Hickory Superintendent Asks City Council to Consider Funding Expanded Pre-K | Govt. and politics
Hickory Public Schools Superintendent Bryan Taylor asked the Hickory City Council to consider providing funding for early childhood education as a way to close achievement gaps.
Taylor’s request came Thursday at the council’s annual one-day retreat. Council members heard and discussed a range of topics from housing and economic development to the upcoming budget.
Notably, education was a bigger focus than it was at last year’s retreat.
The educational presentation at the 2021 retreat primarily involved statistics, including several that showed stark disparities in achievement between Hickory schools and other school systems.
In the 2018-2019 school year, approximately 44% of students scored proficiency or higher on end-of-course tests, a percentage well below that of the Catawba County and Newton-Conover school systems and of the state as a whole.
This year, board members heard from local education leaders. In addition to Taylor, Catawba County Schools Superintendent Matt Stover and Chris Reese, executive director of the K-64 Educational Partnership, attended the retreat.
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Taylor responded to a question about achievement gaps by highlighting the need for better educational options for children starting school.
“In my opinion, the way we’re going to have to attack the learning gaps in our community is to provide more opportunities for early intervention, more pre-K,” Taylor said. “We need to find a way to close that gap earlier so that young people don’t start further behind.”
He cited Polk County as an example of a community that found success in greatly expanding pre-K. Taylor then presented the benefits of the City Council providing funding to expand these opportunities in Hickory.
“I now know that you as a city council technically aren’t required to provide financial assistance,” Taylor said, adding, “If you’re really interested in impacting the lives of young people in Hickory , this is one way to do it.
Taylor stressed that the idea is preliminary, saying he hadn’t even pitched it to the Hickory school board.
In response to a question about the resources needed to meet this demand, Taylor said he believed the school had enough space and that the main costs would be staff and materials. He added that he would be happy to provide more numbers and flesh out the idea if the city council was interested.
Shaping the future of higher education
The discussion on education has not focused solely on education at lower levels. Representatives from Lenoir-Rhyne University, Catawba Valley Community College and Appalachian State University were on hand to talk about the work at their institutions.
Of particular interest to Hickory decision makers is App State’s planned Hickory campus. Sheri Everts, the university’s chancellor, was present for the retreat and confirmed that the university is on track with its plan to open the Hickory campus to students in the fall of 2023.
The university forms a working group with people from the community to determine which courses will be offered in the new building.
Everts briefly referenced some of the feedback she received from the community and hinted at how the university might be able to meet the needs of the region. “We’re in the listening phase, and one of the things we hear a lot about is teacher preparation,” Everts said. “App, for the sixth consecutive year, is a Certified Teacher Leader.”
In a separate presentation, Catawba County Economic Development Corporation President Scot Millar asked council members to consider how they might take advantage of the major education developments on the horizon.
Referring specifically to the new App State campus as well as the $15 million in state money that has been allocated to the CVCC for a new job training center, Millar raised the idea that the city could cultivate a neighborhood of innovation as a basis for future growth.
Kevin Griffin is the Hickory City Reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.