By CHARLES “CHRIS” COVERT
HCCTC JOC/SHCSB member
I would like to recognize the insightful, hardworking individuals who have been at ground zero and are the driving force behind what will be, without exaggeration, the renaissance of Huntingdon County: Brett Gilliland, superintendent of the Mount Union Area School District; Fred Foster, superintendent of the Huntingdon Area School District; and David Christopher, superintendent of the Juniata Valley School District and current superintendent of record of the Huntingdon Career and Technology Center. Also, thanks for the visionary leadership of Don Burd, executive director of the HCCTC, and Mike Douglas, assistant director of the HCCTC.
Thank goodness we haven’t consolidated districts to this point, for what is unfolding may not have happened! These visionary individuals have had the same financial difficulties to contend with as all districts in the commonwealth are now dealing with, however the county’s problems started long ago and is worse, as Huntingdon County is relatively poor. Rather than accepting things as they are and worrying about the “what if’s” and sticking their heads in the sand, these champions charted a different course. They saw the problems, studied trends in education and employment, developed models for tracking future areas of potential growth for the county and, while keeping their “eyes on the prize” so to speak, developed a very fiscally conservative approach, realizing the HCCTC as not a drain on the county’s school districts, but an incredible foundation on which to build a bright future for those very districts. In doing so, they have stopped the “cut the nose off in spite of the face” crowd that would like to see nothing but the demise of the HCCTC. Well ,they haven’t quite yet, but they are well on their way. They have collaborated with nearly every governing body in the state, from county commissioners to state representatives, to the governor and even the federal government in the form of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the expansion loan itself. Speaking of which, USDA director of community programs Michael Ward said, “I have witnessed many projects like this in many areas and have never seen an entire county of four school districts come together in total agreement like this before.” I said to him, “Welcome to Huntingdon County! That’s what we do. That means you are helping us make history today.” He said, “I guess it does.” This was before the deal was really finalized. He and USDA area specialist Jeff Stouffer both said they never saw a deal come together like this where every single item was in order, which I saw as a glowing endorsement for our school superintendents and all of their staff at the sending schools and the wonderful staff at the HCCTC including all of the difficult preparation of paperwork, schedule-juggling appointments and setting number crunching by LaVonda Runk and Stephanie Stains. Everyone just put incredible work into building a future in this beautiful county in which we live. While some are gossiping at the local service station/store and crying about how bad things are here, there are a whole lot of people in this county working vert hard but smart to take care of our problems, work on solutions and they’ve been doing it all around us in plain sight for years. State Rep. Rich Irvin is very excited about the project and what it means for this county, as is state Sen. Jake Corman who, by the way, is one of the most fiscally conservative members in Harrisburg. When shown the project by Christopher and Burd, he was so excited, he told them of a “matching funds grant” for which he believes “this project is tailor made.” Quite the endorsement by a conservative representative who doesn’t believe in risky ventures, I would say. I also say I truly appreciate the fine people on the boards of all of all four districts in this beautiful county, which have the same bold vision of the future of this county and are working hard to support every effort made to improve life here for our children and grandchildren and all generations to come. Also, thanks to an incredible group of people on the HCCTC’s Joint Operating Committee (JOC), of which I’m a member, that made the work we all put in seem more fun and who define what it means to be a “neighbor.” They are true friends to us all and I have been blessed to work with them for the past four years. They include: Dain Davis, Thomas Culp, Dennis Reif, Erica Mowrer, Ian Thompson, Tom Bilich, Andrew Ketner, Benjamin Whitsel and JOC chairperson Andrea Christoff. Thank you all. I have learned so much and admire all of you and your work ethic to persevere to help make this all happen. Also, thanks to our solicitor, Ron Repak, for making all of the legalities go as smooth as silk. Also, thank you to Daily News reporter Jeff Gill, reporter extraordinaire, and champion of the taxpayer. Believe me, that man asks all of the tough questions and expects answers. To me, he is kind of a Mr. HCCTC because he covers so much of what is going on there that people are likely better off checking with him, rather than their smartphone for upcoming events. Lastly, I’d like to thank all of the instructors and the support staff at the HCCTC. They are truly champions of moving our county forward in an exciting and dynamic manner. They are “training tomorrow’s workforce today” and “training the people the people we depend on” and keeping our school prepared for learning. A special thank you to all of our fine students, both high school and adults, who are training for the jobs on which we will all depend. You are the greatest! Yes, Huntingdon County has a bright future because of the tireless work of these individuals coming together at this particular time to chart a course of success for the future of this county! I’m not saying any of these people are perfect, none of us are, but I am saying these people looked around, refused to let things go as they were and rolled up their sleeves as we always have done in this county and set their shoulders to the grindstone to improve things for all of us. I certainly hope the next time any of these individuals say or do something with which we may not agree, that we think on that a while and call them, email them or make an appointment to visit with them before we start hurling stones at them. They are people like you and I. They take pride in their work and want to keep their jobs, as do we. They have laid the groundwork for the biggest thing to happen to this county since the brickyards and are reaching out to every business in this county to help them and our economy grow. When this happens, money flows, people are happier, drugs and crime go down and there is more for the academic students of our school districts to come back to after they get their degrees. Think about it, more industry, more need for doctors, lawyers, bankers and accountants to hang their “shingle” here in this beautiful county. This is what the HCCTC is all about and thanks to pioneers like Jay Varner, and the rest of the members of the first JOC, we have come to this point. I think Jay would have been proud, but knowing Jay, he’d probably say, “It’s about time you got something done!” Come on neighbors, support our HCCTC, let the naysayers sit at the local service station and preach “gloom and doom” because the rest of us have work to do.