The city and county school districts had merged thirty years earlier, laying the groundwork for the many education partnerships now in place in the greater Louisville area. Although these partnerships developed over time, several recent events helped solidify and expand them. In January 2003, Louisville merged with surrounding Jefferson County to become the nation's sixteenth-largest city. Anticipating the merger, local private foundations supported a comprehensive analysis of the region by The Brookings Institution ("Beyond Merger: A Competitive Vision for the Regional City of Louisville," 2002), a report that emphasized the need for improved educational attainment at all levels to keep the area competitive and vibrant. The city/county merger and the Brookings report also coincided with a state initiative called "Go Higher, Kentucky" that urged Kentuckians to advance their education, regardless of their present level, and focused heavily on adult education.
Recent U.S. Census figures show that only 22.2 percent of adults over age 25 in Louisville had a bachelor's degree in 2000, and only 81.3 percent had a high school diploma. Many people come to the metropolitan area from Appalachia, where education traditionally was not considered necessary for the types of work most common there. But as the city became a center for the logistics/distribution and healthcare industries (United Parcel Service and Humana are major local employers), employers had difficulty finding the skilled employees they needed.
Community partners agree they need to "create a culture that values education" and to make people more aware of the educational assets the city already possesses. Louisville is a "can-do kind of place," according to many who live there, and the community has embraced the need to expand adult education services. Community leaders know they can build on the many long-standing partnerships in the area, as well as on relationships of trust that have been built over time. In addition, many partnerships overlap, with the same people participating on multiple advisory boards and task forces, and this aids the flow of information and coordination of efforts.
In greater Louisville, more than 35,000 adults annually participate in adult education through a variety of programs: adult basic education, GED instruction, English literacy (EL), family literacy, welfare-to-work transition training, customized workforce training for local employers, and distance learning. In 2001-2002, 2,319 adults received their GED diplomas; more than 10,400 people participated in adult basic education; and more than 1,300 learners received EL instruction. EL students come from places as diverse as Argentina, Bosnia, Somalia, Korea, Iran, and the Russian Federation—some 77 different countries in all.
PARTNERSHIPS EXPAND SERVICES
Partnerships have allowed JCPSAE to make good use of limited resources and reach more adults in need of services. According to JCPSAE's 2002 report to the state, enrollment in adult education increased by 34 percent over 2001 figures. The report attributes this directly to the expansion of partnerships: "These partnerships helped stretch instructional dollars and reach additional numbers of adult learners" (Adult Education and Literacy Final Report 2002, p.4).
Figures also show that substantial percentages of learners achieved their goals. For example, 85 percent of those enrolling in adult education to earn a GED diploma did so, and 80 percent of those identifying postsecondary education or training as their goal successfully entered a program. This report shows that JCPSAE exceeded every performance goal set by the state for 2002.
Adult education takes place all around the city, but the downtown Ahrens Learning Center is a hub for many activities and services. The center is bright, quiet, and impeccably clean, with posters scattered around the offices and classrooms, including one that says, "Life is full of choices. Choose carefully." Quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, and Maya Angelou grace one wall, and on another, a large bulletin board labeled "Our Everyday Heroes" holds pictures of learners. Ahrens is also the home of the centralized intake office, where learners are assessed, directed to appropriate classes, and followed up if they miss their testing appointment or fail to appear in class. This makes it less likely that they will "get lost" as they go through the enrollment process.
A resource teacher at Ahrens helps teachers working with learners with learning disabilities. If teachers suspect learners have learning disabilities, they can refer them for assessment and help. The resource teacher then works with the teacher to devise an individual learning plan for the learner, drawing on his or her identified strengths to circumvent weaknesses.