Leaders stress business, parental involvement at education summit in Kent

More than 150 business, education and community leaders came together at Kent-Meridian High School Wednesday for the King County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's inaugural Business and Education Striving to the Top (B.E.S.T.) summit to try and fire up minority business communities to recognize that early childhood education is a form of economic development.

Kent Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas and State Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning Erin Jones pose for a photo after exchanging greetings at Kent-Meridian High School for the launch Feb. 10 of a business/education summit.

Kent Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas and State Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning Erin Jones pose for a photo after exchanging greetings at Kent-Meridian High School for the launch Feb. 10 of a business/education summit.

More than 150 business, education and community leaders came together at Kent-Meridian High School Wednesday for the King County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Business and Education Striving to the Top (B.E.S.T.) summit to try and fire up minority business communities to recognize that early childhood education is a form of economic development.

Speakers from around the state and region urged those in attendance to take a more active role in their community, through mentoring, internships and other connections businesses can make with schools.

“We can’t do it at the state office,” Erin Jones, assistant superintendent of student learning for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of Washington State, told those in attendance. “It has to be us in partnership with you.”

According to King County Hispanic Chamber President Michael Sotelo, the goal of the event was to educate the business community about best practices for increasing parental involvement to close the gap between the test scores of white students and minority students. That disparity is commonly referred to as the “achievement gap.”

Many of the speakers spoke of better involvement of the business community as a way to motivate and inspire minority students.

Speaker Tony Moore, a business owner and president of the Federal Way School Board, urged business leaders to become mentors and spoke about how teachers and mentors help fuel the “educational flame” in him and his children. He also spoke of the parental role in fostering a child’s education.

“It was up to us to make sure that flame would continue to grow,” he said.

Moore spoke about partnering with local schools and giving time, not just money, to help the education of others.

“You never know the effect that would have here,” he said, before turning back to the metaphor of the educational fire.

“Our community can enjoy light and heat from the flame of the next generation,” he said. “Or we can spend our time in darkness.”

Trise Moore, director of the Federal Way Community Partnership Office, told those in attendance of her program’s goal, which is to engage parents in education and their schools, and also of the Heritage Leadership Camp, in which 12 mentors from the minority community meet with middle-school-aged boys to discuss such topics as conflict resolution.

Trise Moore said it was important for parents to feel like partners in the educational process, so they take a greater role and do not “break the backs” of teachers and the district.

“Please make sure that means you are sincerely welcoming families,” she said, of the role educators and business leaders play in fostering parental ownership in their children’s education.

Keynote speaker and Kent Schools Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas also spoke about partnering with both the business and faith communities as a way to engage minority students. He spoke of the “80 percent factor”: that students are only in school for about 20 percent of the year and therefore the majority of learning is actually done outside of school.

“We’ve got to tap into that 80 percent,” he said. “Everybody has a stake in what happens in this community.”

Vargas also said the event was a “call to action” and asked those in attendance to get more involved in the school district to prepare students for “their future, not our past.”

“Education is everyone’s business,” he said. “We can’t do it alone.”

Along with the speeches, the event also served to honor three minority-owned businesses that take an active role in education with the inaugural B.E.S.T. Business in Education Awards.

This year, awards were given to Craig Dawson, president of Retail Lockbox, Rita Santillanes of Best Western Peppertree Inns of Washington and Jim Berrios, Kent School Board member and owner of the Golden Steer Steak ‘N Rib House.

In accepting his award, Berrios spoke of the importance of education for minority students, telling his own story about moving to the United States from Puerto Rico and it taking nearly seven years before he was comfortable with the language.

“I was becoming one of those statistics,” he said.

Berrios said he learned that it takes a team effort to make sure that all students have the potential to achieve.

“It’s time we start making that significant difference,” he said.

Afterward, Sotelo described the event as a success and added he was pleased with the turnout and the response. Federal Way, he said, has already contacted him about hosting an event in their district.

“What we’re getting on feedback is it was very positive,” he said, adding that the message that early childhood education is economic development was getting across.

Vargas agreed, and added that more the schools can harness the energy of the entire community, the better chance there is for students to achieve.

“When we do that,” he said “our student-success rates jump right up.”


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