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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.

It’s Spring State Conference Season

April 15th, 2011

If SkillsUSA is all about the students – and a good deal of it is – then there’s almost no better time to see and hear them than going to state spring conferences. Each conference is different, but they’re all fun. I’ll be attending nine this year, so I’ll be having lots of fun.

On March 23 – 25, I was in San Antonio for the SkillsUSA Texas College/Postsecondary Conference. The keynote speaker was U.S. Representative Francisco Canseco, and he spoke highly and favorably of the Perkins Act and SkillsUSA and he stressed the importance of skilled workers to rebuilding the nation’s economy. Richard Chappel of Snap-on Industrial was the industry conference chairman, and I spoke to the group as well. Texas has a strong group of state officers and 375 great students attended. Congratulations to Stacy Scott, state association director, and to Larry Haefling and Dr. Federico Zaragoza.

On March 26, I went to the West Virginia State Leadership and Skills Conference in Martinsburg. The keynote speaker there was Larry Faircloth, owner and president of a realty company, but also a candidate for governor. He talked about creating jobs in West Virginia and how he sees SkillsUSA and CTE as parts of the answer. I was there for the second day of competition and spoke to the teachers and during the awards ceremony. It was great to spend time with Paul Lovett, the energetic new state association director, and with corporate member, Rick Gillman.


March 15th, 2011

Membership stands at about 298,564 and 30 states have now exceeded their membership last year.

On February 22, we sent an e-mail to our industry partners asking them to sign on to a letter addressed to the Senate requesting restoration of funding to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The letter was from the Association of Career and Technical Education, the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, the American Association of Community Colleges and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Several of SkillsUSA’s business partners signed on too. There were 168 business and organization signatories overall when the letter was sent recently. This is the start of what will likely be a very active advocacy season.

On March 1, the Lowe’s Campus Improvement and Community Service grant checks were sent to 34 schools and colleges. The total amount? $324,800. There had to be a lot of people smiling when the checks arrived. And, while on the subject, we heard last week from Lowe’s that Georgia-Pacific will once again co-sponsor the Opening Ceremony of the 2011 national conference.

We held a Chapter Management Institute here at headquarters on February 22, a wintry day when some of the area schools were closed, but 14 teachers came from three nearby states for training.

On February 23, staff and I attended the Destination and Travel Foundation dinner hosted by convention and visitors bureaus from across the country. We were invited by the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association and also met with the Louisville CVB while we were there.

By popular demand, I’m a video again. Staff has created a four-minute video for the national office to send greetings to the states during their spring conferences. It’s available online and on DVD. I’m in there and so is the Vision 2020 message. I believe the video is quite effective.

On February 24, I went to Baltimore for a meeting with the mid-Atlantic region U.S. Army Accessions Command. There was lots of interesting information on Army recruiting and I’ll be putting our state association directors in touch with the command regarding opportunities to support and promote SkillsUSA in the region.

On February 25, Second Eden Studios conducted an energy audit on the National Leadership Center. The preliminary report was delivered to the board of directors at their March meeting. The final report will be released in June.

And, finally, staff worked with the national officers in Kansas City, March 3-5, getting ready for their roles at the national conference.

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