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A panel of 12 listen to proceedings concerning Chattanooga 2.0 Tuesday evening at Woodland Park Baptist Church.

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Chattanooga 2.0 panel discussion

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For more information about Chattanooga 2.0 visit www.chatt2.org

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Another community meeting will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. at Miles Straight Baptist Church in Soddy-Daisy.

As an entrepreneur, orthodontist and parent, Keith Dressler is familiar with all sides of the local education system.

Talking during a Chattanooga 2.0 panel discussion, hosted by the Hamilton County Commission on Tuesday night, Dressler said students here are not graduating high school prepared to join the workforce.

"I have to interview 10 people to get one," he said.

Dressler said soft skills and the desire to hold a job are both missing in applicants, and he has been forced to recruit from other cities to find qualified employees.

"Great jobs are here," he said. "We just need to figure out how we can educate people better to fill them."

The problems regarding education and workforce development, he said, are exactly what leaders of the Chattanooga 2.0 movement hope the community will work to solve.

More than a dozen elected officials and about 100 members of the community sat in Woodland Baptist Church's auditorium for Tueday's night's discussion, which covered a wide range of topics.

The 12-member panel took turns responding to comments and questions from the audience.

The lack of parental involvement in education, the diversity of problems facing different schools and communities, the need for more technology in the classroom and the lack of equity in education were just some of the topics covered during the more than two-hour event.

Tucker McClendon, a graduate of Ooltewah High School and a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said it's time Hamilton County decides to fix the education system, calling it the greatest investment the community can make.

"We were bold with the riverfront and the Internet," McClendon said, referring to the Gig City's high-speed Internet service and efforts to improve the Riverwalk. "But why haven't we been bold with education?"

Bill Kilbride, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, told the crowd about the challenges and opportunities presented in the Chattanooga 2.0 report, released in December.

The report outlines how students are not graduating high school prepared for college or careers, and how 83 percent of the jobs in Hamilton County paying a salary of at least $35,000 — considered a livable wage — require some sort of post-secondary certificate or degree.

Data shows 65 percent of graduates of public schools here fail to earn any education past high school, leaving them unqualified for these jobs.

But there's good news, Kilbride said. It is projected that 15,000 new employees will be needed in Hamilton County in the coming years, with 3,000 of these jobs arriving in the next year.

"Right now, Chattanooga 2.0 is about making sure that our students have the opportunity coming out of high school to get a job," he said.

Jared Bigham, director of Chattanooga 2.0, spoke on the economic and moral imperative ahead of the county to improve public education for every student.

"This is the line-in-the-sand moment where we say, 'We need to do something,'" he said.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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