Dr. Richard Turner retired from his position as principal of William Byrd High School at the end of June 2016. He had served there for 24 years— first as assistant principal and then since 1999 as principal. However, he has not retired from the Roanoke County School system. In fact, his retirement from administration has led to a return to his beginnings with Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, where he started out as a marketing teacher.
Early retirees from the school system generally work a retirement year for the system. Turner began in August, working from the Burton Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT). School Superintendent Dr. Greg Killough, another administrator who started his career in CTE, and Turner share a vision of expanding the CTE program by collaborating with local industries and businesses through apprenticeship programs. The apprenticeship programs would target skills needed in the region by new and existing industries.
The movement for such programs is more than a local endeavor. Turner said that “apprenticeship programs are really taking off.”
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has stated that “not enough students are graduating with skills for the jobs that exist.” He has expressed an interest in expanding high school apprenticeship programs throughout the state, “revving up vocational training again,” and especially coordinating efforts with business and industry. It’s all an integral part of the emphasis on economic development.
In the programs that Roanoke County is considering, students would learn job skills at an actual worksite, trained by the particular business or industry, but supervised by the school system. The programs would not be housed at BCAT, but at the business/industry location.
Many companies and industries have their own certifications and requirements; it would not be feasible for the school system to attempt to establish such a wide variety of programs to meet every need.
Turner is working not just with the school system. His role is as a liaison between Roanoke County Schools, Roanoke County Economic Development, the Virginia Department of Education, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, and the community.
Dr. Killough said his goal with establishing the apprenticeship programs is that “when young people graduate they will have training and certification so that they can enter the job force right out of high school.”
The goal of Roanoke County Schools is that students graduate from high school “career ready and/or college ready.” Killough believes a carefully constructed apprenticeship program can help students, businesses, and the community. He says some companies with apprentices are even willing to finance further training for their employees.
Killough and Turner say the apprenticeship program is still in the early developmental stages. They hope to kick-off the program in the summer or fall, starting small and growing slowly with just a handful of students and companies. Once they get their feet on the ground, the program will “expand with industry demand.”
They also hope Roanoke County Schools can be one of the leaders in the state for this type of program. Some career fields currently under consideration are paralegal and pharmacy technology. Students would work part of their school day at the individual company, which would do the training, with the school system providing support in subjects such as math and science.
Initially the program would be available to students in grades 11 and 12. The age for apprenticeship training programs has now been lowered from 18 to 16.
The proposed apprenticeship programs could be viewed as an extension of a program that Dr. Turner was instrumental in establishing at William Byrd High School many years ago— High Schools That Work (HSTW).
In the early 1990s, Turner said, hundreds of students at WBHS were enrolled in low-level courses with some graduating not ready for work or college. The school worked with local business leaders to implement a program to solve that dilemma.
The HSTW program was praised by Sen. Tim Kaine on the floor of the United States Senate in 2015 as a model of instruction that ensures that “students are ready for postsecondary education and the work force” when they graduate from high school.
In addition to aiding in the development of the apprenticeship program, Dr. Turner currently helps monitor working coop students in the county, checking on them at their worksites which are mostly retail situations.
He serves on the board of directors for Roanoke County Junior Achievement, which meshes well with his background in “High Schools That Work.” He and teacher Betty Semones, who helped establish the HSTW program, recently taught a Junior Achievement class at Fairview Elementary in Roanoke City.
The program involved third graders in five class sessions starting off with an activity on planning and zoning. After discussion, students took buildings they had created and placed them correctly in residential, agricultural, or business zones on a floor map. He hopes to expand the program into the county schools.
Dr. Turner served as a judge in a recent DECA competition, working with about 20 students, playing the role of a restaurant manager with a declining business which students had to resuscitate.
Turner is also working with Annette Patterson, president of The Advancement Foundation, on the annual Gauntlet competition, which will include high school students this year. The Career Fair at Cave Spring High School has been another project. On occasion, he serves as a back-up administrator at BCAT as the need arises.
Turner has maintained his lifelong interest in racing. He met BK Racing owner Ron Devine when he and his wife Tina chaired the Parents Council at James Madison University. That led to a role with the race team involving marketing, occasionally working with the pit crew, and recruiting and hosting sponsors— like the American Cancer Society which he is involved with due to a bout with colon cancer several years ago. Work with BK racing has given him the opportunity to travel to races with race car legend Leonard Wood, more so this year.
He is currently teaching a class on School Community Relations through JMU at the Higher Education Center in Roanoke and works to recruit students for their Educational Leadership Program. He monitors students once they enter the program.
He continues as a member of the Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, serving as chair of the nominating committee. He is chairman of the American Cancer Society Leadership Committee and a supporter of the Vinton Relay for Life. This is his final year as chairman of the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals.
Turner’s life at this stage is all about connections. One thing has led to another.
“The Lord puts people together for a purpose, nothing is by chance” is what he firmly believes as he focuses on giving back as he enjoys his version of retirement.