Dr. Kenyatta Lovett is the executive director of Complete Tennessee.

Community engagement is key to affecting change in education. At the one-year anniversary of Complete Tennessee, we reflect on our mission, our work, and the progress our state and communities have made to increase postsecondary access and college graduation rates. We have traveled throughout the state and seen firsthand the benefits of communities coming together, actively engaging and investing in the future of Tennessee’s students.  

Nowhere are these benefits more apparent than in Chattanooga.

Hamilton County has started a movement through Chattanooga 2.0. A movement to provide children the resources they need from the earliest ages. A movement to increase equity and access to quality education. A movement to ensure all education in Chattanooga is quality education. A movement to prepare students and citizens for the workforce demands of local industry. But most importantly, a movement to collaborate—to bring schools, businesses, nonprofits, faith-based institutions, and community organizations to the table to think collectively and utilize resources to affect positive change and make a real impact on the lives of every child and family in Hamilton County.

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As we speak with leaders from other counties and districts across the state, we often hear of their struggles to find solutions to problems that seem so big. How can one person or one entity effectively tackle these issues?  

Our conversations often turn to Hamilton County. Chattanooga 2.0 has set up a blueprint of community engagement that can be used as a model for communities across the state. With community partners collaborating and invested in the same goals, the path to success is defined, and the strategies become clear.

Complete Tennessee recently brought a group of state legislative staff members and policy leaders to Chattanooga to share more about the work being done in Hamilton County to increase access to postsecondary education and technical training. We continue to see progress not only in the conversations around the table with Chattanooga 2.0 partners but also in the actions stemming from these talks. Efforts are becoming more and more deliberate, creating meaningful approaches and partnerships that lead to success.

On this trip, we met at the Brainerd Youth and Family Development Center, where we learned more about the Chattanooga Manufacturing Excellence Program (CMEP), a collaboration between the city, Southeast Tennessee Development District, and Chattanooga State Community College with funding from Volkswagen’s Neighborhood Talent Pipeline initiative.  

CMEP is taking their mission straight into the community at neighborhood centers where residents often frequent, delivering free industry credentialing and job placement services to residents who might have transportation challenges and therefore not otherwise be able to access such training.

This is an innovative solution to the educational access challenges so many communities in Tennessee— urban and rural— are trying to overcome.

Because of CMEP and the joint efforts of local government, community organizations, and the private sector, we are able to show policymakers from across the state different ways of exposing more Tennesseans to crucial workforce training.

Complete Tennessee will once again be bringing leaders from across the state back to Chattanooga in January of 2018 through our Leadership Institute to show off more of what Chattanooga 2.0 and Hamilton County are doing, as we discuss ways to replicate these efforts and successes in other communities around the state.  

Chattanooga 2.0 is really on to something. Continue collaborating, continue being innovative, and continue your efforts to make Chattanooga the smartest community in the South.

Dr. Kenyatta Lovett is the former Tennessee Board of Regents assistant vice chancellor and current executive director of Complete Tennessee. The opinions expressed in this op-ed belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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