Staff photo by Steve Beavers | Don Nielsen (left) was among five speakers during the CREATE Foundation’s Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi on Thursday.
TUPELO — Don Nielsen has a plan of action.
The Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and chair of the Institute’s program on public education reform outlined the strategy Thursday during the CREATE Foundation’s Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi at the BancorpSouth Center.
Nielsen was among five individuals who spoke on the various topics of Transforming Education, Linking Education to Careers, Mississippi’s Highways and Bridges and State of the Region.
“The only difference between education today and when it was established in 1904 is the building,” said Nielsen. “In my mind, our education system has become obsolete … we are not effectively educating our children.”
Nielsen concentrated his activities on public education from 1992 to 2008. He traveled the country for two years studying America’s public education system and subsequently was elected to the Board of the Seattle Public Schools.
Nielsen, currently Chairman of Lumenal Lighting, LLC., pointed out several things which pertain to education have risen in the United States. Items such as drop outs, underclass, poverty, incarceration rates, debt and medical costs.
“If we want to fix any of these problems, the fastest way is to educate our children,” he said.
Nielsen’s book – “Every School” – covers fundamentally changing the public education system so it works for every school and every student.
“If we want to fix teaching, we have to get rid of certification laws,” he said. “We need a plan of action and it’s not something which will happen overnight.”
Nielsen said “we need” to do 10 things to improve education.
1. Replace certification standards
2. Get rid of elected school boards
3. Build an institute for educational leaders
4. Establish innovation schools and districts
5. Fund innovation schools based on student needs
6. Eliminate the salary schedule
7. Set school day and year based upon achievement
8. Give parents and students choices
9. Change graduation requirements – on performance and not hours
10. Set standards, not curriculum
“The greatest gift you can give your children is a fixed school,” said Nielsen. “It’s what you can also give America.”
CREATE President Mike Clayborne was impressed with Nielsen’s plan.
“That was the most thought-provoking address I have heard in a long time,” said Clayborne. “Mississippi has a lot of right ingredients to make a change … the movers and shakers we have in this room can get things done.”
Mississippi Economic Council President/CEO Blake Wilson updated attendees on bridges and highways in the state.
“Every Mississippian deserves a safe and reliable transportation system,” said Wilson.
According to Wilson, 936 state bridges and 24,591 lane miles of state roads – the primary routes which connect communities to the nation and world – aren’t able to hold up to the traffic and weights for which they were designed and for what is needed to serve the economic development needs of the state.
“Mississippi is falling far behind by standing still,” said Wilson. “Every day we wait, our costs go up.”
For an investment of about 37 cents a day, Mississippians over time – as the program is completed – will receive a return of about $1.45 a day in reduced driving costs, according to Wilson.
“Ignoring our problem will close off economic development opportunities,” said Wilson. “It’s time to get active on this project and make it happen together.”
Corinth School District Superintendent Lee Childress was recognized by Commission Chairman Guy W. Mitchell III.
“Our primary goal is increasing per capita income in the area and improving education attainment is our focus,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell went on to tell the audience the Commission accomplished its objective of having two public school districts in Northeast Mississippi apply for District of Innovation.
Booneville and Corinth both applied. Corinth was selected as one of the first three districts awarded the status in Mississippi.
“Corinth’s plans are exciting and we look forward to them leading the way,” said Mitchell.
CREATE serves as the financial administrator for nonprofit organizations and community projects. It allows organizations to minimize cost and more fully meet philanthropic and service purposes without having the burden of administrative expenses.
CREATE places emphasis on the four program areas of regional capacity building, endowment building, financial administration and targeted grant making. For regional capacity building, CREATE provides support for the Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi, to local development organizations and leadership development.