Photo provided - Jim Berry, who has been involved with career and technical education in southwest Michigan for over 20 years, began his job as the new director of the St. Joseph County CTE program with the St. Joseph County ISD Friday, April 1.

New county CTE director enthusiastic about guiding program

CENTREVILLE — When someone is hired for a new job, one of the many qualities people look for is enthusiasm and passion for the type of work the job entails.

Jim Berry’s passion and enthusiasm for Career and Technical education is certainly evident, and his resume and professional background can definitely attest to it.

It’s one of the many reasons the 44-year-old Berry, who has been involved with CTE for more than 20 years in southwest Michigan, was recently hired to be the new director of Career and Technical Education at the St. Joseph County ISD, replacing the retiring Tommy Cameron. His first day as the new director was this past Friday, and he said he was “thrilled” to be a part of the still-growing program in the county.

“I'm thrilled to come over here and work in CTE at the ISD and the eight high schools that share programs, and Glen Oaks. CTE is my passion,” Berry said. “I am thrilled to be here, and I'm ready to get started.”

Berry has been involved in CTE and the kind of jobs surrounding it for practically his entire professional career. A native of the Grand Haven and Spring Lake area, he grew up around an uncle that owned a tool and die shop as well as a grandfather who worked at a brass foundry in the area. His first taste of skilled trade and labor came from that tool and die shop, where he worked at in his high school years.

“I worked on mills and lathes and cutoff saws and everything in the tool and die shop, C&C machines too,” Berry said.

In high school, Berry took CTE drafting and design, which led him to originally want to be a drafter and work in computer-aided design (CAD) following high school. However, while studying for an associate’s degree in drafting at Muskegon Community College, one of his professors asked if he ever considered being a teacher, as he was a CAD lab assistant. That conversation, he said led to him changing course a bit and in 2000 graduating from WMU with a bachelor’s degree in industrial tech to become a CAD teacher.

During college, he found a way to translate his schooling into a job.

“They had job fairs back then at colleges and I checked out the St. Joseph High School, St. Joseph Public Schools table, and they had a drafting teacher opening,” Berry said.

That started what became a 22-year career at St. Joseph Public Schools, where he worked prior to taking the job with the St. Joseph County ISD. At St. Joseph High School, he was a teacher for 11 years, seven of those as a CTE teacher, helping to jumpstart a robotics program at the school that is still around and occasionally hosts district competitions for the area. He also wore a number of different hats with the school’s administration, including being a counselor for five years and most recently the assistant principal for the past six years and CTE Director for the school for the past eight.

“I've been directly or indirectly involved with CTE my whole career,” Berry said, also praising the role of counselors in the success of CTE programs. “Counselors are the lifeblood of CTE for students, and over here at the ISD our career coordinators and student success coordinators and what they do to meet with kids is huge.”

Berry, who is also the president of the Michigan Association for Career and Technical Education (MI ACTE), said the biggest thing that appealed to him about becoming the director of the CTE program in St. Joseph County was the CTE millage passed back in 2019 by county voters. He said having a millage available is a good sign of the community’s passion for the type of programs CTE offers.

“When I see that, I think, wow, there's a lot of community and countywide support for CTE in this county,” Berry said. “Everything you can do with that for kids and for getting them into high-wage, high-demand, high-skill jobs, that's huge. When you have a millage, you have more funds to help different programming, and that's a big thing.”

Given highly-publicized issues about shortages in high-skill trade workers nationwide, Berry said CTE is more important than ever in getting students the kind of experience and education they need to thrive in those career fields.

“There's an occupational outlook through 2028 for this region, and you have to look at all the careers that are projected to grow, what they pay, and kids need to know that there's demand for certain occupations, and if they're in a program like ag or public safety, they need to know there's going to be a job from their CTE program,” Berry said. “If I'm in a CTE program as a kid, I need to know that there's high demand, high skill, high wage jobs out there.

“There is a worker shortage, and CTE can help with that. It's tough for employers right now coming out of a two-year pandemic, and CTE is here to help. We're here to listen. We want to help the workforce, we want to help employers,” Berry added.

Berry said he’s excited about the expansion of the CTE program coming into the next school year, which will feature a brand-new public safety program and an expanded health science program. He said he’s “curious” to see how it’ll work out, and ready to see what opportunities the programs will bring students.

The biggest thing right now, Berry said, is getting acclimated to the county and learning about the county’s CTE program and what it entails. He said his first year is going to be a “listening and learning tour” to learn about the programs and getting a feel for what’s already going on.

“I have to still get out into the buildings. I need to meet the teachers, I need to meet the counselors, I need to see kids working. I want to meet with the employers, and I look forward to the advisory committees and what people are saying in the community,” Berry said.

Developing relationships, Berry said, will be a priority in his first year as well, saying the biggest thing he looks forward to is meeting everybody involved with CTE in the county, from the students to the teachers and the stakeholders.

Another thing he’s excited to learn about is the agriculture programs in the county, something that he said he didn’t get to work with too much in Berrien County.

“I'm looking forward to learning about our ag programs in St. Joseph County. I know they're great, FFA is huge, and that's one of the most exciting things I'm looking forward to,” Berry said.

Berry said he wants to see the CTE program in St. Joseph County grow in the future, and said one of the things he wants to do is expounding on the goals the CTE millage set out to achieve.

“I know we're meeting those goals right now, but I think one area we're going to continue to grow in is work-based learning. One of the career coordinators is getting our kids out to the various employers to work with and connect with employers and get exposure,” Berry said. “If there's an area we need to grow in or a program we need to consider, that needs to be implemented maybe through superintendent talks and employer talks and maybe we look at those.”

One of those programs that could grow in the future, Berry said, is the automotive program.

“We have automotive programs, but we know technology is going to greatly change in those areas with the battery systems being used, so how that can be implemented,” Berry said. “Electric vehicles, electronics, how they marry together as well.”

Overall, Berry said he looks forward to beginning his tenure as CTE Director and what the job will bring.

“I'm looking forward to spending some time here and getting to know the community,” Berry said.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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