Debra Ellis, the career and technical education director at the WCCT, officially retired in May after having spent almost 40 years in education, but she hasn’t fully given over the reins to her successor, Chris McCullar, just yet.
She is working with McCullar throughout the summer to help with the transitioning process, but she has no doubt that the center couldn’t be left in better hands.
“I have not lost one night’s sleep over that. He is, as I told the state director and emailed other individuals with the state, ‘career tech to the bone,’” Ellis said about McCullar. “... He always did an exceptional job working with young people and having them involved in career-tech student organizations, and that is a big part, making sure that all of our programs stay business and industry certified. He always did an exceptional job with that, and I think the board made a good choice.”
McCullar is no stranger to the career technical side of education.
He has been in education for the past 17 years, and 13 of those years were spent as the agriscience teacher at Curry High School. Even though he loves teaching agriscience, he feels his new position as the WCCT director will help him to reach out to more people.
“Ag has always been my passion. I always love to learn by doing things, and this is, I think, a perfect fit for me. It’s the way I like to learn; it’s the way I like to teach, and I believe there’s just so much potential here to reach so many more kids,” McCullar said. “... I know I had an impact on kids there [at Curry] every day. I just believe I can have a bigger impact here, hopefully. That’s my goal.”
Ellis remembered her first day on the job as director, saying she was “scared to death.” She said at that particular time, she had never realized the many different roles one had to play in her position but that one of the biggest was dealing with the funds that kept the programs, at the center and at the high schools, going.
“The money is there because you want to keep all the programs up to par with what business and industry certification requires for vocational programs,” Ellis said. “That was my goal, to make sure the money went out to the schools and to the programs to keep all programs current and relevant for the workforce.”
Many positive, yet tedious, changes and requirements have occurred in education while Ellis has been at the WCCT, and McCullar plans on seeing those positive changes continue to take shape in and around the center. But first, he is still trying to acclimate himself as the director.
“I’m just trying to absorb everything. It’s just a lot different. When I start something, I’m use to being able to completely finish it. Here, there’s just so many different things going on at the same time,” McCullar said about the 15 programs the center will have starting this fall, with 16 programs out in the high schools. “... I think our potential, at this point in time, shows there’s no end to what we can do here. I believe career and technical education, as far as education goes, is in the driver’s seat right now.”
McCullar’s plans for the future include a possible expansion or perhaps a completely new career-tech center on down the road, but his main focus is on the students of Walker County.
“My main goal is to help the kids, align what we do here with what the industry and workforce needs. We are developing a product here of students who are going to meet that workforce demand,” McCullar said. “... The center of technology, to me, has always had a stigma, and some students have not wanted to come here because of that stigma. But, I want this to be a place that draws students. I want it to be a place they want to come to, that they can realize a benefit out of being here.”
Ellis agreed and mentioned that she thinks people are now starting to notice the importance of trade and skill jobs and how they are beneficial to the population.
“I think that we are beginning to learn how important they are. That’s going to improve our workforce, and our workers are going to be better trained. There’s going to be a wider area that students can go into, giving students a better choice of occupations that they can exit with,” Ellis said. “I think for a long time that most people thought the only way that they could have a really good job was to have a four-year baccalaureate diploma, and I see this making it better. We need skilled workers; we need those people.”
McCullar misses his school “family” at Curry High, but he is eager to work with the faculty and staff at the WCCT and others in the community. He also credited Ellis with helping him into his new role at the center of technology.
“The two things I miss from Curry are the people I work with and the students. That was probably the hardest thing to do was leaving them. When you’ve been with people that long, it’s like family,” McCullar said. “But, stepping in here and the people that are here — the faculty and staff and the career-tech teachers I work with throughout the county — I don’t believe I could have a better group of people that is as much team-oriented as this group. There’s nothing we can’t accomplish if we work together.”