December’s class day was another great HCLA day, focused on the topic of education in Hamilton County. This one is near and dear to me. As usual, I thought all of the guest speakers and conversations were excellent. Everyone was very engaging, but also very frank and honest, which I appreciate.

We met at the Hamilton Heights Student Activity Center in Arcadia. During the day, we heard from the executive directors of the educational foundations, learned about The Pursuit Institute, took a school bus (driven by the only superintendent in the county who has a license to do so) to the high school for a tour of their construction trade program, talked with school professionals on mental health, inclusion, and safety and met all six school superintendents.

It’s hard for me to pick a single highlight from the day, because I enjoyed all of the components so much, but I think it would be difficult to top our field trip to Hamilton Heights High School. I love listening to people share their passions, and the educators we heard from were clearly passionate about helping their students find a pathway in life. As someone who essentially drifted around and then fell backwards into a career path (that happens to suit me very well), I was extremely impressed with the way that everyone we heard from talked about encouraging their students to approach their careers with intentionality. We heard that “people make programs, not vice versa” and I completely agree with that statement. It seems like Hamilton Heights is in good shape for that reason.

Small group conversations focused on mental health, equity and inclusion, and school safety were also an amazing opportunity to hear from local experts in an open, honest conversation. Everyone was very willing to share challenges alongside successes, and it gave our group an opportunity to see what they see up close on a daily basis.

I was especially impressed with Dr. Nataki Pettigrew, the Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer for Hamilton Southeastern Schools. She shared with us her personal story of why she became involved in her work, and she talked about some of the difficulties that come with having your work publicly debated, or even described as destructive. I hope that reflecting on her courage to stand up for what she believes is right, even in the face of public opposition, will give me even a modicum of that courage to do the same thing.

At the end of the day, we talked about why it’s important for everyone to be invested in the education system, even if they don’t have children in schools themselves. Healthy schools are such an important part of any local ecosystem – not only do they produce future generations of workers, thinkers, citizens, etc, but they are a significant part of what makes a community able to attract growth. They can make or break a family’s decision to move to an area. 

As a newcomer to Hamilton County, I continue to be impressed with the way that HCLA dramatically accelerates my knowledge of the area. I’ve also observed that I’ve been able to grow my network significantly faster than I would have been had I not been able to participate in HCLA. This impacts my professional performance in a positive way, but it also makes me feel connected on a human being level as well.