Meet past ACTE fellow Dr. Patrick Biggerstaff, the Director of Career and Technical Education at Area 31 Career Center in Indiana. In this blog, Dr. Biggerstaff shares his career path to CTE leadership and imparts knowledge from his years of experience, as well as words of wisdom. Biggerstaff leads from the heart, focusing on building relationships, serving his local community, supporting inclusion and diversity, and never compromising to ensure quality CTE programming.
Where do you currently work, what is your official title, and how long have you held this position?
I currently serve as Director of CTE and Adult Education at Area 31 Career Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. This is my 7th-year as director; I have served at the Center for 15 years in total.
How did you get into this position? What has your career path been?
I worked in the Business industry and transitioned to a teaching program because I wanted to have an impactful job and a more significant contribution. I hold licenses in Business and Special Education and am a firm believer in respecting differences in people and the responsibility to support individuals. I transitioned into teaching CTE Businesses classes, was a DECA sponsor, soccer coach, and ran other student groups. This period was the most fulfilling time in my life from a relationship standpoint. Currently, my contributions as a CTE Director are broader, but as a teacher, I love building relationships and working with students. I teach as an adjunct at a university now and have had the opportunity to teach in the same transition program I completed 15 years ago, having a greater impact.
A great mentor, Mr. Ron Hoke, was interested in building capacity as he prepared to retire. He gave me the opportunity to develop and prepare me for the role of CTE Director . I greatly benefit from his expertise and his willingness to invest in me.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I completed a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Dallas Baptist University and a Master’s in Business Administration from Texas Christian University. I also completed a transition-to-teaching program at the University of Indianapolis, Indiana State for my work-based learning verification, Indiana University for my K-12 building administrative certification, Ball State University for a CTE Director license, an Education Specialist degree, and Ball State for an Ed.D in Educational Administration and Supervision.
I love this job – it is everything important to me! I love my position in CTE because it connects all that I am passionate about building community, supporting students, and business connections. I went from Business to Education and ended up in the perfect intersection of what I care deeply about, all at the right time.
What are the biggest challenges you face with CTE?
The greatest challenge in CTE is viewed differently based on its environment. The center I am working in is very fortunate to be well-funded through the connectivity, technology, great industry champions in an urban community, unlike rural CTE programs with limited opportunities for partnership. One significant challenge that I face is the building space and the need for expansion; it is harder to get into local programs due to limited facility space and student seats . We cannot accept all and have to turn away roughly 50% of all applicants. Fortunately, many students still have other opportunities at their local high schools. A cooperative career center cannot serve all; there is a constant fight to expand the program. I’m a firm believer in the importance of program proximity, so we strive to provide the highest quality local programming instead of busing students or having them travel to another facility outside of their community. Close proximity also leads to reduced travel times and more time in class. There is definite pressure to expand.
What are the compromises?
We have a lot of conversations with potential partners about center expansion; however, that cannot be rushed. We do not want to promise something great and pull the rug on them. We have the professional obligation to provide a high-quality, sustainable opportunity. We are highly cautious about developing partnerships that cannot concede on quality and professionalism; there is no concession, only delays.
Organizational / leadership challenges you have faced
The significant organizational leadership challenges include coordination; coordinating the program across 11 school districts, but we are not unique across the country. We have a community with different needs and expectations. We are connected to rural, urban, and suburban schools; the student diversity in schools is a massive strength of our program, with different people from different backgrounds learning to work together. We identify the needs of students, involve a lot of people who are quality champions, and provide wrap-around support. We aim to meet everyone’s goals, and that is our program coordinator’s purpose.
Advice to others: what skills are most crucial to succeed in this career?
You have to have significant grit; demands are constantly increasing. You need to do the work, even when the work is hard. I have a sleeping bag in my office and have worked through the night on several occasions in order to get things done. State data reporting needs to be timely, accurate and done correctly, so you have to be willing to do what is necessary to fulfill your responsibilities. You must be comfortable forming relationships with people from urban, rural, or suburban communities with different political views. You must have the desire to be informed, read, learn, and identify the next steps. A focus on inclusion, trusting your gut feeling, being competent, and being ready to serve people. You need to recruit and develop a team of highly-capable people.I am fortunate to have had a core leadership team for the last 10-12 years; this team and culture were cultivated over time. You must have a willingness to extend grace to your staff when they are frustrated during difficult times.
What is the best bit of advice you have for someone looking to move into this area?
Find mentors who are currently doing the job you are interested in and help them in everything you can. They can help you to increase your capacity, and they can speak on your behalf when the time comes. Work with representatives of your state department of education and others who have already walked the path so that they can help to prepare your for your journey.
Sue S. Key, Ed.D.
Region V Experienced Fellow