Read this interview as it originally appeared July 1, 2021 in ROI-NJ.
After more than 20 years in the role, Judy Savage retires Thursday as the executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.
Savage, who will succeeded by Assistant Director Jackie Burke, said she was thrilled to see the progress the organization has been able to make in the past two decades.
Just this past June, as part of the 2018 Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act, the Legislature appropriated $220 million for 17 projects that will go to enhancing career and technical education programs — the type of programs that are so desperately needed to help create the next-generation workforce.
Savage obviously was thrilled, but she said the greatest progress isn’t just the large number of programs that have been added — but a greater understanding of what a vocational and technical education can provide.
“There’s really been a growth in recognition that career and technical education is for all types of students, not just for students who want to go into the trades,” she said. “It’s a great option for students who are college-bound, but already have a sense of where their interests lie.
“Parents and students and schools are recognizing that tapping into these programs at the high school level really enables students to get a head start on success.”
Savage spoke with ROI-NJ about her retirement. Here’s a version of the conversation, edited for space and clarity.
ROI-NJ: You started in this role at the turn of the century, February 2001. What have you seen in those two decades?
Judy Savage: We’ve seen a lot of growth in what the county vocational schools are able to offer students. The types of career and technical education programs have really exploded. We’re still maintaining the traditional trade programs, but CTE programs have really moved into so many new directions, like engineering and health sciences. There’s been a real resurgence of manufacturing and technology-driven and STEM-type programs.
ROI: Talk about how the funding from the bond act will only add to that?
JS: The 2018 bond act and the state’s commitment to invest in expanding county vocational-technical schools was a long time coming and was just really a game-changer for career and technical education in New Jersey. The $220 million is going to enable schools to expand their programs and add almost 5,000 new students. And it’s just starting. That was the first round of funding. There will be a second round.
ROI: Was this a cap to efforts to increase the need for CTE programs?
JS: It’s certainly a game-changer, but it’s just a start. No organization is ever done setting goals and striving for improvements. Certainly, I feel like a lot has been accomplished. But there is still more to go. There’s still going to be a need to grow career and technical education. There is plenty of need in terms of engaging more employers in career and technical education, getting more students and parents to really understand that this is a great option for all types of students. So, I would say that, you know, we’ve accomplished a lot, but the work is never done.
ROI: That work now turns to Jackie Burke, who takes over Thursday.
JS: The organization is in great hands. Jackie has been our assistant executive director since February 2016, and she is ready to lead on Day One. She knows the issues. She knows the people. She knows the state landscape. And she is an exceptional leader. Jackie is the perfect person to keep the organization moving forward.
ROI: What’s next for you?
JS: I’m going to still work with them as a part-time consultant. I feel like I still have a little bit of institutional memory to contribute. But time marches on.
I’ve had a great run. It’s been more than 20 years, and I can’t imagine loving a job more. As of last Tuesday, my husband is a retired teacher. It’s time for us to start doing other things.