Greater Pee Dee Business Journal February 2011 : Page 19

dr. cLeo richardson we have to have a strong educational system and we are fighting to do all we can to make a brighter future for our community.” Richardson serves on the Lee County Economic Development Board and also the Santee-Lynches Workforce Board. “Businesses, more and more, are looking for life-long learn-ers. 35 percent of jobs that will exist worldwide in the next 5 years don’t exist yet,” he says. “It’s not just about whether an individual can read or do math. It goes beyond that now. They have to be critical and analyti-cal thinkers, whether they are going into the work force or into the military.” Richardson says it falls to the schools to instill a certain amount of responsibility in the students and make them good citizens. “We are building educated individuals of good character because they eventually will be our partners in the commu-nity. My goal is to create well educated 21st century citizens,” he says. For example, he says, I don’t want a student to just go on to be an excellent welder, but to eventually own their own welding company. Despite challenges, Lee County is seeing approximately 10 percent improvement on their district report card every year. In 2007 the school system was at a staggering 50 percent. He credits the success of his school district to dedicated teachers, educational partner-ships, and mentorship programs. “Save the Children,” a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children in poverty has an after school program at the school. Coca-Cola has set up educational incentives in some of the district schools and Wal-Mart and Columbia Urban League joined forces to provide leadership training for middle school students. February 2011 Area businesses are also getting involved in the lives of students. “Many of our local business people have stepped into become mentors to students,” says Richardson. “The single most powerful thing community members can do is to give their time to these students. They can come and listen to a child read or be a mentor. They can make a difference by just spending time with a child.” Technology has been the biggest stum-bling block in the classroom in his district. Poor schools mean little money for new technology such as laptops or smart boards for teachers. Four teachers in the district recently received smart boards thanks to a grant reward. If you have a good teacher with good knowledge and a smart board, you can bring the world into the classroom, Richardson says. “It’s hard for these kids to dream when they don’t have an idea of what can happen.” “We have 2,500 kids, and regardless of what the legislature decides about funding or class size, we have to educate them. We can’t afford to fail.” GPD BJ Greater pee Dee business journal | 19

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