June 20, 2013 — Dr. Dustin Swanger
I am frequently perplexed by our region’s seemly unrelenting dedication to our past. I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve heard, “Gloversville used to be so busy. Johnstown was such a bustling city. Amsterdam was so crowded every Friday night.” We also talk about the leather mills, the carpet mills, the stores, etc. It is important to remember our past; it is more important to envision our future.
At a basic level we have to ask ourselves, “What type of society do we want to be?” Then we have to work to create it. If we want to be a thriving community, we need to embrace a vision of the future and dedicate ourselves to it. We need to make investments, take some risks, and truly work together.
In his book “The Rise of the Creative Class,” Richard Florida discusses at length several communities that let go of their past and think about the kind of city they would like to be. They recognized that the future of their economies was not in the factories of the past. The future is in modern high-tech companies with an educated workforce. The future is in embracing creativity and entrepreneurship. The future is in celebrating those who move forward – even if the idea fails. This type of future requires education, and FM is dedicated to providing education to our community.
If the above is true, we need to value education. Students must graduate from high school and continue their education. High school graduation rates of 55%, 65% or even 75% are not acceptable. We need to graduate 90% of our students. Students should then prepare for the future with some level of college education, at FM or elsewhere. How do we get there? It’s easy to blame the schools and colleges by stating that we are not doing our job, but that assertion is too simple.
This year, the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce awarded six scholarships to graduating seniors. There were approximately 85 applicants. Almost every one of these students who submitted an application demonstrated superior work, engagement in their school, and dedication to their community. Education had not failed them. They spoke of their teachers’ dedication to them as students and of their appreciation for the education they received. I think an important factor in their success was the expectation of their families that they would succeed.
Someone in each of these students’ lives set an expectation that they would attend school. They would study. They would complete their work. And, they would participate. In other words, they instilled a value of education as a key to the future. As a society, we need to dedicate ourselves to establishing that value throughout our community.
I have found in my career that students will achieve the expectations that we set for them, if we show them how. Perhaps, if we raise the bar, if schools and parents work together, and if we express a vision for our region that is clear and positive, our community will be creative and prosperous long into the future.
Dr. Swanger is President of FM.