School district K-12 enrollment: ~19,500
Setting: Small metro area with strong rural influence
Unique Challenge: Moderate growth rate; substantially blue collar; high minority student population; weak community support; conflicting community interests.
One school district did a pretty good job keeping in contact with staff at the local Chamber of Commerce and economic development organization. Keep in mind that these organizations are focused primarily on generating employment. They’re not necessarily attuned to other details related to employment that are important to other public service providers such as schools. However, even these industry trackers were surprised when the local meat packer brought in about 200 foreign refugees one summer to work in the processing plant. These workers settled primarily in one large apartment complex. The school district had been filling about half a bus from this complex but now required three buses to transport all the new students. Further, physically accommodating the number of students (buses and school spaces) turned out to be the easier fix. The bigger issue was the special needs of the children because none of the new students spoke English nor did they have a comparable education. As a result, additional spaces were required in the schools to assist these kids with learning the new language and working to get caught up with their relevant age groups. Combine that with these students being thrust into a completely different culture, some aspects of which conflicted with certain of their accepted behaviors, and you can get a hint of the myriad issues with which the district had to cope.
Bottom Line: Industry experts may not catch everything so it pays to frequently keep in touch with not only industry insiders but also with major employers in your area.
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