Last week I attended the annual education breakfast hosted by the Marana Chamber of Commerce and was impressed with some of the plans being laid out for education in Tucson.
While Ariz. Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal talked about issues facing the state legislature this year, it was the new chancellor of Pima Community College that really caught the audience’s attention.
Lee Lambert is bringing a new attitude to Pima Community College, and with it, a strong dose of reality. Lambert stressed that for every year it took for Pima to get to where it is now, it could take that long to improve. It may seem hopeless when put that way, but Lambert appears to have a good plan to help all Pima students and bring more of a young workforce to Tucson.
I’ve said it more than once that Tucson has nothing for strong, educated young people. There is nothing to keep them here once they have a degree.
For Lambert, there is more of a plan to start educating the workforce that is really lacking in Tucson – that workforce involves those with skills to meet the needs in the middle.
He knows that we are now in a society where all high school graduates need some kind of secondary education, and that doesn’t necessarily mean college.
Lambert stressed that a lot of positions in Tucson aren’t filled at the middle-skill areas. That means those at the top are filled with qualified personnel and those at the bottom are filled. However, it’s the middleman jobs that are unfilled because of our education system.
He said he wants Pima to stop working in an asylum, and instead, start working in cooperation with the business community. Lambert said there’s going to be more emphasis on manufacturing, construction, mechanics and other industries that students are interested in taking.
That means more partnerships, according to Lambert. That means creating more opportunity for students starting at the high school level, and most of all, that means changing the current mindset not only for Pima administrators and staff, but also for Tucson.
Tucson is the sixth poorest of the nation’s large metropolitan area, with poverty around 20.4 percent, according to data from the Census Bureau. Lambert brought up this statistic and did something I’m not used to in Pima County – He took responsibility.
The new chancellor is new to Tucson, and yet, he stressed to the audience that the poor rating Tucson has on the national scale is because post-secondary institutions like Pima should be working more closely with the community to meet community needs.
He ended his speech by saying America’s education system is competing against the Chinese, the French and the Japanese, but the biggest challenge we have is changing our own mindset, and doing what’s needed to keep our students engaged in a “constructive learning environment.”
Having someone new like Lambert come into Tucson and speak up about things that need to change is nice. It’s nice because we have a local leader that sees the potential our town has, and appears willing to take on the challenges rather than ignore it, make excuses for it, or pretend it’s someone else’s problem.
In order to make Tucson a community where young, successful families and students want to live – it’s time to start working together, changing mindsets and believe in the potential we have.