Early in her career, North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction Superintendent June Atkinson was a high school business co-op teacher.

Part of her responsibility was to help students find work with local employers. That experience taught her an important lesson.

“That is, it’s extremely important for business and industry and our schools to work together on behalf of economic development in a community,” she told a crowd of nearly 200 at the Mooresville – South Iredell Developer’s Council luncheon at the Charles Mack Citizen’s Center March 4.

Atkinson and North Carolina Business Committee for Education Director of Member Services Lisa Berwyn spoke about the importance of the partnership between businesses and schools.

Atkinson talked about the strides made in North Carolina education, with graduation rates increasing from 68.9 percent six years ago to the highest in state history at 80.4 percent last school year. And the graduation rate of students who take at least four credits in a career-technical education, more commonly known as vocational education, is 94 percent, she added.

“That sends us the message that students want to have a career,” she said.

One way the state has assisted students is through the Career and College Promise program, Atkinson continued. There, students can earn college credit at a community college campus while still in high school at no cost to them, according to the DPI’s website.

It gives students a jump start on earning a certificate, associate or four-year degree. Last year, students earned more than 15,000 community college credits, according to Atkinson.

In February, the General Assembly passed the Career College Endorsement Process, a bill that allows students, on top of the minimum requirements to graduate, to obtain an endorsement in career technical education, in college readiness or in both, Atkinson said.

“We know we must give choices to students, especially when it comes to career-technical education,” she said. “That’s why we need business and industry partnerships.”

Atkinson also talked about the importance of the DPI's partnership with the North Carolina Business Committee for Education. The NCBCE, located in the governor’s office, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization comprised of corporate leaders that work with lawmakers and  educators to increase student achievement.

“We can’t do this work to really support and infuse that business voice into public education unless we have a corporate voice because frankly, the work that you all do out in the community, in your corporations, are what keeps our communities alive,” NCBCE Director of Membership Services Lisa Brewyn told the crowd. “And, that’s why it’s so important that we work in partnership with the Department of Public Instruction.”

One of NCBCE’s initiatives is Students@Work, which exposes middle school students to opportunities that exist through the workplace through job shadowing. Now in its third year, Students@Work had 17,500 students participated the first year and 32,000 students the second year.

“This year, we’re expecting that number to grow,” Brewyn said.

After the first group graduates high school, NCBCE hopes to collect enough data to determine if the initiative plays a role in graduation rates, Brewyn said. 

For more information about NCBCE, visit http://www.ncbce.org/.