Thoughts rushed through my head as I processed with both concern and joy as to what Patrick was explaining to me over the phone from his school office in Indiana. I was typing away on my black Dell Latitude Laptop, in what could be described as a former coat rack closet that was now converted to an “office” with a desk and chair at the Hershey Lodge Convention center in Hershey, PA. Meanwhile, 100’s of Technology conference attendees walked briskly by the glass door often catching glimpses of me completing my first assignment for the ACTE Experienced Fellows program.
“This guy (Patrick Biggerstaff) earned a MBA, successfully worked in the Banking Industry during some very good years; had some self-reflection that he was bored “out of his mind;” took a ⅔ salary cut and joined the ranks of volunteering at a juvenile facility and transitioned to CTE, because he wanted to mentor and coach people to become successful!”
Patrick Biggerstaff is the Director of Career and Technical and Adult Education for Area 31 Career Center. The question is how did he get there?
Grew up in Dallas/Ft. Worth Texas, where at the time, you could make more money working for a sanitation company than being a teacher. He knew he wanted to be financially successful and studied banking and sales management and earned his MBA. From there he jumped into the banking industry where he was successful financially, however, he began to realize that financial success had costs that made his career choice less fulfilling: i.e. absentee dad, bored out of his mind, the industry was focused on money-not people. Then the change happened.
Patrick took a risk. Not just any risk, a big one. He lobbied for the support of his wife and kids, took a ⅔ pay cut and began to do anything he could to build his resume to enter the field of education. He volunteered at a juvenile facility for boys where he learned firsthand that despite them being teenagers, he was teaching them how to read from scratch. It was there he experienced firsthand the need for differentiated instruction and scaffolding for supports, not because it was from a textbook or a lecture, but because it was necessary to get these teenagers to read something like Dr. Seuss.
Patrick went on to earn his teaching certification in mild intervention, special education and business education. He started out as a Teaching Assistant commuting 45 minutes each way knowing that his hourly rate was not covering his travel expenses. However, it was helping him get his foot in the door and experience necessary for future educational career opportunities. It was evident from his first day on the job that his work ethic and caring nature for students stood out to many. Within a month, he fell into a teaching position in the business department. He became a full-time teacher and coached soccer for several years. As a business education teacher and soccer coach he had his own kingdom, until he ventured outside of his area to the much larger wing of the building.
There he met a future mentor who had been watching him from afar and one day stopped by Patrick’s classroom and told Patrick to meet with him. Ron Hoke, who was Director of CTE at the time, explained to Patrick that he was going to retire in six years and Patrick had an opportunity to build his resume and skills to potentially transition into that leadership role. Patrick jumped at the opportunity and realized a new world of workforce development vocabulary that directly related to his extensive business background. This path would enable him to capitalize on his ability to build and strengthen partnerships to bring people and organizations closer together to help students be workforce ready. So it was back to school for Patrick, as he became a career pathways specialist, administered state reporting, MOU agreements, coop placements, and earned his administrative licensure as a Principal.
Like many administrators, you need to start somewhere. Patrick started as an Assistant Principal forming positive relationships with students who are faced with situations where behavior needs to be changed. He was then able to serve in the role as Assistant Director working closely with Ron Hoke for a few years before transitioning into the Director role that was mentioned to him as an opportunity six years prior.
Our conversation then turned to ACTE and how his involvement has fostered his leadership development and current career. Patrick has always seen extensive value in his membership with ACTE and has always capitalized on opportunities to serve on committees while working to foster the long term vision of ACTE. ACTE serves as an escape for him, from the running his day time CTE programs, adult-ed, a pre-school, all the while managing ACTE administrative responsibilities, ACTE regional duties, state principals association meetings, and finishing up his doctoral dissertation. Oh by the way, he has two teenagers at home!
On the topic of reading, (in what spare time Patrick may have), Patrick states he is always reading and shared that he glanced around the office with 20 books surrounding him that contained 20 different bookmarks. A few of his favorites that he shared: Creative School Book, by Ken Robinson, Habits of Mind, Martians in Your Classroom, and Lost and Found.
With all the time dedicated to his career, Patrick has expressed minor frustration or disappointment that being an administrator can cause you lose connections to the kids and staff members. He finds himself interacting more with legislators and economic development personnel because CTE is important to workforce development and economic growth. The two of us discussed the future needs and focus for successful CTE delivery:
- Always collaborating for increased partnerships with industry
- Quality and sustainability of CTE programs
- Retention of students and quality staff members
- Capital dollars necessary for expansion and growth of CTE programs
- Always doing what is best for students
In closing, one of Patrick’s quote reverberated over and over in my head when I asked what would he have done differently and he passionately stated: “Absolutely nothing!” Everything he did in business and banking made him stronger as a leader and provided him with the skills to develop and foster partnerships that serve so many students and businesses today. Reflecting on my 40 minute conversation Patrick, I am fortunate to be mentored by someone who has already mentored six people via ACTE and I look forward to more talks with Patrick.