The leaders of each of the area’s biggest public education institutions have varied stories about what drew them to careers in education, but all agree that schools and universities must evolve to keep up with rapidly evolving technology.

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, Piedmont Virginia Community College President Frank Friedman, Charlottesville City Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins and Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Pam Moran gathered Monday at UVA to discuss the future of education from preschool through college.

The panel, organized by the University of Virginia Student Government, answered questions prepared by the student government and during a Q&A with the crowd.

All four panelists said they want Charlottesville and Albemarle County to serve as a beacon for education systems around the country.

Public schools, community colleges and public universities must work in sync to develop curricula that respond quickly to a changing global job market, and reward skills and critical thinking, panelists said.

The university, Sullivan said, has a big stake in making sure both public K-12 and pre-K education is strong locally, as UVa is facing a spate of retiring faculty over the next decade.

“That is extremely important to us, because that is how you attract quality professors,” she said. “My vision is to make the whole community more education-focused.”

Atkins and Moran agreed that as the pace of technological advancement snowballs, schools are charged with producing people who can adapt to rapid changes quickly.

“My vision for Charlottesville is that we think beyond what the classroom looks like today, we think beyond the traditional delivery of instruction,” Atkins said.

Moran envisions a future where students have more say over how they are taught.

“What I hear from kids, is that when school turns them on in terms of their passions, the things that they love, they will keep coming back,” she said. “Even if they have to suffer through some compliance-based curriculum.”

PVCC will keep a sharp focus on workforce and professional credentials, Friedman said, in an attempt to give those without traditional degrees a shot at the middle class.

“When you look at our economy, at jobs, where we are going, if you don’t have some sort of post-secondary credential, you only have a 30 percent chance of living a middle-class life,” he said. “If you don’t go post-high-school with education, 70 percent of those people will never experience the middle class.”

That reality, he said, is one that often gets overlooked, but that PVCC hopes to overcome.

“It is not you, you are going to receive a world-class education, you are going to graduate, and you are going to be successful,” he said, referring to the crowd of mostly undergraduates. “What do we do about the others? My vision is overcoming that challenge.”