An Elgin-based education initiative is seeking to build more business and industry partnerships to train a future workforce better aligned to market demands.
Alignment Collaborative for Education -- or ACE, launched in 2015 -- is a partnership among Elgin Area School District U-46, Central Unit District 301, Elgin Community College, Judson University, the city of Elgin, the village of Hanover Park, Advocate Sherman Hospital, the Grand Victoria Foundation, United Way of Elgin, and other nonprofit, business and community groups.
Group leaders shared the fruits of their efforts in recent years with the U-46 school board this week.
Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain said the biggest challenge for businesses in the region is finding qualified and educated workers.
With a population of 112,000, Elgin is the state's eighth-largest city with "more jobs available than we have people to fill them," Kaptain said.
"That's a tragedy for us," he said. "People leave our community. The jobs are here. We need to put young people into those jobs."
Kaptain, a product of U-46, said he recently spoke to a group of students at Ellis Middle School in Elgin where he studied in 1962.
"I started to talk about opportunities for young people. ... I saw something in those faces that I hadn't seen in a long time -- that was hope," Kaptain said.
ACE's mission is to align diverse community resources in support of public schools to raise student achievement, improve the health and happiness of children, and advance the region's economic and social well-being.
The organization has developed a network of more than 70 business and community partners, including health care agencies, local governments, nonprofits and manufacturers to collaborate on new approaches and initiatives to help students improve.
Local businesses and governments help fund ACE, providing more than $450,000 in the last three years, including paying the executive director's salary. U-46 leaders will vote at the next school board meeting to grant another $75,000 to the group over the next three years.
Since July, more than 2,000 volunteer hours have been dedicated to its efforts, ACE Executive Director Nancy Coleman said.
The crowning achievement was its third annual curriculum and career expo in October at Elgin Community College. About 1,000 U-46 students and family members attended the fair, which featured more than 45 businesses and organizations showcasing more than 65 careers, Coleman said.
ACE's goals are focusing on early childhood education intervention, providing trauma-informed care, and supporting and expanding career and technical education opportunities.
Priorities include preparing more students to enter kindergarten and raising the number of third-graders performing at grade level in reading and math. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to provide a trauma-informed care approach for at-risk students at Larkin High School, Abbott Middle School, Highland and Harriett Gifford elementary schools, all in Elgin.
Leaders plan to reach out to communities more through mayors breakfasts, forums and communication "so that everyone understands what needs to be accomplished," Coleman said.
Businesses and organizations seeking to partner with ACE can visit align4edu.org.