Cultivating care

Survey shows residents concern for educational excellence not a top priority

Blount Education Initiative board president Mark Cate addresses an audience gathered at Clayton Homes for the release of a survey detailing the community’s attitudes toward education.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Blount Education Initiative board president Mark Cate addresses an audience gathered at Clayton Homes for the release of a survey detailing the community’s attitudes toward education.

Bonny Millard, executive director of the Blount Education Initiative, speaks to the audience gathered at Clayton Homes.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Bonny Millard, executive director of the Blount Education Initiative, speaks to the audience gathered at Clayton Homes.

Brad Smith, executive director of the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education, talks about the survey.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Brad Smith, executive director of the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education, talks about the survey.

Blount County residents value having a good quality of life, but the value they place on education is not high enough, according to a survey commissioned by the Blount Education Initiative.

The survey was released Friday at a press conference at Clayton Homes headquarters. Blount Education Initiative is a non-profit organization formed to make education a top priority in the community.

The press conference was a kickoff to a public awareness campaign focusing on critical issues related to education. BEI proponents also hope to support local schools in their efforts to provide top-notch education and serve as a bridge between the educational community and businesses in order to develop meaningful collaborations.

While the majority (85 percent) of residents surveyed characterized the quality of life in Blount County as high and indicated that good schools were among the top reasons for the high quality of life, there were rankings in the survey regarding the community’s view of education that caught the BEI off guard.

The respondents answered on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 meaning “do not agree at all” and 10 meaning “completely agree” to a series of questions on the importance of education. When averaged, “Education should be a top priority in Blount County” garnered a 7.4 in agreement. “It’s important to have a college education” received a score of 6.9, and “It’s important to have a high school education received a 7. The majority did not believe public schools in Blount County receive enough funding (4.5).

BEI board president Mark Cate said that while Blount County residents value a good quality of life, the data points to a possible disconnect in residents’ understanding of how strong education helps foster a strong quality of life.

“As an example,” said Cate, “for residents to rank the importance of having a basic high school education as a 7, only two points above a 5, points to a level of urgency here. BEI hopes to help all members of the community connect the dots between education as a priority and such outcomes as workforce quality, desirable economic development and strong local job availability.”

BEI executive director Bonny Millard said the study provides an insightful roadmap regarding how BEI needs to move the needle with respect to the mission to make education the community’s top priority. “Like any community, Blount County’s residents aren’t just one group of like-minded people,” she said. “That’s why we did this study, to understand the diversity of attitudes, priorities and concerns in the community we’re seeking to influence. BEI intends to listen to and respect those differences as we engage with the community about education’s importance.”

Cate said BEI plans to develop a public awareness campaign focused on critical issues related to education. “As part of that outreach, we want Blount County citizens to feel a vested, personal stake in the advancement of education locally,” he said.

The survey was conducted by telephone in a random digit dial sample of adult residents in Blount County from Jan. 14 - 26 with 845 interviews completed for an overall margin of error of +/- 3.4 percent.

Several schools foundation executives shared their thoughts on the survey’s findings.

“One of the things I hope comes from it is a better working relationship with community leaders and individuals,” Maryville City Schools Foundation executive director Barbara Jenkins said.

Blount County Schools Foundation executive director P.J. Silver said the key is to get the community to place education as priority one. “If they can do that, half the job of the foundations is done,” she said.

Alcoa City Schools Foundation executive director Sharon Hannum said any time there is an opportunity to support education it is a good thing. “The reason I got into education was because my son was going to have to move to get a job,” she said. “For him to be successful, he was going to have to go somewhere else. He went off to college and hasn’t been back.”

Also as part of the program, it was announced BEI was working with the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE). SCORE is a nonpartisan, statewide initiative aimed at making education Tennessee’s top priority and accelerating state and local education reform efforts in Tennessee. Brad Smith, executive director of TN SCORE was on hand for the survey announcement

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