When she took office in the fall, Prince George's County School Superintendent Iris T. Metts pledged to beef up business-education partnerships to help recruit teachers, increase technology training in schools and make the school system more efficient.
This month, she took the first step in that direction by announcing the formation of her Business Advisory Roundtable, a 40-member panel charged with helping her sift through the issues and connect the sometimes fractured educational and business communities.
Metts "earnestly believes the community needs to be involved in the school system," and being linked with the business community is a major part of that, said Susan Hubbard, head of business and community outreach for the school system. Having one group to advise her will help create "a concerted plan so that one entity is working with the school system" to meet its needs, Hubbard said.
Metts spent the last few months meeting with members of the business community who helped her develop her "vision statement," Hubbard said. The group will meet once a month or so to address each of Metts's outlined goals and will organize about five or six subcommittees, Hubbard said.
Metts's vision plan is made up of five points:
* Establish a countywide one-on-one reading mentoring program for kindergartners through fourth-graders.
This was one of Metts's first proposals, including recruiting 10,000 mentors to volunteer at 10 school sites throughout the county. Hubbard said some businesses have said they will let employees volunteer on company time.
* Set up business counseling services so that businesses will help the school system function more efficiently in its administration, management and business practices.
* Expand the school-to-careers program, known in the county as Career Connections, to all Prince George's schools. In her vision statement, Metts requested help from the business community in getting internships and exchange programs for teachers and students so they can learn about various industries.
* Establish a marketing and public relations campaign to improve the school system's image. This may include establishing a fund to pay for marketing or underwriting the cost of production and air time, Hubbard said.
* Establish a teacher recruitment program, which would include creating financial incentives to help train and retain certified teachers.
Hubbard said businesses are trying to contribute money or services to help the county school system increase teacher salaries. Businesses also are interested in offering discounted personal and car loans to teachers and are willing to help subsidize rent.
Joseph T. Puhalla, president of the quasi-public Workforce Services Corp. and co-chairman of the roundtable, said Metts is speaking a language that businesses understand. She is considering organizing the panel around industry groups so that each industry can better address the needs of the school system, and vice versa, he said.
Joseph J. James, president of the county's Economic Development Corp. and the other roundtable co-chairman, said the success of the business community rides on the success of the school system. "A quality education ranks as one of the highest economic development priorities" for companies, their work forces and their employees' families, he said.
CAPTION: Joseph J. James says businesses could benefit from supporting educational programs.
CAPTION: Superintendent Iris T. Metts has promoted business involvement in county schools.