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Keep talking about higher ed; they’re listening!

Business managers and owners tend to keep a low profile in the debate over public education. During the conversations in and outside of the Statehouse last year about the Department of Education’s reform plan, voices from businesses were drowned out by other stakeholders.

There are, of course, exceptions. One is the Boise-based Idaho Business Coalition for Education Excellence, which supported the Department of Education’s plan, Students Come First, last year. IBCEE hasn’t said much on that issue since last year’s session. It’s working now on ways to make college more accessible to Idahoans.

Another exception is the College of Western Idaho, which has received a huge amount of support from local and statewide business interests.

And still another is the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, where a campaign encouraging students to go on to college is a high priority.

But in general, local business leaders tend not to weigh in much on education policy. Instead, they speak with their dollars, donating thousands and sometimes millions to local education. They also donate their time.

When I heard the Idaho Stampede basketball players would be visiting a class at Boise’s Whittier Elementary School, I invited myself along. I like visiting Whittier, where students from very different backgrounds sit side by side in the classroom and shoot hoops together on the playground. Whittier’s students, many of them refugees, come from 13 foreign countries and speak a multitude of foreign languages. Whittier has many low-income students; some of the kids ride the school bus to and from homeless shelters.

The Stampede is a small, locally owned year-round business with four full-time employees and a roster of 10 to 13 players. Its players come from all over the country. The Stampede has a strong stake in introducing itself to the community and its future ticket-holders.

This week, it was the turn of point guard David Bailey and Assistant Coach DeSean Hadley, who played for the team last year. The two stopped in to a crowded portable building occupied by Michaline Bruyninckx’s sixth-grade class.

David and DeSean showed up ready to deliver a message about the importance of education. David, who has a degree from Loyola University in Chicago, was the first in his family to go to college. DeSean went around the room asking all the kids what books they were reading.

As it turns out, most of the students could tell DeSean what their favorite books were. The kids, too, had plenty of questions for the basketball players: About the most expensive shoes they’ve ever bought (not very) and their shoe size; and about how tall the players were in sixth grade. They asked the two which NBA players they liked best. They had a few queries about dunking, and they asked David, who is 5’8”, how he can compete.

The good-natured David said he’s always the fastest guy on the court.

“A lot of people always said I was too small to do this, too small to do that,” he said. “I never thought I was too small. I can play with the best of the big guys and feel comfortable out there.”

The kids asked about the glamour of professional basketball – the $35,000 watches, the meetings with famous NBA players. In return, they heard about hours and hours of practice, constant travel (with occasional sightings of the NBA deities) and low pay. Stampede players only earn between $17,000 and $25,000 for the season.

Many of the sixth graders pressed the players about college scholarships – academic and athletic. They asked if college is necessary for a basketball career (yes, said the pros – not because the teams require it, but because you’ll need it when you stop playing basketball).

David noted to the students that they had to get good grades to obtain and keep a scholarship.

The students clearly know that college – or some form of education after high school – is important. It’s equally clear they’ve gotten the message that most of them won’t be able to pay for it without help. Easing their way is the next big task for educators and their private-sector supporters.

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.


  1. Bill sure sounds like a fella I know from a ways back. Went to CofI I think way back in the 80s. Loved to say “Bozos” more then anybody I ever knew. Would have “Nary” a problem with life… Is that you, Bill?

  2. Gee, I don’t who validates my points more…the ever erudite ‘Venture Idaho’ and his anal penchant for good grammar, or Thurston Howell (errrr Wilson Stockbridge) the Third (did you take that “3-hour tour” on the Minnow, Wilson?).

    You guys and the legislative rural bozos, who’ve screwed up Idaho, deserve eachother.

  3. Wilson Stockbridge III

    Having just returned from Bermuda and other warm environs, I was most excited to find snow on the Boise hills, and am very much looking forward to what remains of a ski season here in our lovely Treasure Valley. Wasn’t able to read the IBR much in my absence, but did manage to catch this column today, and it struck me, yet again, how very nice people in Idaho tend to be. Believe I have mentioned in earlier posts that I hail from many years in the S.F. Bay Area, and the differences are striking. Not that there aren’t some very nice people indeed in SF–there just aren’t very many of them. Learning about the IBCEE and the time these (no doubt) busy folks spend on this worthwhile cause is further evidence of the healthy culture that permeates life here in Idaho. One is simply not left with the impression (as one might be in other locales) that these people are engaged in IBCEE to line their own pockets, or to further their own social standing. From what I have seen from my involvement in similar organizations, they simply do it because they enjoy it and it is the right thing to do. One little aside– “Bill” above mentions a ‘white shoe institutional framework” which he believes exists here in Boise. There is only one real white shoe culture in the U.S., and it resides squarely on the eastern seaboard; elsewhere (say, SF) one finds only a local gentry ever attempting to recreate their own equivalent strata, constantly constrained by their own fears of inadequacy and ever distracted by fighting off the new moneyed social climbers who would join or displace them. All in all it makes for a rather nasty social scene; nice does not enter into it. Having spent many years in this SF Bay Area milieu, it is refreshing to live in Boise, where this social striving in very nearly absent, usually revealing itself only in a few unsecure souls, who are in my experience to be pitied, rather than loathed. I’m off to the mountain. Keep up the good fight! And, “Bill”, please don’t’ fear the white shoe set in our Boise–you can get by with brown loafers just fine.


  4. I agree its nice to see these basketball players and coaches taking the time to visit schools and talk to the students about the importance of learning. I tend to agree with Bill, thought, and these IBCEE people sound like they just meet and have lunch and have all sorts of big ideas about how things should be, but they don’t have any idea how to get anything done. Maybe I’m wrong, but I read the papers everyday and I’ve never heard of them doing ANYTHING. Their time would be better spent volunteering in schools and teaching some special classes about how to succeed in life. They have somehow figured it out–why don’t they just share what they know with the kids. Time for another strong black coffee and a “deep” read of the Statesman (don’t you worry, I’ve already read your IBR!)

  5. I like your story since its nice to see these boys giving back their time to their community. Those kids need help it sounds like. I needed help too though when I was a kid and I didn’t get it. Nobody was there to say it was ok when my dad left. Well, some teachers helped some. And I turned out alright I guess. I dont know what Bill and whoever Venture Idaho is are talking about. I like nice people. Bill seems like a know it all and the other one sounds like a blowhard know it all. Your story is just about our busness folks and other people taking an interest in our kids schools and how they get taught. It’s good that these people take the time to do this. Giving back matters. I used to volunter at the school library til they asked me to quit because of the smoking. That’s ok. I hope we keep doing better for our kids.

  6. Interesting article. It is heartening to hear that this class of sixth graders (many of them poor, or new to our country and culture) are both reading for pleasure, and able to engage in a meaningful discussion with this pair of athletes. No doubt many of these students learned valuable lessons from this brief visit.

    Reacting to Mr. “Bill’s” post from earlier today, I would say that aside from missing the point of the article, he has managed to get his argument backwards. If he knew the men and women on the IBCEE’s committees (or had even bothered to do a little research on them) he would know they are not folks who are intimidated by much of anyone or anything, including what he terms “Idaho’s primitive political climate.” Indeed, a good many of them are Idahoans whose families have done their fair share of mudwrestling pigs (just for fun, of course), branding cattle, or herding sheep; as for the others–call them the “transplants”–they may indeed be “accomplished urban individuals” who have never seen a red hot branding iron. But these transplants are also likely to associate with folks, and serve business clients and constituencies, who themselves could be described as, or closely linked to, “rural bozos.” Why, you might ask? Because that’s where Idaho’s wealth and heritage is to be found. Follow the money.

    Anyway, here’s where Bill has it backwards: The takeaway is not that the IBCEE folks (or other “good-government do gooders”) don’t understand or are intimidated by mixing it up with the rural classes (bozos and otherwise); it’s precisely that they do understand and interact with these rural interests constantly–but the two just don’t agree at all on what Idaho’s priorities should be when it comes to education. You can call them rural bozos all you want, but they have money (at least as a group), they vote, and they don’t believe they need to spend their hard-earned dollars on college degrees for namby-pamby urbanites. The battles continue.

    Keep up the good work Ms. Allen and IBR.

    Oh, as a post script, I do wish dear Bill had paid a bit more attention in his English classes; even wrong-headed arguments deserve proper punctuation and sentence structures! Ah well, I suppose we all make mistakes….

  7. I was originally encouraged by the creation of the IBCEE years back, since then I have come to believe they’ve been intimidated by Idaho’s primitive political climate. The general problem is a basic ‘perceptual disconnect’ between accomplished urban individuals who are used to working within a ‘whiteshoe’ institutional framework, and Idaho politicos who know how to, and are comfortable mudwrestling pigs. In other words, it’s the complete lack of an “Idaho establishment” that understands at a gut level, they’re going to have to ruthlessly mix-it-up with a bunch of rural bozos.

    Until there’s a significant economic event that provides breathtakingly obvious consequences to politics as usual, don’t expect much from any Idaho good-government do-gooders.