Polk County August 2022

Population
21,784

County Seat
Columbus

Median Income
$48,787

Population Density Designation
Rural

Our trip to Polk County began with a dinner at Tryon International Equestrian Center in the town of Mill Spring. The Equestrian Center is spread across 1,400 acres in Polk County. It contains arenas for equestrian events, horseback riding areas, event space, lodging, restaurants and more. The space ties into what Isothermal Community College (ICC) president Margaret Annunziata referred to as the “rich Polk County history of horse farms and horseback riding.”

We also traveled to ICC’s Polk Center in Columbus to meet with community members to discuss education, health care, housing and economic development.

Aaron Greene, the Superintendent of Polk County Schools, has been a member of the Polk County community for 28 years and in his role for more than six years. He came to the role of Superintendent after serving as the Principal for Polk County High School.

“I’ve stayed in this county because of the community that defines Polk County,” noted Greene in his opening remarks.

Polk County has enrolled more than 75% of eligible kids in pre-K education. Greene pointed out this number represents a significant success for the county. He went on to note, “We began our early childhood education work without stigma. Our families think of pre-K as another grade in this county.”

All of the assembled community members pointed out that the combination of Polk County Schools and ICC provides the county with real strengths as it relates to promoting the area – both to folks who might want to move there and to residents as they consider whether they can stay there to raise their children.

Don Hofmann, a member of the ICC Board of Trustees, joined the conversation as well. Hofmann pointed out that the schools can provide real opportunities for children to level the playing field.

“We are a tale of two counties. One is very affluent, and the other isn’t,” declared Hofmann. This inequality plays out in other challenges including access to childcare, mental health services and access to internet.

Josh Kennedy, the Director of Polk County Health & Human Services, pointed out the lack of childcare has led him to losing social workers because they could not find childcare for their children. This also plays out in the lack of affordable, quality housing according to Kennedy.

The residents of the county all agreed if these inequalities are to be addressed, it will come in part from collaborations, innovations such as utilizing Career and Technical Education students to build affordable houses for the community and the strength of ICC and Polk County Schools.

Meet Dr. Algie Gatewood

Dr. Algie Gatewood is only the fourth President to lead Alamance Community College (ACC) since it opened in 1958. During Dr. Gatewood’s tenure at ACC, the college won its largest ever bond referendum – nearly $40 million – in 2018 to fund a number of major capital projects and expansions. The college also secured $16 million in county funding in 2014 to build the Advanced Applied Technology Center. Other notable accomplishments include creating a Biotechnology Center of Excellence, introducing an Early College, facilitating an apprenticeship program, and introducing nearly two dozen new academic programs and articulation agreements with state universities.

U39702, 10/22