One on One with…New LRVC Director David Morse

MAKING THE MOVE — Gray native David Morse has returned to southern Maine after spending 12 years at St. John’s Valley Technical Center in Frenchville (which is located between Fort Kent and Madawaska. “You pull out of the driveway and you see Canada right there, literally”) to be the new director of the Lake Region Vocational Center. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Like many students, David Morse is really looking forward to the first day of school.

“I can’t wait to meet the students,” said Morse, who is Lake Region Vocational Center’s new director, succeeding Rosie Schacht. “That’s what brings the building alive. During the summer, the building feels so empty. When students arrive, it’s alive.”

For Morse, his arrival in Naples is somewhat of a homecoming. A native of Gray, Morse has spent the past 20 years in northern Aroostook County, serving as director at St. John’s Technical Center in Frenchville, which is located between Fort Kent and Madawaska.

“There a lot of people I haven’t met yet. I’ve met most of the staff. My message to them was, ‘We have an excellent staff here. Excellent programs. Excellent students. Let’s go out and give the students the best education we can to prepare them for the future.’ That’s what it is all about,” he said. “We are a school of choice. Students are not mandated to take vocational programs. So, we need to run our school like a business. We have consumers and provide programs they are interested in.”

The News recently sat down with LRVC’s new director to talk about the transition to his new job, his thoughts about the program and center, and his expectations.

BN. How did you become interested in pursuing a career in education?

Morse: At first, I was in social services. And prior to that, I was in business administration. I became interested (in education) because my dad was a teacher in the Portland school district (middle school science) for his whole career. When the opportunity arose up in northern Maine, I took it and it’s been the best job I’ve ever had. I particularly enjoy working with teenagers. They are formulating their own thoughts and ideas at that age.

I absolutely love the vocational part of education. I really feel it is where the best connection is made between students and school — the real purpose of school is to get them ready for the next stage of their lives. That’s what we do here all of the time. We work directly with business, and I truly feel we can really make a difference in students’ lives.

BN. What did you do during your time in social services?

Morse: My wife and I ran group homes. For two years, we did that for high school girls in Jefferson. Then, we did four years at a boys’ home — the same thing — in Eagle Lake, where we settled for 20 years.

BN. What was the lure to come to Lake Region Vocational Center?

Morse: St. John’s Valley was an excellent, excellent school. It’s a smaller school (130 students). I grew up in Gray, so part of it is coming back home where family is. And part of it is I liked the rural aspect of Lake Region Vocational Center (288 students enrolled at this moment). It has a lot of similar students as St. John’s Valley (where the center served three sending schools) did, in a lot of regards. So, I love that piece. I loved the greater number of programs and students here. There are more opportunities for students down this way and opportunities to help students make those connections.

BN. What are your beliefs regarding vocational education?

Morse: Right now, programs are aligned to industry standards and students are earning industry-recognized certifications. To continue that, I would like to make more articulation agreements with colleges and the university system. I would like to see it happen in health occupations with the University of Southern Maine.

There is a big need out there for IT people. So, I’d like to create a program. I want to talk to the local schools and see what they are doing with programming, Internet technologies, networking, security and to see if we can create a program here that would help students get on that track, which are guaranteed jobs. And, to see what else is out there. Ideas that have been presented include cosmetology and turning small engine repair into a two-year program.

Certainly, I want to get to talk to business owners and community members to see what is out there for need. And then steer programming in that direction.

BN. How does one go about helping students to determine what career path he or she might pursue?

Morse: I heard this. Over 80 percent of the jobs that students will go into require less than a four-year degree. Some jobs just require on-the-job training; some require a one-year certification, some two-year associate’s degree. Vocational education can be that first step.

We like to give students the opportunity to ‘experience’ the program for half a class period so they can pick two or three programs to participate in. They get a chance to talk to other students, talk to the instructors, talk to me. I talk to them about what the marketplace is calling for. Then, they have a chance to see if they are interested in those jobs. While they are here, we train them in classrooms, lab time to practice what they learn, and then we give them ‘live’ work projects, and by the time they graduate, they go out for internship opportunity. By the time they are done, they know if that is the field they want to be in or not.

BN. What are the biggest challenges vocational programming is facing?

Morse: The general misconception of our society that every student must go into a four-year college program. That is just not true. So, why are we pushing them into it? It’s the result of the classical approach to education back to the time of Plato and Socrates. You give every student a well-rounded world view, so they can carry on intelligent conversation and become interesting people. What industry is calling for now is skill sets, not general degrees. They need students who have specific knowledge and skills in very specific areas.

BN. When you looked at the programs offered at LRVC, what were your thoughts?

Morse: We had health occupations, automotives and construction technologies. I always wanted to have a culinary program (which is in place at LRVC). I think there are a lot of opportunities, especially in this area, for students to get hired right out of high school. The programs here, I’m very excited about. The fire science, law enforcement and emergency medical services are very much needed in the area.

One vision I would have is to help students in existing programs, who may have interest in opening their own garage or business, to get some business management training — how to handle the finances of the operation, how to market the business.

BN. How has the transition been for you coming to LRVC?

Morse: Overall, it’s been a little overwhelming because we are moving our home and taking on the new job all at once. The transition into the school has been excellent. The staff is very supportive, willing to help. I am learning about Diversified Occupations program, which we didn’t have. A lot of conversations about the philosophies of why they do what they do.

I am appreciative of the job Rosie did for this school. The more I learn about the school and talk to people, I see she did a quality job. I’ve known Rosie for quite a few years, and we had a few chances to talk.

BN. Did this move just happen or has it been in the works?

Morse: It was something I thought about for a few years. For 20 years, we lived in northern Aroostook County. My wife is from Presque Isle, so when we moved up there, there was family (her side) there. Through the years, they moved to Florida one at a time. So, we ended up being the only ones left. My family is all over the place in southern Maine.

One of the things I miss from up north is every inch of land is owned by someone down here. Some lakes, you really don’t have access to. Up there, you have access to just about everything. You can drive down a woods road (40 miles into the woods) and go fishing in any stream or pond. Here, you have to be more selective. I enjoy fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing and biking.

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