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Updated: June 17, 2019 Newsmakers

Achieve Hartford! executive director talks education, workforce development

Paul Holzer

When Paul Holzer moved from a middle-class school district to a wealthy one in high school, he was struck by how closely linked achievement appeared to be with opportunity, and the power teachers have in fostering growth.

Now-a-days, Holzer is executive director of Achieve Hartford!, a nonprofit group of private-sector business, philanthropic and higher-education leaders focused on closing the achievement gap for Hartford students in high school and college.

A small operation with four full-time staffers and about $600,000 in annual revenues, Achieve Hartford! aims to have a voice in Hartford’s education policy and programs.

What unique challenges do you see in the workforce pipeline from Hartford’s public schools?

The biggest challenge is the lack of academic preparation that plagues the local workforce pipeline coming out of the schools and heading into local post-secondary education and training.

Because of opportunity gaps related to poverty, students arrive in kindergarten already far behind their peers statewide and globally, and Hartford as an entire community has not figured out how to help kids catch up academically, despite robust investments in education.

The second biggest challenge, we believe, relates more to resource coordination than resource development — meaning that if public and private investments in youth could become more aligned, we could see more return in the form of more students achieving.

What are the most promising developments you’ve seen in workforce development from Hartford’s high schools?

The National Academy Foundation (NAF) model that is thriving in three local high schools is very promising because it invites private-sector leadership into the school in the form of a privately funded staff person in charge of getting students ready for and participating in work-based learning experiences.

It also includes an industry advisory board full of committed companies willing to provide those work-based learning experiences and cultivate a local talent pipeline.

Achieve Hartford! focuses on local education issues. Why should the business community be interested in this topic?

The business community in particular must see beyond the tax incentives in evaluating long-term reasons for doing business in Connecticut.

They must see the potential in our urban cities to produce a viable talent pool for their company in five, 10 and 15 years, when the Baby Boomers are all retired.

In addition, people want to live in a metropolitan region because of the condition of the city in the center, not despite of it, and without a local talent pool, Hartford will still be stuck recruiting a lot of its talent from out of state and selling itself as halfway between New York and Boston.

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