By MURRAY BISHOFF
For the past 12-and-a-half years, Ted Dorton has been director of the Southwest Area Career Center at Monett (SWACC). This month he submitted his resignation to the Monett R-1 Board of Education. Dorton recently took time to reflect on his journey and how the Career Center has changed over that time.
"In my first year enrollment was a little over 300. Now it's over 600. We've made a lot of progress," Dorton said. "It's not because of me. It's because we have lots of good people who care about kids."
Dorton came to Monett without any background in the community, knowing only Superintendent Dr. Charles Cudney. He recalled setting out to learn the town and getting involved, becoming president of both the Chamber of Commerce board and Kiwanis Club.
Dorton visited school boards at all 14 school districts that send students to SWACC. He also focused on getting to know the staff, "trying to bring everyone together for a common goal. In administration, that's not always easy," he said.
"Thirteen years ago, I told myself that in the career and technical education business, I'd had about every job at every level except director," Dorton said. "If I got a director's job, I'd want to work hard on the image of career and technical education. I wanted to put SWACC on the map. I wanted to see legislators so that if we needed their support, we would have it. And we did."
The three biggest achievements Dorton listed during his tenure was topped by the construction of the current campus. Second was improving the respect and image of career and technical education, coming from a point when many in town told Dorton when he arrived they did not know the school was here. Thirdly, Dorton pointed to the addition of "real quality programs," such as childcare, the Junior ROTC and diesel technology, which expanded opportunities for students.
Over his tenure, Dorton said the magnitude and complexity of his job has changed "to where it's just about too much for one person to handle." Being a building administrator and trying to build a building, he said, were two jobs in themselves.
Then came dealing with changes in the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, federal programs funding vocational programs, the college programs with Missouri Southern State University and Drury University plus "all the initiatives we're working on.
"I can count on my fingers and toes the Sunday afternoons in 13 years when I've not been in this office," Dorton said.
While maintaining an open door policy through the work day, Dorton found he had to expand his work week to keep up with the paper work essential to doing his job.
In naming surprises he has experienced along the way, Dorton said, "Honestly, I wasn't always used to such strong administration and board support. I've had it here 100 percent."
He further named the support from U.S. Senator Kit Bond and Congressman Roy Blunt for their enthusiasm in helping to fund the building, equipment and technology, as well as Congressman Ike Skelton for his help getting the Junior ROTC program started.
"I thought we'd have more of a battle. They made my job very easy," Dorton said.
Looking ahead, Dorton sees more changes on the horizon for career and technical education. Curriculum and professional development rarely occurred when Dorton started his career.
"We went to school, taught and went home," he said. "As technology evolved, career and technical education evolved too."
Many changes coming down from the state and federal levels, Dorton recalled, have not been friendly to career education, such as boosting graduation requirements. Such increased demands have made adaptability key to keeping programs going. Dorton also felt the three-hour block of classes, a 1960s model, "is becoming rapidly outdated."
The separation of career and technical training from the rest of core and academic courses is changing as well. At the present time, SWACC only takes care of the elective courses students want. He expected to see greater integration of core studies into future career school programs.
Career and technical training used to mean sending graduates out into the work force. Now, the growing trend is for students to go on to college to get more training needed for their field, rather than heading straight to jobs.
Dorton admitted to having a few regrets in leaving his job now. He said he had three or four more projects he would like to see completed. At the moment, those include seeing the latest building addition completed, seeing some of the programs filled to capacity and meeting specific instruction goals.
"This time next year, if I stayed, we'd still have the same conversation," he said, even if some of those projects had been replaced by others. "When you know it's time [to go], it's time. Whoever follows me will have a good foundation to build on."
Dorton said he was keenly aware when he arrived that there had only been three directors at SWACC prior to him. He wanted to follow in that tradition of providing stable continuity.
In giving advice for his successor, Dorton encouraged getting to know the faculty and staff on the personal level and getting to know how the organization works.
"Not everyone is a cookie cutter educator here," Dorton said. "In this faculty, we have varied backgrounds and experiences. You have to understand how that works together."
Dorton did not have any immediate plans for his futureß but did not plan to retire. He left the family farm at age 17 to go to college and now found himself going full circle to his own little farm near Verona where he has "cows, pigs and chickens and fences to take care of.
"I'm just a country boy from Oklahoma. Maybe I get to go back to play," Dorton said.
"There's an old saying, 'Every cowboy has another rodeo left in him.' I feel I have another rodeo or two left in me. I don't know what it will look like. I'm excited to think about it," he added.