Carthage's vocational education opportunities have seen a lot of changes – the past 29 years of advances have been observed by Edward Stephens.
At the end of this year, Stephens will step down from his director's position with the Carthage Technical Center and continue his passion in education with Crowder College as the associate vice president of careers and technical education. He said his new career with Crowder will be similar to his current position in Carthage as he takes on the supervision of 13 different programs, building up associates degrees and customized training.
“It's been 29 good years,” he said. “I have no other reason for leaving other than Crowder recruited me with an opportunity to do what I do best. I've loved working here. I've appreciated the opportunity to work here … I can't say enough about the support of this community. We have good people, good school board and staff. I feel like I've been blessed.”
Stephens joined Carthage R-9 in 1984 as a teacher in the agriculture department. He coordinated science fairs with Coach Strike, as well as horticulture sales and work auctions. At the time, the Carthage Technical Center served 62 students.
Stephens smiled at the memory of doing a lot of grant writing.
“Persistence and tenacity pays off,” he said. “From there we just kept growing.”
After teaching, it was 1999 when Stephens moved into the administration role at the Tech Center. Galen Snodgrass, Gail Kreutzer and Kent Harris were his team. At that time, 350 students were coming to the Tech Center.
“We've done so much I can't even tell you how many programs we brought on,” he said.
Currently between both Tech Centers and shared time in the high school, 2,250 students are taking dual credit. Single enrollment is at 1,550 students.
An estimated 28 percent of Carthage students finish with a degree, and the state's average is only 20 percent.
This past year has been the most exciting time for the local education system in Carthage as the partnership with Crowder College strengthens.
“A heavy Crowder presence in Carthage enriches the educational environment, and draws people to the area,” Stephens said. “Especially with the new hospital coming, there will be even more employment opportunities.”
Stephens' faith in education keeps his hopes high for this region, and says Carthage is one of the top leading systems for students' needs.
“I think we do the best job in the region in finding students' career paths,” he said. “Anymore, college can't be an exploring time because it's too expensive.
Also, this region has a great network of chamber involvement, technical school support and potential employers. We are an attractive area with low cost of living to bigger employers, and I hope to see more of that in my lifetime … If we have the best workers, we will get the best jobs.”
Page 2 of 2 - Stephens also holds a high respect for Crowder's efforts in providing work-ready graduates. As the economy changes, so does the way of life for future generations.
“I do believe that unless you have the skills-set, you will not live like your parents,” Stephens said. “Things have tightened, and you need that added piece of education to live.”
Next year, the Carthage Technical Centers' director will be Gregg Wolf, who is the current assistant director.
A Glance Back
The Carthage Technical Center started in 1965 with the vision of Dr. Johnson and the Carthage community. The school was built without state funding – just local support. It housed carpentry, health, drafting, radio and TV repair and auto-mechanics.
In 1974, marketing, business tech, and machinery were added.
In 1978, agriculture was added in the curriculum and the school was also designated an "Area" Vocational School by the State Department of Education.
When Stephens joined the Tech Center in 1984, 62 students were served at the center.
The south branch opened behind the new high school in 2010.