I had the great pleasure of participating in one of Florida State Senator Ken Pruitt’s 21st Century Summits last week. Senator Pruitt is the incoming president of the state senate in Florida and is a major champion of education. He holds these summits on different topics to bring diverse leaders together in what we would call "catalytic conversations" about key topics in the state. Much like our earlier entry about Erskine Bowles’ inaugural address, the conversation here was about K-20, lifelong learning, and the increasing ties to economic development. Learning and earning indeed. All sectors from across Florida were represented and did an outstanding job of outlining the challenges and opportunities of the road ahead. Just take a look at the agenda to get an idea of the dialogues they put together.
We were hosted by Indian River Community College (IRCC) and their president Dr. Ed Massey. IRCC is one of those special community colleges that fully embraces its role as an educational catalyst. In addition to the standard comprehensive community college programs, they run a magnet high school, a dynamic adult learning center, and are home to the newly minted Kight Center for Emerging Technologies. I joked that the Kight Center was the kind of education facility God would build if he had the money! It is home to cutting-edge biotechnology, engineering, e-learning programs and more.
The stunning Kight Center was a perfect venue for these catalytic conversations. Senator Pruitt and team did an outstanding job of pulling in diverse constituencies to really hit some hard topics head on. Instead of pitting sectors against each other—particularly surrounding a topic like career and technical education that can lead to uncomfortable elitism—he sent the powerful message that it’s all about how we work together to position the state to play a successful part on the global stage. With conversations like this going on, coupled with the solid educational leadership in the state, Florida is more likely than most to be ready for the road ahead.