A Lincoln County plan part 2: The role of the schools

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Local schools can serve as an indicator of both economic health and economic potential, but they can also boost a local economy.

The George W. Bush Presidential Center published a 2016 briefing that discussed studies showing the economic benefits of investment in education from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Some of the economic growth relates to improvement in the workforce, the briefing noted.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, a 2015 Atlantic article noted the potential benefits to local economies of having more skilled workers entering the economy.

Citing a paper by Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford, and Ludger Woessmann and Jens Ruhose of the University of Munich, the Atlantic article states that the paper showed significant economic gains from investment in primary and secondary education.

In their research, they showed that the number of years of schooling are not nearly as important as the quality of the education students receive.

But schools do a lot more than prepare students for a job. They provide them basic skills of citizenship, foster civic pride and engage young people as community members, teaching them the values that hold their communities together.

“The communities I’ve lived in, the schools are a reflection of the community,” said Craig Barringer, superintendent of Libby Public Schools.

So when families are looking to relocate, they want to know about the schools and tour them, Barringer said.

“The condition of our schools is important, the quality of what we do in the schools is important, and the people we have in the buildings is important,” he said.

Research shows how much local schools can be a central focus of potential economic development, he said.

Even as many school systems across the country have cut or completely eliminated their trades programs, the industrial arts classes in Libby and Troy have only been improving their numbers.

Barringer said that there has been emphasis at the state level in the past five years that has helped with the focus on those programs locally.

“We’re realizing, as an educational world, that we need to turn out people in the vocational fields, as much as we need to turn out people who are going to go on to four-year colleges,” Barringer said.

Jacob Francom, superintendent of Troy Public Schools, talked about the role schools have as community rallying points.

“The school is kind of like the heartbeat of the community,” he said. Activities and community identity can be tied closely to local schools.

In preparing students for the workforce, Francom said everything the faculty does — whether preparing them for college or a trade — contributes toward that goal.

Even in making a community more welcoming to businesses, the schools have a role, he said. By seeking the infrastructure improvements they need for education — such as improvements to broadband service — the school can be a voice advocating for improvements that benefit the entire community.

“A lot of these kids, they want to stay here in Troy — there’s just not many jobs,” he said.

Some find a sort of compromise instead of moving away completely, either commuting hours to a job or spending months or weeks away from the home they love to work the job they need, he said.

“People do want to raise their families in a community like this,” Francom said.

Francom said Troy school faculty are also aware of how even the outward appearance of the school gorunds — let alone the performance of the students — not only reflect but impact the community’s sense of pride in who they are.

As Lincoln County works toward the next steps in the Growth Policy and Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy planning process, The Western News will run a series of articles exploring the challenges and opportunities that relate to economic growth and vitality. We will also look at some of the community organizations and government entities that play a role in the economic and social health of the community.

If you have suggestions for subjects you think should be brought into the discussion, please contact your editor, Ben Kibbey, at 406-334-0956 or bkibbey@thewesternnews.com.

More information about the Growth Policy and CEDS can be found at planlincolncounty.com.

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