School plans, student make up and funding were just some of the topics at the Alexander City Chamber of Commerce’s State of Education Thursday.

The chamber hosted the event at Central Alabama Community College and community college president Dr. Susan Burrow, Alexander City Schools superintendent Dr. Keith Lankford and deputy superintendent Dr. Beverly Price spoke.

“I consider the community college system the Ellis Island of education,” Burrow said. “We take your weak; we take your tired; we take your weary; we take your rock stars. We will take you all.”

Burrow said while community college enrollment has been decreasing in the country, state and at CACC, there is an increase in credit hours taken by students. More part-time students are attending and dual enrollment is increasing at CACC while full-time student enrollment is going down.

“These are exciting times; these are challenging times,” Burrow said. “There are a lot of new opportunities but there are many challenges facing education today.”

While dual enrollment is up, Burrow said the college has workforce development programs for the students going into specific jobs that don’t require four-year degrees.

“There’s a group of students in high school that’s always going to go to a four-year university and always pursue medicine, legal, those professional careers, engineering and then you have students who are going to stop out of high school and not ever want to learn anything else and they’re going to have a very limited skill set,” Burrow said.

Community college needs to meet those students’ needs, according to Burrow.

“So for an economic model we have to think about where do we target our efforts? How are we going to get there and we have to be smarter,” Burrow said.

Russell Medical director of marketing Susan Foy manages the Gateway to Education Scholarship Program and Foundation for the chamber. She also serves on the Alabama Community College System Board of Directors.

“We have a seat at the big table with Susan Foy sitting on that board,” Burrow said. “That has a huge impact for our community.”

Burrow mentioned the Gateway Foundation, which is a program started by the chamber that will pay for 64 credit hours worth of qualifying students tuition.

The point of education is getting a job, according to Burrow.

“We have a lot of students who come here, take some academic courses, transfer out and they go to a university,” Burrow said. “That is workforce development. That is career development.”

Lankford described Alexander City Schools’ current education as average and he wants it to move toward great.

“I am above average,” Lankford said. “You want more than average; our students deserve more than average.”

Price said the school system is improving its education by bringing in professional development. The school system has 17 professional learning communities being brought in this semester, is starting the Alabama Reading Initiative and hired a technology integration specialist for teachers to understand technology.

“Just like Dr. Lankford said if you look at our scores at Benjamin Russell and you look at the state, we’re average,” Price said. “We’re right there at the state average. But we want to strive beyond being mediocre and being average so we have some things in place to move forward.”

The schools are also implementing a professional leadership academy for teachers and starting summer school for students who are behind reading levels. The school system is partnering with the Alexander City Housing Authority for a pre-K program and is emphasizing dual enrollment and career paths.

“We see the eyes of the child and we want to always be looking at how we can maximize their potential and get them in a pathway for success,” Lankford said.

Lankford also mentioned enrollment in out-of-district students is up to 101 students this year.

“This is what I am proud of, look at the enrollment trend from out of district,” Lankford said. “That says that we are doing something well and people are looking at that and wanting to come be a part of the Alexander City Schools.”

For capital projects, Lankford announced the school system began surveying Jim Pearson Elementary School this week and showed the renderings of the new high school to replace Benjamin Russell. Lankford said the city school system is discussing locations for the new school.

“We think it’s going to be an economic driver as well as those students that we were trying to steal from some of those other systems to make up a little bit,” Lankford said.