for post-secondary education.

“Our goal has to be to put every student on a pathway to a career after high school,” he said.

With a new school on its way, Struna explained it’s going to take more than new glass and bricks, but also a new curriculum to better the education in the district.

The school board has sat down and is starting to make changes that will help pave career pathways for students in order to get them more college and career ready.

“Those students who don’t have a pathway, we have to give them a better vision,” Struna said.

The district has already started asking students in their sophomore year to declare a pathway and create a two-year plan to get them thinking about their future career goals.

The district is also planning to put $45,000 toward vocational curriculum in order to introduce students to more technical careers, such as alternative energy, flight technology, energy and power, material processing, structural engineering, research and development and robotics.

Also next year, the district plans to increase the budget by $40,000 to send 40 students, up from the current 20 students, to the Area Career Center.

The career center gives juniors and seniors hands-on experience with careers in health occupations, cosmetology, machine technology, welding, child care, culinary arts and more.

Another change for Hall is keeping the focus on students who are headed to four-year universities and increasing the academic rigor to help them when completing for scholarships. To do this, the district is looking to implement an honors science track next year and will eventually implement honors English and U.S. history courses.

Last but not least, getting students more acquainted with technology is going to be a goal. Based on a study, 57 percent of students entering IVCC since 2010 are below basic computer skills.

The district plans to put an electronic device in every freshman’s hands next year.

“We’re not getting rid of textbooks but using technology as we teach biology or English,” he said. “It’s expensive, yes. I haven’t put a dollar amount on it yet, but change is expensive if you want to prepare students for the 21st century jobs out there.”

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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