With his compassion, incredible leadership, and love of writing, our February Vermonter of the Month, Doug Heavisides, is changing the lives of Vermont youth, one student at a time.
Having grown up on a small farm in Quechee, Vermont, Doug Heavisides is now the Director of the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center (HACTC) located in White River Junction. HACTC is an area school that enrolls students from the Upper Valley region, such as Hartford, Windsor, Hanover, etc., and provides them with hands-on learning, often bringing students outside the classroom and into the community.
After participating in the Hartford School system as a student, Doug went to Saint Michael’s College where he earned a degree in English and a teaching endorsement. Shortly after, he returned to the Hartford community to start a full-time job as an English teacher in 1993. Over the next 16 years, Doug served various roles in the school system, including Football Coach, Hockey Coach, Assistant Athletic Director, and Chair of the English Department, while also earning a master’s degree in Education.
In 2009, Doug moved over to the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center working in curriculum support and immediately fell in love with career and technical education. Only three years later, he had completed a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in School Leadership and had been named principal of the HACTC.
In his free time, Doug finds solace in writing and pours himself into his online work. We caught up with Doug at the HACTC and learned about his blog, passion for career and technical education, and the challenging and rewarding aspects of his work.
Many of your blog posts begin with, “My name is Doug Heavisides. And I am the proud principal of the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center. And I have a confession to make.” These posts share honest revelations about so many topics, including experiencing anxiety, the opioid crisis, and the challenges of parenting. What inspires your writing and who, if anyone, do you hope to reach through it?
Initially, I wrote for a completely selfish reason: it helped me reflect and process all aspects of my life, most notably teaching and parenting. I have journaled every day since I was sixteen and the activity remains one of the best parts of my day. And while I am not quite sure where I got my love of writing from, I suspect it is simply an extension of my addictive reading habit that began early in elementary school. Reading for two hours and getting lost in a story has the same restorative effect on me that a week’s vacation does. Regarding writing for an audience, that is relatively new for me with the creation of a blog. My purpose in writing in that median is still foundationally the same as journaling: it helps me reflect and process things that are difficult or challenging in my life (and often funny, too). But because others may read the blog, I do hope that in my struggling and reflecting someone else may be helped or, at the very least, know they are not alone.
What do you want Vermonters to know about career and technical education?
Career and Technical Education (CTE) is not the old model of ‘Vocational Education.’ The latter implied that students were prepared in stand-alone curriculums for work only and for entry-level jobs only. CTE prepares students for multiple pathways after high school: four-year college, two-year college, technical school, military service, and employment. And if a student decides to join the world of employment right after high school, they will have the credentials and skills to do so beyond entry level. No, CTE does not counsel or prepare students just for college; CTE prepares and counsels students for careers. And if college is needed for the desired career path of a student, then that is what is counseled and pursued. That said, most students that take a CTE program in high school graduate with college credits, industry-recognized credentials, employability skills, and cooperative education experiences.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work with the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center?
Besides trying to change the stigma attached to CTE that has its foundation in the old Vocational Education model, the most challenging aspect of my work at the HACTC exists in supporting students in their social/emotional health and wellbeing. And I am so grateful that I certainly do not do that work alone, but rather with an incredible team of people at the HACTC and our sending schools. However, despite the strength of our team, it is often difficult to overcome the negative influence of the other adults in our students’ lives, influence exhibited by and through mental illness, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and drug and alcohol abuse. As a team supporting and loving students, we have to be fully aware of and monitor our level of compassion fatigue. Good teaching happens because educators care. A lot. But burnout happens to educators because they care. A lot.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work with the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center?
The most rewarding aspect of being a school leader at the HACTC is working with an absolutely incredible group of people who are solely focused on helping students succeed and grow.
What advice do you have for other Vermonters looking to make an impact in their community?
Vermont is a special place to live. Yes, it is so for a lot of reasons, but the main reason is because of the quality of the people that live here. And in order to make lasting change and impact in our communities, those high-quality people need to be utilized and partnered with. Change and impact does not come from one person alone but rather a group of people working together for the greater good. I live that every day at my job at the HACTC, working with high-quality people to make a long-lasting impact.
Last modified: February 28, 2020