The Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance hosted its annual education summit, where business leaders, state education officials, educators and Cherokee Nation leaders gathered to discuss solutions to bringing Oklahoma students successfully into the workforce.

PRYOR — Leaders from across northeast Oklahoma gathered at the MidAmerica Industrial Park Expo Center Wednesday to discuss solutions to bringing Oklahoma students successfully into the workforce.

The Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance hosted its annual education summit, where business leaders, state education officials, educators and Cherokee Nation leaders gathered to share success stories about creating paths for prosperity and to brainstorm on ideas on how to improve Oklahoma education.

Commerce Public Schools Superintendent Jimmy Haynes was one of those leaders at the summit. He said it was important for local school districts to be engaged in the discussion about how best to serve Oklahoma students for the economic well-being of the state.

"The summit was well worth my time, as I received a lot of great ideas on different programs and success stories from other school districts in Oklahoma," Haynes said. "With the climate of Oklahoma education funding, it is important for all stakeholders — educators, business leaders and government officials to think outside of the box to improve our results for the future of the state."

Since 2009, Oklahoma lawmakers have slashed budgets for common education, career and technical education, and higher education. Leaders in business and education said the current path is not sustainable for Oklahoma to keep up with the job demands.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister spoke about how public schools are laying the foundation for economic prosperity in Oklahoma.

"Many school districts in Oklahoma have recognized the need for starting education initiatives for future growth in the state, even with the budget troubles within Oklahoma," Hofmeister said. "The future is in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and multiple school districts have recognized that need, and through the support of communities, they've been able to step up the game."

Dr. Marcie Mack, the state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, also attended Wednesday's meeting in Pryor, discussing how STEM initiatives within the state's technical schools and partnerships with local business and industry are paying off.

"We get the opportunity in career technology education to have partnerships in all different levels," Mack said. "The core to our partnerships — when we look at educational attainment, any educational program that we have — is business and industry. If we're going to put a program in at any of our locations, we must train those individuals to go on to secondary education, or into the workforce. If we don't, we've done a disservice not only for that student, but also for the future workforce of Oklahoma."

The same can be said at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. Dr. Rob Cambiano, assistant professor for education and assistant to the president at NSU, said research shows 84 percent of Oklahoma students who receive a bachelor's degree at state colleges and universities stay in Oklahoma.

"Oklahoma's public higher education system generates more than $9.2 billion in economic impact and supports over 85,000 jobs," Cambiano said. "For every dollar of state appropriations invested in higher education, $4.72 is returned to Oklahoma. We have to continue that trend, and universities like NSU are working with businesses in the state to make sure we are meeting the needs for the success of the state."

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin, Jr., also spoke about the steps the tribe has taken to make sure those who are not able to attend traditional education aren't left behind. The Cherokee Nation supports Talking Leaves Job Corps center in Tahlequah, where guidance is given to help those individuals find the right job for their skill set.

"The Cherokee Nation has a focus on this because we want to be able to help those within our region succeed," Hoskin said. "Across the state of Oklahoma tribal enterprises have gained much ground through our hospitality industries and medical care. We've encountered many students, who, through support, realized there are several opportunities with hospitality, tourism and medical care. We are filling these needs in Oklahoma, and through the job corps program, many students go on to career technology centers and higher education. The Cherokee Nation wants to make sure no one is left behind."

Haynes said he will take the ideas learned at the summit back to Ottawa County schools to help them be successful.

"Our product in education is that we are in the supply-chain, if you will, for local businesses and industry," Haynes said. "I feel like education is economic development because our businesses look at the education level of our local school districts to make sure we are meeting the needs for the future. In today's climate in Oklahoma, it's going to take partnerships with business and industry."

The Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to the growth, prosperity, and vitality of northeast Oklahoma and its communities, by promoting regionalism throughout the area; leveraging regional resources; recognizing common issues and identifying collaborative solutions; expanding regional networks; and communicating the regional story.

Tuesday's education summit covered 14 counties in northeast Oklahoma, and was sponsored by the Pryor Area Chamber of Commerce and MidAmerica Industrial Park.

Nathan Thompson is an education, business and state government reporter for GateHouse Media. He is based at the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, a sister publication of the Miami News-Record. Thompson can be contacted at nthompson@examiner-enterprise.com or via phone at (918) 335-8248.