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Last stop on the State Conference “Mega Tour”

June 1st, 2012

Pensacola, Florida, April 28 – May 2, was the final stop on my State Leadership Conference Mega Tour. State association director Tyler Kercher and his team managed a phenomenal conference, in fact, the largest conference in Florida history. Other state associations have been experiencing their largest conferences ever, too. Membership numbers and conference attendance seem to rise together.

When I spoke to the VIP reception, I added the word “community” to our SkillsUSA core statement as a partnership of students, teachers and industry because it seemed the entire community of Pensacola stepped up to support Tyler and SkillsUSA Florida. The anchor sponsor of the conference was Pensacola State College and a veritable Who’s Who of Northwest Florida provided support. The vast majority of Championships competitions were held at the Pensacola Civic Center. It was also the venue for the Opening and Awards Ceremonies. There were approximately 2,200 competitors and 3,000 SkillsUSA attendees. Surrounding the Championships was an impressive Career Expo called “The World of Possibilities,” and over 3,000 middle school students toured the competitions and participated in the Expo. The downtown streets of Pensacola were closed down for a big block party following the Championships.

Visiting dignitaries included the Mayor of Pensacola, State Senator Greg Evers, the president of Gulf Power and officials from the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development officials. I met with Loretta Costin, vice chancellor, Division of Workforce Education. I had lunch with SkillsUSA Corporate Member Eric Owens, interim director, Career and Technical Department of Education. And, to top off my experience, I was thrilled that SkillsUSA’s 1993-94 national college/postsecondary division president – now state congressman – Jimmy Patronis attended the conference. Representative Patronis shared his SkillsUSA (VICA) story with the voting delegates.

While there, I also delivered a presentation on the Skill Connect Assessments to over 120 teachers and administrators, and I saw the Blue Angels fly over Pensacola Beach. Awesome! Big congratulations to Tyler Kercher and his team for completing his first state conference and thanks to the city of Pensacola for its wonderful support.

Tennessee was the Next Stop on the State Conference “Mega Tour”

May 15th, 2012

I attended a wonderful Tennessee state conference that filled the downtown Chattanooga Convention Center and several satellite sites, April 23-25. The high school and college/postsecondary associations run parallel conferences in the same facility, but hold separate opening banquets and awards ceremonies. On Monday evening, Carol Myers, SkillsUSA Tennessee high school association state director, and corporate member, Sue Tucker, managed a banquet for nearly 1,400 high school participants. The state officer team did a great job running the show. Carl Creasman, college/postsecondary state association director and his officer team hosted an opening banquet the following evening for nearly 500 participants. Board member James King, and national officer, Jeremy Ballentine, were both key parts of the ceremonies. James King certainly had everyone’s attention when he presented a brand new car to the outstanding student of the year.

I keynoted both banquets. Also speaking was Bill Prince, a native of Tennessee, a former national staff member and special advisor to President Reagan. Bill spoke about his participation at the founding of VICA in Nashville in 1965 and the founding of the postsecondary division in 1969. He was truly inspirational. It was also great to hear Danielle Mezera, the new assistant commissioner for CTE, speak at the high school division banquet. I had dinner with her and then toured the Championships floor – a mini national Championships in an exhibit hall – with her the following day. She promised to come to NLSC.

It was great to see Chip Harris at the conference. He is recovering well and promises to be at NLSC to chair the national Quiz Bowl contest. And, a giant thank you goes to Carol Myers and Carl Creasman for the excellent job at this year’s conference.

I also visited Columbus, Ohio for SkillsUSA Ohio’s 60th anniversary state conference. Mike Cowles said it was Ohio’s largest conference ever with 5,000 attending – including 2,200 competitors – and the event takes up the entire Ohio State Fair Grounds. I had lunch and great conversation with Steve Gratz, Ohio state CTE director, and met with Stan Heffner, state superintendent of education. Stan said the SkillsUSA Ohio conference is the “number one event on his calendar every year.”

Ohio had 50 state officer candidates and a huge delegate assembly. The election process was exciting and very intense. Ohio also had a run-off for several national officer candidates. Being elected as a state officer in Ohio is a very prestigious position and one that garners a lot of attention. The current state and national officers on the Ohio stage did a magnificent job of running the show. A big thank you goes out to State Association Director, Mike Cowles, and his management team for their leadership and for such a high quality event.

State Conference “Mega Tour” Visits Kentucky and Idaho

May 1st, 2012

On April 3-5, I was in Louisville for the SkillsUSA Kentucky State Leadership Conference and Skills Championships held at the Galt House Hotel, the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenter Joint Apprenticeship Training Center, two local community/technical colleges and a high school. There were 88 leadership and skills contests and lots of industry support. There were prizes for all medalists in all contests both high school and college/postsecondary. That’s a rare occurrence, and I know it required considerable work, not only to secure the prizes but organizing them as well. A highlight of the conference was the presentation of scholarships from the Steve Phillippi Scholarship Fund with checks presented by none other than  …  Steve Phillippi, recently retired Kentucky state association director. Congratulations go to Fran Dundon, interim state association director, for holding such a successful conference.

My next stop on the mega tour was in Boise, Idaho on April 11-13. First stop was a trip to Dennis Professional Technical Education Center with Dr. Irene Vogel, state association director. Dennis is a high school tech center and has 100 percent SkillsUSA membership. The school is full of SkillsUSA banners, posters and student recognition. There’s even a wall of fame for national winners, and many of our national partners have their logos displayed as well including Lowe’s, State Farm and Caterpillar. If there’s a “Disneyland of SkillsUSA,” I believe Dennis Tech is in the running.

I spoke during the opening ceremony early on April 12 and then met with the advisors immediately following the ceremony. I also spent time with Ann Stephens, the current state CTE director and with Todd Schwarz, the incoming state CTE director, effective June 1. I’m hoping Todd can be with us for the national conference in Kansas City. I also got to meet with the SkillsUSA Idaho board of directors and former SkillsUSA national board president, Dr. Don Eshelby. Contests were held in 17 different locations.

Big State Conferences in the Southwest

April 15th, 2012

Following the board meeting, I was off to Corpus Christi on March 22-24 for an outstanding Texas high school division conference. There were 5,600 registrants and 6,000 attending overall. The event filled the entire Corpus Christi Convention Center and several contests were held at the Craft Training Center. The Texas conference had some special features such as a competition for projects – in categories such as furniture or outdoor grills – built back at the school and then taken to conference to be judged and awarded ribbons. There were 2,000 projects and there were 1,000 contestants in the Technical Information Contest which used the Skill Connect Assessments. Texas also held exploratory competitions for middle school students.

It was great to spend time with John Ellis, statewide CTE coordinator at the Texas Education Agency and Tom Pauken, chairman of the Texas Work Force Commission. Both were tremendously impressed by the conference. It was also great to see Larry Rabalais, state director of SkillsUSA Louisiana. Congratulations go to high school state director, Janet Conner, and husband, Pat, for running an outstanding conference.

On March 27-28, I was in Phoenix for the 45thannual SkillsUSA Arizona Championships which took up the majority of the floor space of the Phoenix Convention Center. There were more than 2,000 participating and over 60 contests. One of the most outstanding features of the conference was how professional everything looked with eye-catching banners and signs. The Arizona Skills Standards Commission and the Arizona Stakeholders Committee held a joint meeting in conjunction with the conference. Commissioners did a “walkabout” of the Championships.

I had the pleasure of visiting long-time SkillsUSA friend, Carolyn Warner, co-chair of the Skill Standards Commission and spending the afternoon meeting with John Huppenthal, co-chair of the Arizona Skills Standards Commission and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Arizona Department of Education. It was also great to see long-time friend Mark Hamilton, deputy associate superintendent of CTE (and a former SkillsUSA state director) and Dennis Fiscus, team leader for the student organizations in the state department. Congratulations go to Arizona state director, Carrie Wolf.


March 31st, 2012
  • We can hit the membership gong! We have surpassed last year’s membership total. As of yesterday, membership is 302,720. That’s 1,337 ahead of last year and some memberships are still coming into the office. Twenty-six state associations have now exceeded last year’s totals. The most recent is Wisconsin Postsecondary Division, Dale Drees, state association director.
  • The Louisiana Community and Technical College System (CTCS) has appointed a state association director, Jawan Ross, and is moving forward to reinstitute the SkillsUSA Louisiana College/Postsecondary Association. The association has been dormant for a year. Jawan was here in the national office on March 16 for some condensed and intense state director training. SkillsUSA welcomes Louisiana postsecondary back, and we’re pleased to hear the LCTCS director is talking about growing the association next year.
  • State conferences are underway. The SkillsUSA Georgia conference was a webcast over two days. Representative Jim Langevin, co-chair of the CTE Caucus spoke during the Rhode Island conference. Among his remarks to the students: “SkillsUSA students are the future innovators and job creators for our country.” That’s a nice message to carry. Staff will be visiting 20 state spring conferences.
  • On March 5, Bob Daly, senior vice president of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. stopped by the national office for a visit and to discuss opportunities to grow our partnership. Bob is also looking into ways Toyota and Toyota dealers can help support the CTSOs in California.
  • On March 6, I was part of a panel discussion during the ACTE Policy and Planning Seminar in Washington. The topic was Measuring Career Readiness Skills: Existing Practice, New Developments and the Challenges That Remain. The concern is finding or developing assessments that are more “career ready” inclusive. Of course, I was able to say during my remarks that SkillsUSA has been teaching and assessing employability skills since 1965 and I spoke about the Skill Connect Assessments and the Professional Development Program. My presentation was well received. Johan Uvin, deputy assistant secretary of OVAE gave a presentation entitled “Perkins Act Preview: Obama Administration.” Uvin said the administration wants to “further improve CTE.” The focus seems to still be on improving postsecondary degree attainment with “at least one year of postsecondary education.” He went on to say OVAE has developed a blueprint for reform, but hasn’t released it yet and that the administration has chosen 2013 for Perkins reauthorization. There will be three major statutory reforms: strengthen alignment of high schools, postsecondary and employers; better accountability systems; and, competitive funding to promote innovation and state reform. Questions from the audience were direct and tough on all three areas, particularly on the competitive funding and Uvin’s assertion that CTE didn’t have data to back up its claims of success.
  • I was the keynote speaker at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College/Caper Educator Institute’s “Education Challenge: Career and College Readiness” forum in Henrico, Virginia on March 14. My topic was “Schools Excel Through Student Leadership: Encourage, Promote and Prepare Student Leaders.” There were 210 administrators in attendance, and there was discussion about what it means to be career and college ready. I guess the speech went over well. I gave away all of my business cards.
  • We secured a Google Grant for advertising on the Google website. When certain keywords are searched, our ads will appear at the top and in the column on the right of the page. The ads started running on a March 13, and by March 14, SkillsUSA had already received 40,000 impressions.
  • And, I attended two outstanding state conferences in the past two weeks – Texas high school and Arizona.  More details on these and others next time.

Swing through Keystone State Competitions

February 15th, 2012

January 31 – February 1, I visited two events in Pennsylvania. The first was the District 2 Championships in Bucks County near Philadelphia. It was my first competition of the season, and it was impressive to see the commitment of the administrators and their schools. On the first day they had 200 students competing in leadership contests. The next day, there were 300 students competing in the skills contests. And, they had 200 volunteers judging coming from business, the military and education, including the superintendent of schools. That’s doing it right.

Then I was off to District 11 in Allentown. There were over 400 students competing, and the whole set up was beautiful. It looked like a miniature national Championships. Jeri Widdowson, Pennsylvania state association director was there as well as Joe Pientrantonio, Laurie Gostley and Lynn Scheitrum from Air Products. In fact, over 100 companies supported the contests and over 100 business leaders from the area attended the VIP luncheon. It was a great networking opportunity. There is a nice TV story on the contests at:

Students Deliver Their Messages to Policymakers

February 1st, 2012

We were proud to have 47 students and nine teachers here at the SkillsUSA National Leadership Center for the annual Ohio Regional Officer Training Institute (ROTI) from January 17-19. This is Ohio’s version of the Washington Leadership Training Institute with lots of leadership training and two visits to Washington, D.C. including the Smithsonian museums, the Holocaust Museum and the Martin Luther King Memorial (on Martin Luther King Day). The keynote speaker flew into Leesburg airport by helicopter. He is Toby Andrews, the 2001 Ohio state student president and now a captain and helicopter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He came to tell the students how this same event changed his life a decade ago.

On Wednesday, January 18, the students and teachers began their day at Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. After lunch, delegations went to the Hill to meet with 10 of their representatives and both senators from Ohio. Three of the representatives are members of the House CTE Caucus and the students reported that most of the offices they visited support the Perkins Act. For the majority of the students, this was their first visit to the Capitol.

The ROTI wrapped up on Thursday, including a meeting with the Maryland state officers at the Frederick CTE Center. Congratulations go to Mike Cowles for a great event and thanks to SkillsUSA staffers for coordination and training. Check out some of the photos here.

And, as further proof of SkillsUSA advocacy, Gayle Silvey, state association director of Georgia wrote to report that on January 17, Governor Nathan Deal launched the “Go Build Georgia Campaign” at a press conference in the Georgia Capitol Rotunda promoting construction skilled trades in the state. There were nearly 300 business and industry representatives, legislators and education officials present. Also on hand were several SkillsUSA student officers and student members demonstrating their skills in carpentry, plumbing, masonry and electrical trades right on the floor of the Rotunda. The governor and First Lady of Georgia, Sandra Deal, met with the officers and toured the demonstrations. The students also met State Senator Jason Carter – grandson of President Jimmy Carter – who told them he believes in CTE and that “it is a source of motivation for students to pursue their dreams and follow their passions in life.” Congratulations go to Gayle as well. Photos of the event (although not of the demonstrations) can be seen at:!i=1675665969&k=43H5xVk

Florida State Conference

June 1st, 2011

My tour to meet with great students and instructors during state SkillsUSA spring conferences came to an end with my ninth conference in Bradenton, Fla. at the Manatee Technical Institute from May 2-4. This was Florida’s largest conference with over 3,000 attending, 1,700 competitors and 110 competitions. It always amazes me when I attend state-level SkillsUSA Championships that hold more contests than SkillsUSA does at the national level, but the answer in the states is always the same: “We do it for the students.” Now, I’m looking forward to seeing those students at the national conference in Kansas City.

One of the many things that impressed me in Florida was the amount of industry support they have in the contests. That includes many of our partners on the national level including Caterpillar (from the Ring Power CAT dealership), Lowe’s, Toyota, Whirlpool, Snap-on, Cummins, Inc., and Penske. When we talk about the breadth and depth of the SkillsUSA network, it was certainly in evidence in Florida.

Brandon Mullings, a past national officer from Ocala was the keynote speaker and Florida got to hear a little from me, too. Dr. Mary Cantrell, director of the Manatee Technical Institute and I did a TV interview together. She told the reporter that when she started rebuilding Manatee a few years ago to be a nationally-recognized school “I built it around SkillsUSA.” She also said that when they break ground for a new multi-million dollar campus in June, SkillsUSA will once again be her flagship. It was also, of course, a pleasure to spend time with state association director, Carl Miller, the Florida board of directors and the state officer team.

Alumni Leading at Conferences Coast to Coast

May 15th, 2011

At all three of the state conferences I’ve attended since mid-April, SkillsUSA alumni and government officials have been prominent speakers. In one instance, the speaker was both. April 13 – 15, I attended the Colorado Leadership and Skills Championships in Golden and held at Red Rock Community College and Warren Tech. Over 700 people attended. The keynote speaker was Ruben Amador, a 2010 SkillsUSA college/postsecondary national officer. It’s exciting to see alumni such as Ruben bringing what he learned through SkillsUSA and his own personal example back to successive students. The contests were excellent, and it was a pleasure spending time with Ben Nesbitt, SkillsUSA corporate member, and state association director, Tony Raymond.

Then, I was off to the Tennessee State Conference in Chattanooga where the high school and college/postsecondary associations met together for a combined attendance of 2,300. It’s the only state conference I’m aware of where all the students get a steak dinner, high school on one night and college/postsecondary, the next. A representative from the governor’s office attended, and alumnus Carl Creasman, Jr. was the keynote speaker. The Tennessee association has full state agency support, and it shows in how smoothly the conference runs. I spent time with Sue Tucker, corporate member, and state association directors Carl Creasman and Carol Myers. I also got to meet with SkillsUSA board member, James King. James offers scholarships to the Tennessee Technology Centers to every state gold medalist and state officer.

Next stop was the Washington State Leadership and Skills Conference held in several locations in Yakima. Approximately 600 people attended. Micah Cawley, the mayor of Yakima and a SkillsUSA TV Production alumnus, brought greetings. There was a speaker from the governor’s office and past national officer, alumnus and North Carolina college/postsecondary state director, Peyton Holland, was the keynote speaker. Past national officer and alumna Shelby Adsero conducted officer training along with Katie Grimnes, national high school president, and alumna Jessica Lueck was signing up all the alumni members she could. Congratulations go to past SkillsUSA board member Moe Broom, Bruce McBurney, executive director, and the new state association director, Dennis Wallace, for a well-run conference.

Two other conferences of note: Chuck Wallace reported that Maryland just held its largest conference in history with over 1,200 registrants. Maryland used the Conference Management System offered by SkillsUSA for the first time and said it was “seamless.” Chuck was particularly pleased to post all the contestant scores online “just like nationals.” And, Myron Laurent reported that the Alabama conference was underway in Birmingham when the tornadoes struck the state. He wrote: “We’re in shock. The immediate relief we felt [when the tornadoes bypassed the conference in Birmingham] was soon overshadowed as news began to break about what had happened all around us. Considering that it would be unwise to travel at night, we chose to complete contests in the morning, cancel the Awards Ceremony, and release everyone by noon.” Thankfully, no one at the conference was hurt.

Conferences Keep Springing Up All Over

May 1st, 2011

The smiles of students and instructors are everywhere during SkillsUSA state conferences this spring, along with the cheers of state student officers taking on new offices and the looks of deep concentration on the faces of student contestants. National staff is on the road cheering our students and teachers on and delighting in the work of our state associations. Attendance across all conferences appears to be level or slightly higher than last year. Something else we’ve all noticed: state dignitaries are attending our conferences as well and state directors of CTE are much in evidence. People are paying attention to what our students are doing.

On March 31, I spoke during the Rhode Island Awards and Recognition Ceremony. The featured speaker was Charles Fogarty, director of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. Vanessa Cooley, Rhode Island CTE director also attended. Josh Klemp and his team put on the high-quality conference Rhode Island is known for. The next morning, I enjoyed a great culinary program breakfast at the Providence Center and Technical Academy, an absolutely amazing school. One of the real thrills, though, was being served by two students who had won medallions the evening before. They were still wearing them, and their faces were just beaming.

From April 4 – 6, I was a special guest at the Kentucky Leadership Conference and SkillsUSA Championships in Louisville. Beth Brinly, commissioner of the Workforce Investment Cabinet was a featured speaker during the opening ceremony as was John Marks, the executive director of the Office of Career and Technical Education. Among the many things Steve Phillippi, Kentucky state association director can be proud of is the $3 million in scholarships offered SkillsUSA students every year.

Staff members have been visiting state conferences as well, including, Maine, Nevada, Texas, Virginia, Utah and Missouri. At the Missouri conference the keynote speaker was the secretary of education who said high schools should be working more closely with CTE programs.

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