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For all the talk about Joe the Plumber in the last few weeks, it was the commentary of another Joe—Joe the Governor—that impressed me. As Governor Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and I talked over lunch on Thursday, he made one thing clear – he needs the education leaders and teachers in his state to take their efforts to a new level, to educate more citizens at higher levels than ever before. Even more impressive, was the fact that he got up after lunch and issued the same challenge to a room full of college presidents, faculty, and staff. “I hate to put this pressure on you,” he said, “but let me say it straight: you hold the future of this state in your hands. I can bring the best companies in the world in, but if we can’t produce a world-class work force, there is no way we can compete. Tax breaks and give aways aren’t what it’s about anymore. These folks want an educated, motivated, and ready workforce. Whatever we need to do to change and help more of our children and adults be successful, let’s get to it. I’ll support you in any way I can. But you have to be willing to try new things, to step up to this challenge. I’m talking about flexible schedules that aren’t tied to an agrarian calendar—six-week, six-month, nine-month training programs, different kinds of credentials, and new technologies. Everything needs to be on the table.” This Joe said it as plainly as he could—for West Virginia to continue its positive growth, the education system needs to transform. Coal and natural gas resources will not be enough to ensure a positive future. My job was to follow Joe the Governor and catalyze the conversation on what’s possible in education transformation. But he was a hard act to follow. However, his closing statement provided the needed impetus to drive our dialogue. Pointing at the audience, he said, “I have more faith in you than you do. I know we can do this. We must do this. Let’s all do this for West Virginia.” While Joe the Plumber’s getting some major media right now—and probably a book deal as a result—I liked Joe the Governor’s message better. He’s the kind of Joe we should be listening to!
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