Alexandria has a strong business/education partnership that can serve as a model for other communities.

That’s what Al Sholts, chief operating officer of Alexandria Industries, and Laura Urban, president of the Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC) told the Civic Caucus in an interview released last week.

Sholts and Urban said that strong, visible support for hands-on learning by the Alexandria community has led to success and innovation for Alexandria Area High School and the ATCC.

They extolled the “strong interest in education” by the Alexandria area business community and its “solid relationship” with both the high school and ATCC.

Urban reported that about half of ATCC’s students come from more than 50 miles away from the campus. She attributed the college’s appeal to both the quality of its programs and its connection to the business community.

Sholts said he believes in the importance of creating relevance between what students are learning and the practical world. He advocated changing from the traditional way schools deliver curriculum to using applied learning in all subject areas for all students, ensuring that students understand what they’re learning and how to apply it

Communities must leverage business leaders to expose students to careers and help create a passion so they’ll continue their education, he said.

Sholts and others in the Alexandria community worked together to incorporate that applied-learning model into the new area high school, which opened in fall 2014.

The school, which a national technology magazine called the “Googleplex of Schools,” chose a small learning community model as the new way to deliver curriculum to its students.

Every student enrolls in one of the school’s three college and career academies. Career pathways in each academy provide students with a plan to connect high school coursework with college and career opportunities after graduation.

Urban pointed out that the use of the state’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program is growing in the Alexandria region. Some students earn a two-year degree from ATCC by the time they graduate from high school.

She said that by using customized training and just-in-time training, ATCC can meet the current and future needs of business for a trained workforce both for the Alexandria community and statewide.

The Civic Caucus, a Minneapolis-based, nonprofit study group, has been conducting weekly interviews on public policy for the past 10 years.

ABOUT CIVIC CAUCUS

The Civic Caucus is a Minnesota-based non-partisan public policy learning organization.

According to its website, it offers innovative opportunities to involve citizens in public affairs without making extraordinary demands on their time. It hosts interviews with past and present political figures, encourages feedback from citizens across political ideology, uses electronic communication to educate and involve participants from their homes, and shines a light on others’ proposals, rather than promoting its own.