Supporting Work Readiness and Learning With a Purpose with Greg Donovan
February 22, 2022
Supporting Work Readiness and Learning With a Purpose
Does a high school diploma make kids ready for the workforce? The answer is no. Sure, they have knowledge of history and geography. But high schools don’t teach the relevant, saleable skills that graduates can take to the workforce.

Students either have to go to college or learn a skill.

What if our youth learned a skill in high school? A skill that got them ready for work and that they actually wanted to learn about? That’s the idea behind West-MEC, a career and technical education district in Arizona. This week on the podcast, I’m thrilled to bring you West-MEC’s superintendent, Gregory Donovan.

Greg’s passion for allowing kids to fit into their own boxes, instead of fitting everyone into the same box, really shines through. He supports relevance in education and making sure kids (and the public) know that there are so many different pathways one can take in any given industry.

Before you encourage your students to apply for college, listen in. College alone is not enough. Nor does everyone need to attend college, and not everyone wants to. Let’s make that okay, because it is!

About Greg Donovan:

Gregory J. Donovan serves as the Superintendent of Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC) public school district #402, the Career and Technical Education District (CTED) currently serving twelve school districts primarily in Western Maricopa County. Donovan has served as Superintendent for fifteen years, the entire history of the CTED. Ten years prior to that position, he was with Northern Arizona University’s Institute for Future Workforce Development developing and implementing statewide Career and Technical Education (CTE) curriculum and facilitating teacher development. He also worked at the Arizona Department of Education in the CTE division and was a teacher and program director in local school districts. Overall, Donovan has thirty-eight years of educational experience, including eight years of service on the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board.

Jump in the Conversation:

[2:57] – What is West-MEC?
[4:03] – School transformation and evolution for Greg
[6:00] – The biggest needs for students in the US right now
[7:10] – Students are “mediocre” because they don’t see the point and purpose
[8:45] – How West-MEC is meeting kids with the right student, right program
[9:36] – Do your kids know what you do for a living?
[12:38] – We’re putting more stuff in the same sized sack
[14:15] – We need to start talking about career pathways, passion, from the youngest ages
[16:44] – We need to bring more relevance to education system
[18:18] – What traditional educators can do right now to help make classes more relevant
[21:43] – What they’re not telling you about scholarship distributions
[26:53] – The college dropout rate is huge
[27:08] – 20% of jobs in America require a bachelor’s degree
[29:48] – What a high school diploma qualifies you to do (nothing)
[36:31] – Recent cultural shifts in education
[37:04] – We don’t have to fit in the same box
[37:40] – Turbo Time
[48:09] – Maureen’s Takeaways

Links & Resources



Maureen O’Shaughnessy 0:03
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of Ed active, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:08
Hi, Greg, it is so good to have you on education evolution today.

Greg Donovan 1:12
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:16
And listeners today I’m chatting with Superintendent Greg Donovan. West Mec School District in Arizona is helping children through adults access career training. They support work readiness, and students having a sense of purpose. Let’s hear how West Mec makes this happen. Greg, our schools must evolve to serve all learners and make them future ready. Where did this story of school transformation begin for you?

Greg Donovan 1:45
Well, thank you. But if I could just back up for a moment. You introduced our community by saying West mec I would like to just say West mech is an acronym that actually stands for Western Maricopa Education Center. We encompass the greater western portion of Metropolitan Phoenix and Arizona. And we are a career technical education district. In other words, our sole mission is career and technical education. We don’t teach the academics or liberal arts portion of either a high school diploma or an associate’s degree, we are purely it to your technical portion.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 2:29
You know, that’s a great clarification. And here in Washington State, we have little pockets of these skill centers. But you’re a whole district. So yes, thank you for that clarification of what you are and what you aren’t.

Greg Donovan 2:44
And again, I want to get to your question, and really, how did we evolve or what’s the story, but we currently overlay 14 different school communities. We provide career and technical education. In 49, comprehensive traditional high schools, we run for campuses or career centers of our own. And we also partner with local community colleges currently to community college campus, where students transported to for their career technical programs. So students attend high school students attend part of their day, either at their traditional comprehensive high school, charter school, private school, online school, home school, they would spend part of their day with us for their career, particular career pathway for adults, in 99% of our cases, they just come to our what we refer to as central campuses for their career program. So that that for our audience kind of tells you who we are. Yes. And so let’s go back to your question again, help me again.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 4:01
Yeah, so we know schools have to evolve. And all learners need to be future ready. Where did this story of school transformation begin for you?

Greg Donovan 4:12
Well, it actually began for me because as a young person, I guess I want to say somehow, I was always intrigued with building things, mechanical things, wanted to learn that kind of stuff. And when I got to high school, I took some of those types of classes. Historically, in that era, we call them shop classes, those kinds of things. And I actually wanted to attend a local Vocational Center and take a construction program, home construction, and my counselor decided that’s not what I should do, and just flat out said, Nope, uh, you don’t need to do that, in fact, said you need to make something of yourself. I really think it was more about filling seats on our campus, rather than whether they were really concerned about my career or future because there was never any discussion about futures careers. What are you going to do with yourself? And I think for our conversation today with this committee is this rut that our country has gotten itself into that the only road to success in America is a four year university degree straight out from high school. And so it became my mission that I felt I was really denied that. But the teachers that I liked, and the programs I liked, I thought, You know what, that looks pretty fun. I’m going to become a, for lack of a word, vocational teacher, way my career Wait,

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 5:40
love it, and that you weren’t honored your strengths, your interests weren’t honored. And you found a way to get back to those and to create this school district that helps kids have the choices that your counselor denied you. I’m curious, what do you see as the need right now? Our high school kids get their four years of English get all their graduation requirements? And what do you see is the need of our high school students in the US right now?

Greg Donovan 6:12
Well, I think your key partners right now that this has been going on for some time, but today’s student wants to know why they’re doing something, they have access to lots of information. It’s not about not being able to access information because they can access anything but more that old question of why do I need this? What am I going to do with it? This latest generation, Z generation is saying, I want to make the world a better place. So what where is my place? Somehow public education has not done a good job for a long time, in talking about career pathways, in talking about careers, talking about how accessing that career, it’s kind of been this generalization, if you will, that just getting lots of education will make you successful. But I think at some point, everybody listening to this is going to say, Yep, I remember that class, thinking to myself, Where am I ever going to use this? We all know, once we found our reason for being or we understood how to use it, or why to use it suddenly made sense. And we had an interesting, what is so amazing for us is we get a lot of students coming to us, I think you all would refer to them as mediocre, maybe even a little below average, academically, because they just don’t see the point in purpose. And as soon as they find the point and purpose. We got the parents and even school counselors, can we say that? She’s on the honor roll. He’s on the honor of what have you done to this person? They’re a completely different person. Well, they’re not different. It’s just the thing started making sense. And we all know, when we don’t understand something, or we don’t know how to use it. We’re hesitant. We don’t apply ourselves. Or we even turn away from something as simple as fixing things in our own home, or where we live. Oh, I don’t know anything about that. I’ll hire somebody. It may not be that complicated. But when you don’t know, it just doesn’t make any sense.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 8:23
Absolutely. And I hear parents talking about their kids, they can’t get them up into school in time. And I’ll ask Does your kid have a job? Oh, yeah. He’s your kid late to his job. Never. It’s like, yeah, when kids know there’s relevance. They get to where they’re supposed to be. And they do what they’re supposed to be doing, when it’s meaningful to them. So this makes perfect sense. And I wonder how are you at West mech, meeting kids here and helping them figure out what is meaningful for them?

Greg Donovan 8:52
Well, we call it right student right program. And I’m going to go again, we have over the last five or six years, we’ve really expanded our efforts and the technological changes in the workplace. The demographic change of our workforce, especially the last couple of years with more of the workforce working remotely and through technology for those that can is what’s the point? We start talking to young people, what do you think he might like? What attracts you what is interesting to you? And what we find a lot if we can get students to come to our campuses and be exposed to some of these programs. You know, everybody thinks they know what things are because of television, or that type of media, video media, they watch things. But that’s a very warped sense. Being a lawyer is not the law in order to television show, right? Law enforcement is not FBI. Being in the medical profession is not Grey’s Anatomy, or Some of the brand new ones that are out there. Really, what is it? You know, there used to be a time in life. And this is, you know, probably 150 years ago when you lived on a farm, so you saw what was going on on a regular basis farmer ranch, and then you went to town, and you saw the little businesses around the town square. And that was kind of life’s options. I challenge routinely, adults to ask their children. Do you know what I do for a living? And I don’t mean they look at you and say, Yeah, you work with computers? And what does that mean? You build things. My dad is in construction. And I love to say doing what he builds fix. Our own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews cannot even tell you what their parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents do for a living. They work in a restaurant. There’s a lot of different jobs in a restaurant. Yeah. People see me routinely. I wear my West Mac shirts, a lot. People say Oh, do you work at West Mac? And I smile, say yes. And the very next line most the time is, oh, are you a teacher? Because when you think education, what do you think of teachers. But education is a business, we have every type of job there is from all of our facilities, people, all of our business people, all of our internal management people, all of our leadership positions, all of our counselors, we have all kinds of employment, people that help students get connected with jobs. Nobody thinks about the broad breadth, we call them. Career trees. We’re working with an organization called tools for schools. Every one of our program has a picture of a great big tree. We list the various levels, types and careers, from the roots, all the way up to the top leaves from entry level to most advanced. Where do you want to live? What is your pathway? And then what does it take to get there?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 12:14
Wow, that visual alone would expand that you know that kid that’s credit math, you know, you could be an actuary, what’s an actuary, just to help them visually see all the directions they can go with something they’re interested in, would be really powerful. And I don’t see that happening very often in the schools around me.

Greg Donovan 12:32
They just, we don’t have time, I want to make a little statement, maybe this will cause somebody who’s listening to think a little bit. Our great grandparents years in mind, our grandparents, our parents, and us and our children and grandchildren, we are still going essentially the same number of days per year, same number of years, we call it a high school education or secondary education. And yet, since I went to high school, we’ve added several decades of history to the history class. So what is it? We’re no longer teaching? Really in 2022? Should high school maybe be five or six years? Is there just more that needs to be known and what needed to be known at 99? We didn’t want to put more stuff in the same size sack and it’s just not working?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 13:28
Yes. And kids feel like a so many of them tell me they feel like they’re just checking off the boxes. I need three years of science I need you know, they’re and they’re getting really good at school. And then when you talk to them, what’s beyond that? They have no answers, except for more school because that’s all I know how to do. So you’re right, we keep Cramming more in and having kids go through the motions. But the Gen Z kids that want relevance want to serve, we’re not helping them get those connections. And I don’t think our educators are trained in and given the support to that. It’s like, teach to those tests, cover this content, make things happen. And now with masks on in the middle of a pandemic. So right, I think we just keep doing more of the same and Cramming more in. So what would you want what is needed in our traditional high schools to help kids have this awareness and have these options?

Greg Donovan 14:23
Well, I think simply said we need to start talking about careers and career pathways. Passion, what are what is the workplace of today and what does that mean? From the youngest ages? Literally, as an educator, and at one time, I worked for one of our state universities and I used to tour a lot of elementary schools and teachers were so proud. I’d walk into the primary grades and they’d say, this is Mr. Donovan. He works for you know, the university. How many of you are going to college when you you get older. Of course, every hand in the room went up. These young children weren’t even under old enough to understand what they were doing. But they’d already been indoctrinated that the road to success was going to college, not because I love to say to people, my child’s going to college, great, CTE is not for my child, they’re going to college. But somehow it’s exclusive, you need to go to work, or you go to college. To me, a college education ultimately leads to a stellar career, and a stellar opportunity. So how did we get on this? Well, those are people that are going straight to work, aren’t we all going to work at some point. But we need to start talking in a broader term. You need to take this math class, because you’ve expressed an interest in doing this in order to do that, here’s how this works. Not you need to do this. So you get into the right college.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 15:58
They’re connected to real life in

Greg Donovan 16:02
younger and there’s a lot of fear out there that we go back to some old fashioned thinking of tracking students. And those fears are real because they were real. At the time. I talked about a career tree, I get parents that say to me, I don’t want my child swinging a hammer for 40 years. Where did that come from? No one takes a career and does the same job for 40 years, it just doesn’t happen. We need to expand the thinking of our community of our families, and educators. Well, rounded education is extremely important in our society, a broad breadth of understanding is needed. We want our citizenry to be well education, it is the strength and backbone of our country, to have an well educated citizenry. But relevant education, and a citizenry that is well engaged in their own careers and pathways are much more engaged than those that are just ignorantly going down the path. And so your ultimate answer to the question is, I think we need to bring more relevant store educational system.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 17:23
I agree. Yeah. And I see kids getting through. So my daughter’s friends getting through college. And it’s like, now what? And for most of them immediately, it’s like, why you have to get a paycheck because I have student loans to pay back. So never has it been about what’s meaningful, what’s relevant, what are their gifts, it’s been school, school, school, and then pay off school, school school. So it never gets into Wait, what are you called to do? What lights you up what’s really important to you. So the disconnect is huge. And then we saddled these kids with a huge debt, and still no sense of direction after years of university. So you’ve got your trees, you’ve got the kids that get connected to you get to see, hey, there’s all these possibilities? What could a traditional high school educator that’s listening? What’s something that they could do in their science class or their social studies class this week, to help kids start to think about where they’re heading and why?

Greg Donovan 18:26
Well, this is rather utopic. When you say what could a science teacher do that they could say to the class, here’s what I want you to accomplish? So how is this relevant to something you’re interested in? They’re not ready for that leap, if you will, to tie in some of those science classes to relevant world. We’re going to do this in class, you know, where they use these kinds of things. They use it in the medical profession, we use it in law enforcement through, you know, criminal science, and all those things. Look at all these things that this stuff is really used that most of our young people can identify with, quote, the medical world, or criminal science, or, you know, you’ve all seen shows where they’re looking at the blood and all that. So what do they look at? When they look at the microscope? You see on TV, they talk about it, but we’re going to really do it today. Bring something they can wrap their hands around rather than just all this biological jargon that they’re going. I don’t know what he’s talking about, or she’s talking about in why do I need to know this?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 19:38
That sounds like it should be so simple, but I think a lot of us in education have been doing the same thing for quite a while and maybe without that level of thought. So just unpacking why this is important and where I will use this could could be a huge step for traditional classroom teachers and starting to connect those dots for accounts.

Greg Donovan 20:00
And with no blame to the current teachers or our leaders that are running local schools, and counselors, all that because most of our schools in this country have been labeled, we get measured. The old saying what gets measured gets done. And then we advertise now that this school is an A school, or an A plus school, or a B school or a C school. And certainly nobody wants to be a C, D, or F school. And so we focus on everything for one purpose and one purpose only. What is the label put on us by the state, which only measures test scores, which is all traditional academic based? Because every parent wants their kid in an A plus school? Yeah. So it becomes a vicious circle, the parents who want their child engaged, the families want their child to be happy. But yet they also was the parent have the leadership role, and making sure their kids enrolled in a good school?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 21:07
Oh, yes, it is. It’s a catch 22.

Greg Donovan 21:12
And let’s, let’s go down a different path for a minute we talked about it. I’m sure at some point, you’ve been to a high school graduation ceremony. Maybe only your own. I would assume that many people that listen to this are involved or interested in education could identify with this. Every high school graduation and I have been to many as a school board member and now as a superintendent and family and nieces and nephews announced the same thing. This year senior class received $23 million in scholarships to their higher education at local universities across this nation. And the entire audience just whoops and hollers and, and claps. What they never say is, is that of the $23 million in scholarships, 19 million went to the top five students, and a few other things, and we got 300 students sitting here feeling bad, because they know in their heart, they weren’t part of that announcement. And somehow they did something wrong. So they’re already starting on a negative step. Why don’t we? Why don’t we announce every high school graduation. Today, we have 23 million in scholarships. We have 150 students who have already received industry certification and are ready for the workforce. We have 50 students who have signed athletic scholarships across community colleges and universities in this country. We have five going into the military who have already signed their papers and are going to serve our country proudly. Every senior class has those. Why aren’t they saying of the 375 students here today for high school graduation? They have reported to us 295 of them already have a job and are contributing citizens in our local community. Let’s be proud of that. I love a one announcement. The only thing worth a notion of high school graduations How many of you got a scholarship to a local universe? not local to a university? Yeah, period. That’s the only thing that counts.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 23:28
Yep. And I can parallel that I was in a private school that represents a lot of private schools, the school profile talks about how many students have been admitted into a four year university 98% of our students are admitted, and some even say and attend a four year university. And then the tracking is done. How many kids are there a year later? We know the freshmen dropout rate is so it’s like we did our part we launched them Well, too bad that they it’s not their path, and then they’re in debt and have no sense of what they want to do. But it’s not college. So I agree we’re measuring the wrong things to tie into students having success being work and future ready, and being ready to be contributing citizens. This what you’re saying makes perfect sense to me, Greg,

Greg Donovan 24:13
I hear on a regular basis. Greg, I’m so glad you do this, because not everyone is college material. That just sends me into orbit. And for our listeners, I don’t know what that means. Who’s decided who is and who isn’t college material. And if you went back and looked at my paperwork, I was not college material. So I don’t know what that means, but over 92% of our program completers at Westpac 92% Plus, in some of our programs, it’s 100 because of the program have higher education aspirations. It is a complete falsehood that students who are interested in a career pathway specific Typically in high school, or non college material, or they’re just going to go get a job. Yep. Our students see this as a pathway. You’ve talked about the university debt crisis. You want to be in the medical field, why not take our Medical Assisting program, go through it, learn the anatomy, the physiology, have a hospital clinical experience, get that ma Medical Assisting credential, and go to work while you’re going to higher education, get on with an organization or a practice that has to Wishon assistance, reduce that debt load. And so what if it takes you two years longer to complete the program? So what and if you have less debt, and you build that resume, and you know, this is your passion? What’s wrong with that? But instead, we have counselors and families out there saying, No, that’s not for us. We’re going to college.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 25:59
It’s crazy, because what you’re saying actually means they can be learning about the medical field while they’re in it so they can apply the learning. And both my daughter started Community College one did a couple certificates. One transferred, she did dual enrollment and transferred to a four year and cried, she’s like, I need to do this. This is what society expects. And it’s just academic bulimia binging and purging. And luckily, we found a place where she could design our own. But Community College for both of them was amazing. Because the teachers were there to teach, they weren’t trying to publish, they weren’t doing research. They knew their students, they were super available. It wasn’t a grad student teaching 100 of them. So this idea that community college is less than or career track is less than hasn’t been the experience for 100% of my kids. So I’m with you on that.

Greg Donovan 26:49
Well, you you mentioned about the University of college dropout rate, it’s astronomical. We don’t need to beat that that pathway much. It’s it’s a very common fact, only about 35% that ever start a higher education pathway finish it. But here’s the real killer. You don’t have to dig very deep, I should call it the code. Here’s the real facts. Only about 20% of the jobs in America require a baccalaureate degree or higher, less than 1% require master’s degree or higher of the total jobs in America. But over 60%, and it’s climbing regularly, probably pushing 70% At this point, require education beyond high school and require some kind of certificate or licensure, or technical ability.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 27:43
Whoa, there’s a big gap there. If only 20% of our kids jobs require a four year degree, but 60% require something. It sounds like more of our kids should be focusing on the something than on the four year degree.

Greg Donovan 27:58
What 5060 years ago, this country got off on a tangent that the road to better success was going off to college. I don’t want my child working at the local plant or factory. I want them to go to college at that point in time. A lot of that, you know, there was a cliche when I was very young, just get a degree and people will offer you a job because they see your persistence and how much knowledge you have and blah, blah, blah. It’s different today, and we haven’t changed. You have a baby today. And you start getting stuff for starting a college savings account, the Gerber Baby savings account, grandma and grandpa at their christening, at their first birthday at they’re coming home from the hospital come over and hand you a check or a savings bond and say here’s the first bond towards their college education. Not here is some money to help get them a career, not us. So when they get old enough, they can pursue a technical degree, a university degree whatever is right for them, and I want them to have the ability. The statement is, here’s some money we’re going to start a college savings fund. We even have the federal government that has college saving funds non taxing, yep. And it says College. Now we want an educated populace and I hope the people listening understand. I’ve worked for two state universities, Northern Arizona University and Arizona State. I am not anti University. I am not anti education. I’m relevant education. And the education I took and the education I taught for those universities was for relevancy in programs that were leading people to specific outcomes,

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 29:44
leading people to specific outcomes. That is such a missing piece for high school graduates and college graduates.

Greg Donovan 29:54
What does a high school diploma qualify you to do?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 29:58
Nothing It’s a gateway and a lot of kids won’t be considered for different things without that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re it doesn’t mean they know how to be a barista at Starbucks, it doesn’t mean they know how to be a nursing aide in a nursing home, it doesn’t mean any job connection directly that I can think of if it’s just the traditional high school diploma, what do you think?

Greg Donovan 30:23
What it says is you have the basic rudimentary elements of reading or writing and basic mathematics. Basic science, you have the rudimentary is of a good citizen of those subjects. But here’s where I want to go down this path. Why? Why would we not want when we have the time and the systems in place in this country, for every high school student to graduate with a saleable skill, exposure to a pathway of interest, and understand how to get from the roots of their tree to the top leaves. We all understand most of us listening to this myself, you included, we do not end up where we start when we’re 16 or 17 years old. No one is saying that no one is trying to put a ball and chain around the ankle of these young people that you said you want to be an auto technician. And that’s what you’re going to do for the rest of their life. No, we’re trying to show them success. We’re trying to show them that they can learn well, we’re trying to give them a skill to always make them money. And once you understand that, you know you can do anything.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 31:33
Yes, and then use their 20s while their frontal lobe is still developing, to explore experience with a sense of I can earn my living I am I’m secure. And then they can start to say, hey, this work Nope, I don’t like cubicles. That’s not where I want my career to be. And they can use their 20s. Yeah, I want some more education here. I want another certificate here. So I can specialize. So yeah, having them graduate with a sellable skill, knowing how their passions can align with a career. And like I said, how to go from the roots up to the leaves. That to me, is much more powerful than graduating with, I know how to read and I know how to do math. And I have no idea what I do the day after I graduate.

Greg Donovan 32:18
I know this will be an irritant to some people. But I do not believe I do not believe that you should be allowed to enroll in institution of higher education, community college level, or university level without a declared major. I just don’t think it should be allowed. If you don’t know why you were there.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 32:38
Why would you do that? And are you even in the right place? If you’re at your cousin’s University, and you want to study agriculture? Does that university even have something that aligns with your interests? That is that’s a really provocative statement, Greg, I like it.

Greg Donovan 32:53
What does it mean these people that are liberal arts, you’re well welded, well educated person. But ultimately, in this country, we have very few Blue Bloods, we have very few people that are going to sit around the rest of their life, living off the family trust, for those that are go for it. Yep, I just did just, again, a well rounded education. I don’t believe that somebody says they want to be a welder should never be exposed to social studies, or humanities or reading culture or any of that it’s good. We need to be a cultured society. Right? It’s not either or, it is not either, or, and if we added, I know this is really controversial. But if we added two more years to high school, couldn’t we expose these young people to more stuff and be more well rounded? And what’s the rush today? There was a time the rush was to get them out in the fields and help. Yep, the GI Bill. We all know what that means. The GI Bill was created for a couple of reasons. But one of them was that we had so many people returning from war, the workforce could not absorb them. And so putting them in school kept them busy for a period of time, while our economy regrew and the workforce regroup, and then to absorb them back into the workforce. But let’s talk about why we developed some of these things. Let’s talk about when World War One ended. We had a couple of several million young men coming back from Europe, who had seen the world they were no longer interested in going back to the farm and sitting on a three legged stool and milking the cows with dead

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 34:43
Yep, they think the world

Greg Donovan 34:45
we have become we become much more industrialized. So they needed more information in their brain in order to go to work within that industrial culture. So we created the Smith us Act, which was the first Vocational Education Act, to give them the skills to go to work in those industrial complex type environments, factories, manufacturing those things because they literally didn’t know how to do it. So we’ve done a rich history of understanding how to create a well educated, prepared workforce. But somewhere along the way, it became that if you worked for a living, that the word work became a four letter word. We need to be proud, everybody can’t be the same. We don’t all want to sit at home and stare at a computer screen. There’s a place for that in today’s environment, but who’s going to build our houses that we’re going to work from home in?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 35:51
Exactly. And we are so snobby, and I have been so snobby about work versus education. I know when my dad started out as an accounting professor, it was a book, it was bookkeeping, it wasn’t a part of the regular college. And he had to really fight to have it considered equal because that was labor. That was work. That was a skill, not an academic subject. It’s such a sense of elitism and it, it was a career and it was meaningful. I mean, we just, we have such a sense of this. This is something that feeds my ego. This is something that status building this isn’t, and it’s not serving us.

Greg Donovan 36:36
So what’s happened in the last few years, the movement across America is choice. The growth of charter schools, the growth of homeschooling the growth of online schools, exclusively online, and thanks, Parents Choice, more parents, in my opinion, who were in some cases, disgruntled with some of their own education or educational opportunity, or experiences, saying I want a different experience for my child. And so today, we don’t all have to fit in the same box. from an academic standpoint. Now we need to get the cultural shift of talking about pathways, careers, what are you going to do for a living? And as we know, it’s very different now people call him gigs and benefits are a whole different thing. And retirements are self funded, and we have to change the way we’re preparing our young people for their own future.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 37:40
Mic drop, I agree. I’m going to shift as Greg and just get to know you a little better with some turbo time questions. And then we’re going to come back to this mindset in our closing. So just quickly, a couple things. What is the last book you read?

Greg Donovan 37:57
Well, Harlan COVID is a mystery a murder mystery writer. I don’t know if he’s even super current I, I go to these use book sales and I pick up five or six bucks from from a particular author if I read the cover that sounds like but I like murder mysteries. And I pleasure read every night. It’s a relaxing for me. And I like murder mysteries and that kind of thing. A little bit of military or a little bit of government intrigue is always kind of fun to that. But But I really enjoy I do enough technical reading that that’s another whole subject we could talk about why don’t we teach technical reading? Ask me a personal question. I like reading murder mysteries.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 38:41
I’m with you. I did too. How about two inspirational folks to vote to me?

Greg Donovan 38:47
Well, you may not even know this one person. But I bought this for a long time. former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano. I served on a couple of committees that she assigned me to but she was Arizona’s first woman Governor back a while back, but then she was promoted by President Obama as our homeland security chief. And I would just love and in. She used to be on the radio on a regular thing. I thought she had some interesting ideas. I liked it. I would love to talk to her about that experience as Homeland Security and some experiences as governor. Some of the things she tried to do for education when she was governor. She tried to instill free across the board public all day k in the state of Arizona. I mean, she was pretty progressive for for earlier in the 2000s. And she just a person that intrigues me and I’ve thought many times as she’s kind of left that political scene. I would just love to have an evening with her.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 39:48
Yes. Is there another person that comes to mind?

Greg Donovan 39:52
A lot of people are going to have an evening with Franklin Roosevelt.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 39:58
I’m just reading out of it. or a biography about Elenor. So yeah,

Greg Donovan 40:03
in mostly how he, how he used the depression, to turn this country and that he had the vision to get the community, the country to buy into some of his vision and how to turn that World War Two came into view, which really helped put the depression to bed those things, but then he had to become a completely different leader and took on the pressures of the world. He just was an intriguing person for an intriguing time. There are certainly some other historical figures that intrigued me, but those are the two I’d say would

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 40:39
love it. What about a favorite place to travel?

Greg Donovan 40:44
Well, I want to go I’ve just barely touched your I’ve touched London and Norwich, England, Paris, France. That’s my limitations. I would love to see more of Europe, and those kinds of things. I’m very intrigued by South America. We had scheduled a trip for March of 2020 to South America, that that didn’t get to happen. I’d like to explore more of South America. I would love to do more. Europe, and I hope to get to do that to me. I’d love to see Ireland. It just looks beautiful intrigues me in the last name Donovan. There’s some Irish roots there a long ways back. But just yeah, I’ve done some some travel down to Mexico have been in the Caribbean quite a bit. That’s all lovely. I love the islands. I love the water. Those are all fun places.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 41:37
I agree. I’ve gotten to live and South America and Europe. And yep, I agree. There’s so much out there so much more I want to see too. How about a passion you bring to West Mec?

Greg Donovan 41:50
Well, I think the Pat one, the big passion I bring is I’m a hands on person myself. I’m not just talking the talk. I want to walk it to and I have a shop and I like cars and I like woodworking. I wanted to build homes, I still am intrigued by this stuff. I’ve still tackled many projects. So the passion is this work for me. And to this day makes more sense to me. So I understand why there’s a lot of students out there a lot of adults who have never found their way, because no one’s ever allowed them to find their passion, nor encourage them that what you’re interested in. Is okay. Yes.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 42:38
And what is something about you that most folks don’t know?

Greg Donovan 42:44
Well, I thought about the you give me a couple of questions you might ask. And that was one of them. I I’m kind of an open book about a lot of things I like and what I don’t like but you know, I think there’s something I haven’t said I would like to build a log. Oh, wow. She’s really interested. I am very intrigued with log homes. I’d like to try building one. I don’t know at this point. If I ever get to build one for myself, but maybe help someone build along at home just really intrigues me.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 43:17
Okay, listeners, anybody out there in Arizona building a log home. Greg’s your man. Love it. Greg, my final question on podcasts is a magic wand moment. So if you had a magic wand, what would you wish, our culture’s mindset to be around work ready and future ready paths for youth?

Greg Donovan 43:45
Well, you kind of answered the question that we would develop a mindset that part of growing up, if you will, was to look at and examine and explore what you think he wants to do with your life as a career. Because we’re no longer limited to the zip code we grew up in or what mom or dad did for a living you know, that was historical what it was and then started move west young man Well, that was to explore something new or do something different. We all heard you know, I didn’t want to work on the farm. So I left for the big city. I believe we it’s a culture shift if parents while they’re welding child children, nieces nephew, grandparents that I say parents, those influential adults to young people, wherever you go, whatever you do, you point out to him, Hey, see what that person is doing? They get paid for that. That’s their living. You go to the theme park. You don’t be little people who say you see these people working here. This is their job. They get paid for this. They get to have looks like fun to me. You know, but it’s work and different things that we continually as a culture point out To you kind of reflected earlier, it’s not about looking down your nose. It’s about looking up. Look at what people do for a living. They’re not hidden. They’re not in the background, none of us are better than anybody else. If I’m coming in from the parking lot in the morning, and there’s some trash laying there and some paper that was splitting across, and I can bend over and pick it up, I’ve been over and pick it up. Yeah, it’s not just somebody else’s job to police the parking lot in the morning, because I’m the superintendent. Mm hmm. None of us are better than anybody else. If not, for a brace of a decision or opportunity. We could be in the exact same spot. I announced it every one of our adult graduation ceremonies. I don’t expect to ever see any of you standing on the corner with a piece of cardboard because you now have a skill that will pay you no matter what. When you have a skill that someone will pay you for.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 46:06
Nice, yes. Right. They are empowered, now they need to go out and use it and start there and then go up the tree to whatever branch speaks to them.

Greg Donovan 46:18
And you know, we know that sometimes life happens. And, you know, the reason we’re on the court didn’t necessarily have anything to do with not having a skill, but other things that got in the way. But I think it’s important to emphasize to people that come back to us to earn new credentials to earn certificates to improve their life to get a new career, to do something different. are encouraged to say you’ve gotten now use it. It’s up to you. We can lead you, but we can’t force you.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 46:52
Perfect. I love what you’re doing and how you are creating relevance and helping kids tie into their passions and head in a direction that feels meaningful to them. Greg, thank you for your hard work and your visionary leadership.

Greg Donovan 47:12
If I could close with two things, one, those of you that are listening, say to your family and friends brag about what you do. Don’t apologize. I get so sick of hearing people say I’m just a no, I am a not just a and if I could close with a statement from news acre former news anchor and author Tom Brokaw that I really like there is a place in America to take a stand. That stand is in public education. For these in public education, it the American Dream is born. Thank you. I appreciate the time with you.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 47:53
Thank you, Greg, this has been wonderful.

Unknown Speaker 47:58
I look forward to chatting with you again in the future.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 48:01

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 48:13
What Greg has created with West mec and dedicated his career to is beyond impressive, it is inspirational. And I share his frustration at how we are so locked in on the educational model from 100 years ago. We know so much more now. And we have the task of preparing our youth for a vastly different future. This is not the industrial era. And we see so much hopelessness, anxiety and depression. In today’s youth and young adults. What we are doing is taking the life out of them. It’s not connecting them with any joy, any hope, any possibility. What will it take for us to shift our values to real wellbeing for our youth. We all thrive when our work aligns with our passions, purpose and strengths. There are countless episodes of my podcast explaining the importance of real world education, with students having a voice and choice. It is sad that our locked in mindset makes serving and preparing learners such an uphill battle. Thank goodness for people like Greg who have dedicated their careers to provide an education that is not only real world, but leads directly to a paycheck. Maybe it’s time for each of us to check our biases. Our kids deserve to be prepared for contributing and thriving in the real world. We can do better. Thank you for being a part of the education evolution.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 50:22
I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I spent years traveling working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs, and it always struck me on how much schools were able to get them with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your school, or to start a new school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 51:07
Education Evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen heard, valued and thriving. We need you Let’s go out and reach every student today. Leaving a rating and review for this podcast lets others know that you find it a value add it gets in the earbuds of more educational leaders like you. Thank you listeners signing off. This is Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education

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