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Executive Director’s Report: December 15

December 15th, 2013

It’s Fall Leadership Development Time
Each fall, we kick off leadership development activities for our students and teachers with the annual Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI) in D.C. in September and then look to our states to continue the leadership momentum with fall leadership conferences happening in nearly every state and territory during October and November. WLTI 2013 set new participation records with nearly 380 SkillsUSA students and teachers participating and each of them making visits with their elected representatives in Congress.

Several states are setting new records at their fall events as well and on November 13-15, I participated in a dynamic Ohio Fall Leadership Conference (FLC) in Columbus. If I could use one word to describe the experience it was “inspiring.” Whenever I spend time with state and regional student officers, great advisors and administrators and state association directors like Mike Cowles, it truly drives home the work we do. These kinds of SkillsUSA events always remind me why our work is so important to schools, communities and our nation, and it never fails to be inspirational when I see our mission in action.

As a part of my visit to Columbus, I was honored to be invited as the keynote speaker for approximately 80 CTE administrators from across Ohio at the Fall OTIESA Conference. My topic was “Building Better Lives — One at a Time.” I shared updated workforce development numbers and the latest poll data on our students nationwide. The administrators asked for the data and my presentation so they could use it for presentations in their local school divisions. I left behind the full presentation and supporting video to be posted with Web access for all of them to use. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) was also very well represented at both the OTIESA meeting and at the fall leadership conference, and it was great to spend time with our Ohio corporate member, Linda O’Conner, and several other ODE representatives.

Later on the morning of November 14, I was the opening ceremony keynote speaker for over 1,100 students at teachers at the fall leadership conference, held at the Hyatt Columbus. It’s always awesome to see that many students in red blazers in the audience! Following the opening, students and teachers rotated through a series of leadership workshops and presentations by student officers and outside experts. Following the student sessions, I presented a national update to approximately 100 advisors and provided them the latest on our strategic direction. SkillsUSA Ohio is doing a very nice job of aligning their vision and strategy with that of Vision 2020 and national strategic objectives.

On November 15, SkillsUSA Ohio had 121 regional officer candidates campaign for just over 40 regional leadership positions. There were hundreds of voting delegates from each Ohio region in place to hear campaign speeches and vote for their new leadership. The delegate sessions ended with election results and a full formal candlelight installation ceremony for the newly elected officers. Also, during the day, over 400 students participated in mock job interviews with 38 business professionals and military officers who volunteered to interview the students (modeled after our national TAG Tuesday event at NLSC). This entire event was an impressive display of student leadership and participation in the core leadership component of SkillsUSA. I want to commend state director, Mike Cowles, and his team from ODE for inspiring so many students to be actively involved.

My next stop was at the Central PA FLC in Gettysburg, Pa. On November 21, I accompanied 235 students and 60 advisors on visits to the state capitol and education department in Harrisburg. Some state officials and legislators attended the opening dinner, and I delivered the keynote address, reinforcing the importance of leadership and advocacy at all levels. Again, it was great to see our state and district leaders follow our national model (this advocacy event has been patterned after WLTI).

And, Ohio and Pennsylvania weren’t the only states reporting strong participation. We asked state associations how their fall leadership conferences are going, and, so far, we’ve received 25 responses. Many are seeing an increase in attendance. Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington postsecondary and West Virginia all report increases. Many have reported that participation is about the same — and a few have reported a decrease. Here are a couple highlights to note: Kathy Gillman from West Virginia reported that they held their first fall leadership conference in more than 15 years, and she said, “It was fabulous!,” and Andrew Sims from Mississippi saw a participation increase from 330 to 730 — a 127 percent increase.

Forum to Raise Awareness about the Need to Prepare Students
Kelly Horton traveled to the Rhode Island Fall Leadership Conference and then on to Massachusetts for their fall leadership event. While in Massachusetts, she participated in a forum on November 21 at the Norwood, Massachusetts campus of Universal Technical Institute. The purpose of the forum was to help raise awareness about the need for greater collaboration between industry and education in creating curricula that prepare students with the relevant skills needed to achieve employment. To view a PR Newswire article about the forum, go to: www.fox54.com/story/23996133/universal-technical-institute-norwood-campus-hosts-new-england-skills-gap-expo-solutions-through-stem.

Congressional Briefing on Perkins
On November 12, Eric Gearhart, director of Research and Foundation Relations at SkillsUSA, Kim Green, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) and Johan Uvin, deputy assistant secretary of education for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education participated in a Congressional briefing on the Carl D. Perkins Act. The hearing was hosted by the bipartisan Congressional Career Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, and provided information on Perkins and CTE. Policymakers, their staff and other relevant stakeholders attended, totaling about 50 people.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Uvin began the discussion by framing his remarks around a recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) which found that adults in the United States are lagging behind their peers internationally for literacy, numeracy, and problem solving. Uvin argued that CTE is one of the best ways to address this problem. He contended that improving the delivery system and ensuring consistent quality of CTE programs throughout the United States was an important task that the reauthorization process for Perkins must address.

Eric organized his remarks through the perspective of the students SkillsUSA, along with other Career Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs), serve on a daily basis. He pointed out that CTE is a great strategy for student engagement and “is essential to enfranchising students throughout the country.” He emphasized the mutually beneficial relationship between businesses and CTE programs and argued for tax incentives for the private sector to help encourage these connections.

Kim Green spoke about the history surrounding the Perkins Act, areas in current law that are being considered for improvement and other insights into the reauthorization process. She also highlighted NASDCTEc’s recent national report  on individual state CTE standards. Green linked the report’s findings to the overall discussion on how to leverage federal investments from the Perkins Act to continue promoting innovation and improving the quality of CTE programs throughout the country.

Staffing Changes at the National Office
Finally, there are some staffing changes at the national office. I am very pleased to report that, after releasing the job announcement for a new director of our Business Partnerships and Development (BPD) Office, SkillsUSA has hired Kelly Persons as our new BPD director. Kelly has an amazing background in fundraising, grant and foundation work. Her experience includes work with Habitat for Humanity, the AARP Foundation and the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation. Kelly will bring a dynamic new perspective to our staff and development efforts.

And, sadly, Eric Gearhart, director of Research and Foundation Relations at SkillsUSA will be leaving to explore some other career interests and opportunities on January 1. He will continue to manage a couple ongoing BPD projects for us on a consulting basis, so we will see Eric in our building from time to time, after the New Year, but not as a full-time staff member.

Other Highlights

  • Julie Kantor, chief partnership officer at STEMconnector, who attended the 2013 NLSC, has written many times since about SkillsUSA. She has written another article, published in the Huffington Post. See it here : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julie-kantor/teachers-its-time-to-make-it-real_b_4239780.html. I especially like the following quote from the article—”It’s so basic. When you make it real, applicable to real life, you touch the hearts and minds of America’s youth and young workforce. Make it hands on, and show young people the correlation to real life and they will learn way more and advance academically.”
  • On November 16-17, I was invited to visit Haskell Company in Jacksonville, Fla. and meet with Vice President Boyd Worsham (national technical committee chairman for carpentry) and others from the commercial construction industry, including Steve and Diane Greene and SkillsUSA Foundation member, Ed Prevatt, from NCCER. It was also a great time to socialize over dinner aboard the Haskell Company boat “Casamia” and cruise the St. John’s River and see a Jacksonville Jaguars football game from the Haskell Suite. Haskell was the designer and builder of this NFL stadium as well as several high-rise buildings that make up the Jacksonville skyline.
  • In preparation for the move to Louisville, Ky., Dave Worden reports that their department has met with some of local groups like the IBEW, the Carpenters Apprenticeships Training Council and the Teamsters about their potential support for the 2015 conference in Louisville; a warehouse has been secured in Louisville about five miles from the Expo Center; and, the Louisville contest floor locations mapping is approximately 75% complete.
  • The next WorldSkills Competition will be held in Sao Paulo, Brazil from August 11-16, 2015 and the first two members of WorldTeam have been chosen. They are Jacob Wozniak in Cabinetmaking from Springville, N.Y. and Michael Mullen in Auto Service Technology from San Luis Obispo, Calif.
  • Work continues on the www.SkillsUSA.org redesign. The website inventory process is now complete, and a preliminary site map is being reviewed. Wireframes (the skeletal framework of the website) will be ready soon. Usability testing is scheduled for Dec. 16-17 and Jan. 6.
  • We’re moving ahead quickly with the strategic communications audit that covers all print and electronic vehicles for our members. The research firm is reviewing many items to understand what we’re currently doing, including SkillsUSA’s mission statement, strategic plan, organizational structure, research reports, business plans for communications, membership data and, of course, samples of everything all our departments send out. Interviews with staff directors were conducted to review our communications/marketing structure and develop the research instrument used with local members. The end goal: timely, high-quality and valuable content that better aligns with student and advisor needs.

That’s all for now. Happy Holidays. Thanks for all you do for the great students and teachers we serve.


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