Small businesses weigh in on how to improve our schools

June 28, 2017

Small business owners and managers may know better than most what today’s young people are capable of accomplishing. With the vast majority of their employees made up of high school students and recent graduates, local businesses are among the first to see what Stillwater Area Public School students are all about.

Which is exactly why district leaders recently reached out to small businesses to learn what might be done to improve our public schools. The conversation was the fourth in a series of Think Tank discussions, designed to bring our community together to talk about a common interest – our future workforce.

“I think it’s a healthy sign that our school district is reaching out into the local business community, looking for suggestions, new and old ideas, and asking what we think could be changed and what works well,” said Mead Stone, general manager of River Market Co-Op. “River Market employs a number of high school students and I am continually amazed by their work ethic, intelligence, and attitude. That says something about the families they come from and the schools they go to.”

Stone was one of several leaders from local small businesses who took part in the Think Tank, which also included staff from the Water Street Inn and Afton Alps. The small group spent time considering their own educational experiences, and then delved deeper into the current education system. They discussed what it takes for students to succeed in the workplace, and what experiences students should have in school to ensure those necessary skills and attributes are developed.

“Often our ideas went back to basics: reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic; how to fill out a job application; show up on time; and have some fun,” Stone said.

When hiring youth as young as 14 years old, the business leaders cited financial literacy and communication skills as important areas of focus. Many kids, they stated, come to them without experience filling out applications or tax forms, and most lack a basic understanding of how to read a pay stub. Interpersonal communication skills is another key element small business people say they are looking for when hiring young people. They want employees who can look customers in the eyes and engage in friendly conversation.

District leaders developed the Think Tanks as a way to engage community experts from a wide-range of professions in a conversation about the challenges and opportunities facing our district and our students. Feedback gathered from all of the Think Tanks will be considered as district leaders work with the community to establish priorities and develop a new strategic plan.

Learn more about previous Think Tanks