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Vote is Crucial to Future of Our Schools and Community

by on April 24, 2014 6:00 AM

In less than four weeks State College Area School District voters will go to the polls and vote on the referendum to fund the State High Project.

Whether you have children who attend the schools or not this is a vital issue that affects our entire community.

(Although Independent voters are usually not involved in primary elections, you can and should go to the polls to vote on the referendum to fund the State High Project.)

In the late 17th century, one of the founding pillars of this colony was public education. Now, centuries later public education is even more important in a world where information and innovation are the currency of the future.

In the 21st century economy school systems are community assets that help us compete in two ways. The first and most obvious way is in how effectively they prepare our children for the future. I'll get to that point in a moment.

The second value of the school system is in how it helps us compete with other communities and universities when attracting business to the area or top-flight faculty to Penn State.

The 21st century economy is an inter-connected world. Companies and jobs can be located just about anywhere. The people deciding where to locate their businesses look at all kinds of factors including the quality of life for their employees. One of those big quality of life issues involves schools.

The same goes for Penn State when it's recruiting top-shelf faculty to teach and do research here. Predictably professors and researchers value quality schools for their children, given the role education plays in their own careers.

Visiting State College High School they see facilities designed in the mid-1950s. They see students crossing the street when classes change; they see buildings in need of major repairs. What they see brings two words to mind "antiquated and outdated".

I am a tradition guy. I love old buildings but the core of State College High School has seen little change since I graduated in 1986. Not to over-state the obvious or make myself seem really old, but the world of education has changed dramatically since that time.

The facilities needed to support today's technology, as well as how we educate our students, has changed in ways that the educators who planned for the building in 1955 could never have imagined.

The world itself has changed — in fact the world has moved a lot closer — right into town to be exact.

In 2014 our students must be prepared to compete in a world where competition for jobs — and college admission — can and will come from anywhere and everywhere.

College admission you ask? Yes, take a look around. The secret in American higher education is overseas' recruiting. Major universities are traveling to places like China and India and sending recruiters to places like Dubai. It is big business.

Why? Because these students arrive prepared; they arrive with checks in hand; they pay out-of-state tuition and don't require loans, or pell grants or other financial assistance.

We can't change what the universities do. What we can change are the tools and facilities we provide for our children to compete in a global environment. We owe it to our children to prepare them to compete.

State College High School has always had top-notch students but we must evolve our schools. Failure to adapt is unacceptable.

In my high school economics class we traded stocks using fake money and the Dow hit 1,300. Now students trade with real money, interact with business leaders and the Dow is over 16,000. Students build robots and use mathematical models to trace the pandemic spread of the flu.

These students have achieved despite flying into the headwinds of their outdated surroundings.

It's time we build a facility that is worthy of our students, one that inspires, one that makes a statement about how much we value the mission of education. It is time we recognize that education is a transformative force, the engine that will drive our local economy and our nation's economy into the future.

I know the arguments against a new school. I used to be on that side of the issue. But after two years of public input and deliberation this is the best possible way forward. The school board and school superintendent did not take this responsibility lightly.

We've reached a critical time. This may be our last best chance to do what is right for our children.

Will it require us all to ante in? Yes.

But there comes a time when we have to accept that the future depends on us. We have to understand that people paid in when we were in school and it is our time to shoulder some of the burden for the future.

This project is good for the children of our community. But it will also yield broad benefits with this educational asset making a dramatic statement to our children and to the people and businesses we hope to attract to our community.

That statement; our commitment to education is real and can be seen in the way we house our community's most important work.

We can't wait any longer. The status quo is simply not sustainable.

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State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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