June 25, 2008

Dear Neighbors –

30 years ago, I graduated from Washington State University with a degree in architecture and no relevant work experience. My resume of part time college jobs made me well qualified as a movie projectionist, mail room clerk, audio-visual technician or teaching assistant. I really enjoyed my undergraduate years living in Pullman, but the job opportunities in the field of architecture were limited. With the founding of the WSU branch campus in Spokane, today’s students have opportunities to blend work experience and theory in a way that strengthens both the academic and the business communities.

My partners at Madsen Mitchell Evenson & Conrad and I are committed to providing internship opportunities for WSU students in architecture and interior design. We have benefited from the students’ enthusiasm, energy and technology savvy, and in turn we strive to provide interesting work experience and insights into classic common sense principles of practice. We look for interns with creative problem solving skills, graphic design aptitude, a willingness to pitch in where needed, and the ability to write clearly.

Take note – the last two characteristics are more relevant to K-12 schools than to graduate school. Every business in the state is looking for employees with good basic skills in reading and writing. Small businesses don’t have the time and resources to run remedial English classes for new hires. We need a system that provides accountability, and the WASL is filling that niche for now. After talking with teachers, administrators, parents and school board members, it is clear that the WASL needs change but we do need a testing system that expects our students to perform to high standards. We need to improve on the efficiency (primarily in the cost and time to administer) and effectiveness (teachers have cited the length and the lack of useful individual feedback as issues), but now is not the time to discard what has been learned and start from zero.

Small business is dependent on the quality of the public education system for the quality of employees. In turn, small local businesses support our local schools by sponsoring academic excellence programs, clubs and organizations, music and sports events, and drama productions. Small businesses often provide those first entry level jobs where kids learn the importance of showing up on time and a willingness to pitch in, traits that should be reinforced in our schools. As a business owner, I am proud to support our local schools so they can support our local businesses.