BUCKHANNON — After an educational career that included the last 15 years at the helm of Fred W. Eberle Career and Technical Center, the time for retirement has come for Dr. Mike Cutright.
He ends his tenure — and a 37-education career that spanned two counties — on June 30, when he will walk out of the school for one last time.
“I was a teacher in Randolph County for 19 years and the opportunity came open here for an assistant director,” he said. “I applied and was fortunate enough to get the job.
“Bill Proudfoot, previous director, was in the legislature at the time so I really got to learn by doing because I would take over when he was away at the legislature. I learned on the job and through his guidance.”
“When he retired, I became director in 2003. I’ve been fortunate enough to be here [in this position] for 15 years.”
With swings in the economy, new programs have come while others have gone away during Cutright’s tenure.
“A couple years ago we added the cosmetology program and it’s been a good addition to the school,” he said. “We are putting services out there for the public and they seem to get quite a bit of interest with people coming in and using the services we have here.
“We have lost the masonry program and the timber programs since I have been here and that is just because of shifts in industry and demands of industry,” he said. “We weren’t attracting students in those programs.”
“We’ve expanded our medical programming for high school students by adding an additional therapeutic services program,” he said. “We are offering more certifications there such as phlebotomy and Certified Nursing Assistant just to name a couple.”
Another big change which came from the state level was simulated work environments where each class now functions as a workplace.
A career and technical education gives students skills they can immediately take with them to the work force.
“We teach students real life skills,” he said. “When they are finished here they have entry-level skills to go out and be employed.”
“We like to say we have prepared them to be career and college ready to go on and get a job or a higher degree. A lot of our students go on to get additional training in post secondary institutions.”
“I’m proud of the fact of how many people have better careers now that they attended Fred Eberle – higher paying jobs,” Cutright said. “We have students employed out in the industry making very good wages because of the skills they learned here,” he said.
When asked about how students today compare to previous decades, Cutright said technology has been one of the factors in that.
“I have seen a change in students over the 37 years I have been in education,” he said. “Technology changes have created some issues for us here with cell phones and so on.”
But deep down, Cutright said he thinks “all students want to come and get an education and work hard while they are here. That’s what we like to see.”
During Cutright’s tenure, students regularly perform well at the local Skills USA Contest and go on to state and even national competitions.
“We have a tradition here of performing well at the Skills USA Contest,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we will be sending six students to the national contest in Louisville, Ky. at the end of the month. We hope they do well and bring back gold medals.”
Fred Eberle Technical Center has an administrative council made up of members from Upshur, Barbour and Lewis counties which feed into the tri-county center.
“I’ve been very fortunate over the time as director to work with a very supportive administrative council,” he said. “They believe in the school and are very supportive as to our programming and our outreach to the community. It’s been a great working experience with them.”
Superintendent Roy Wager has served on that administrative council for four years since becoming the head of Upshur County Schools.
“He is going to be missed,” Wager said of Cutright. “I tried to talk him into staying.”
Wager commended Cutright’s expansion of the programs and leadership at the school.
“He has done a great job,” the superintendent said.
In addition to boosting the programming inside the center, some improvements have been made to the buildings themselves.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve replaced interior and exterior doors, upgraded the HVAC system, put new windows in the whole building, new LED lighting and replaced the roof on one building,” Cutright said.
A few years ago, Fred Eberle received a School Building Authority grant that made many improvements possible.
The advancements in technology have also been in place at Fred Eberle.
“We have really focused on improving the technology here at the center — not only in computers but also in other equipment whether it be for balancing tires or scan tools to diagnose problems with vehicles. We try to keep on top of that.”
“It’s a constant goal of ours to teach current industry standards and make sure we are giving students those skills so they can be employable when they graduate,” he said.
During Cutright’s tenure, the center changed its accreditation and is now accredited by the Council on Occupational Education - COE.
“They come in and go over our programs and make sure we are providing quality education especially our post secondary students,” he said.
Something Cutright is very appreciative of is the support of the local businesses and industry in helping his students.
“They are great about volunteering to help us judge local contests, serving on committees and things like that,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of good contacts in the family and I will miss those people, too.”
A move that caused less headaches for Cutright and his staff and resulted in more classroom time for students in recent years was the decision for Upshur to work with Barbour and Lewis counties and approve one shared calendar.
“It’s 110 percent over where it was when I first started here,” he said. “We would have maybe three different spring breaks that we had to deal with and different faculty senate days. Now, all the students are here pretty much on the same schedule and it’s been a big improvement for the students.”
Although Cutright is looking forward to retirement and more time with family, he said it is bittersweet.
“I’m going to miss the people I work with,” he said. “We are a small school and we are a family. I have either hired or had a hand in hiring all the staff members who are here now so it’s bittersweet walking away and leaving them.
“Two or three people on staff were actually students since I have been here,” he said.
“It’s time to spend time with my family and do some things that my wife and I wanted to do like traveling,” he added.
Rebecca Bowers-Call, currently principal at French Creek Elementary, will become the new director July 1.
Cutright said, “I’m also excited about turning the position over to a new and enthusiastic person who is going to bring innovative and creative ideas to help keep the school growing.”
Read more about Bowers-Call in an upcoming article.