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Education Minnesota connects with business

When I first became president of Education Minnesota nearly three years ago, one of my goals was to get us as educators to reach out to the business community to build relationships so that together we could help make the case for great public schools. That continues to be crucial to our efforts to ensure that every Minnesota student has the best opportunity possible for an excellent, world-class education.

This month we are putting our ideas into action. We have announced the creation of "Education Minnesota's K-12 Business Connection." It is an initiative that will give participants from the business community a first-hand view of what it takes to be a good educator. Participants will spend a day in the life of an educator. This is not a "red carpet" tour, but a real, roll-up-your-sleeves day where business people work side-by-side with students and educators in our classrooms, in our lunchrooms and on our buses.

The initial rollout will include 17 educator union locals from throughout the state participating with members of their business communities. We plan to expand the program to eventually include all of our 440 local unions throughout Minnesota and as many business communities as possible.

I have spoken about the business initiative informally to a number of local business groups in recent weeks and they have reacted positively to the idea.

It is vitally important for educators, along with business and community leaders, to work together, to understand each other and to help each other for the benefit of our students. That's why doing a little walking in each others' shoes is important and that is why I think the "K-12 Business Connection" will be an effective way to learn about each other.

We believe that by the time business and community leaders have spent a day with an educator, they will have a greater understanding of what the real-life, real-time issues are in our schools and campuses. I hope this initiative enables business and community leaders to see first-hand the challenges and the triumphs happening every day in schools and work sites across the state. At the same time, I hope the program will allow educators and students to become more engaged in business and civic organizations in their communities.

Art Rolnick, a senior vice president at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve and a strong advocate for early childhood education, described the dynamic relationship between business and education when he wrote recently in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

"Minnesotans need to remind themselves of the underlying strength of the state's economy, which is its diversity -- everything from natural resources to high tech to bio-tech and food processing -- as well as the state's commitment to quality infrastructure, most notably, education. It is no accident that Minnesota is home to so many Fortune 500 companies (19). They're not here for the weather. They're here because of the workforce, which is one of the most highly educated in the country, and because of the state's general commitment to public infrastructure, which is the backbone of an economy."

The "K-12 Business Connection" has the potential to really connect our business and civic partners with educators. Minnesota's students are our future business and civic leaders. We all have a stake in their future. By working together for the good of our students, business leaders and educators can reinforce Minnesota's commitment to education and make it even stronger. Our students and the state as a whole will benefit greatly from such a partnership.

Tom Dooher is president of Education Minnesota, the state's teacher union.