Podcast 14: A World Class Educational Center in Our Backyard

Mark Whitlock is the CEO of Georgia's first College and Career Academy, Central Educational Center (CEC). CEC has been replicated at least 51 times in Georgia. CEC became the first program in the U.S., ever, to incorporate a certified German Apprenticeship Program that allows student apprentices as young as age 15 to begin the program, and then complete the program during the high school years.

 

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TRANSCRIPT

00;00;00;04 - 00;00;30;21
Mark Witlock
The flags in the lobby represent countries that have sent people here to study what we do. So each flag has a story. The Japanese flag two researchers came and wrote a story that's in Japanese higher education literature. I always tell people, you know, there are more people in Japan that know about CEC than there are people in this area.

00;00;32;20 - 00;00;54;15
Glen Gould
Welcome to Connections on Glen Gould. And this is our video series where we get to interview and meet people of influence and importance in our community, people that we've come across that we have known. And I have the great delight of introducing you to Mark Whitlock, the CEO of the Central Educational Center. Mark, you and I have known each other a long time, so I know what you do.

00;00;54;15 - 00;00;59;26
Glen Gould
But why don't you share with our audience what you do and the impact that it has in this community?

00;00;59;27 - 00;01;02;25
Mark Whitlock
First, Glen, thanks for having me on Connections. I appreciate it.

00;01;02;25 - 00;01;03;09
Glen Gould
Thank you.

00;01;03;18 - 00;01;30;10
Glen Gould
What you guys are doing with this? What I do. The Central Educational Center is a joint venture that connects local business with the Coweta County School System and West Georgia Technical College. So that by the age of 18, people in our community can have much higher level technical skills to be ready for today's economy. So that's what we do.

00;01;30;21 - 00;01;52;21
Mark Witlock
We make those connections. We help bring the educational providers together to listen to business and to follow what business needs to have done, especially for people at younger ages. We also serve adults, but our focus is on those students who are still in high school.

00;01;52;28 - 00;02;16;14
Glen Gould
Okay. And so students that come here. Are they on a more, I guess, what we would have called technical college track back when I was growing up? Are there more learning skills that they can immediately put to work once they get out? Or are they also training for perhaps to go into a more specialized field once they hit college?

00;02;17;00 - 00;02;17;14
Mark Witlock
Yes.

00;02;17;18 - 00;02;18;00
Glen Gould
Okay.

00;02;18;21 - 00;02;49;24
Mark Witlock
So the answer is yes. Yeah. So you'll find a range of options that students take when they're students at CEC. Some are on a traditional university path, but they know an area of focus for their college or university major. Some are on a technical college path, so they know that they may want or need something all the way up to an associate degree or something shorter, like certificates.

00;02;50;19 - 00;03;08;24
Mark Witlock
They know they want to go directly into the workplace, but they need high level skills. Some are exploring, so they may be in some of the high school technical areas of study in order to rule in or rule out areas that they thought they might be interested in.

00;03;09;02 - 00;03;27;12
Glen Gould
Well, you know, of course, the you mentioned the economy of today. And, of course, you know, we've spent most of my adult life, you know, focusing on making sure your kid goes college, gets a good degree, goes off and, you know, has a secure job. But there's been a real focus in the past, I would say, ten years.

00;03;27;18 - 00;03;29;01
Glen Gould
You guys have been doing this. How long?

00;03;29;17 - 00;03;32;11
Mark Witlock
We've just finished our 22nd year.

00;03;32;23 - 00;03;38;19
Glen Gould
And is this I mean, is this a pioneer program where you guys the first.

00;03;38;19 - 00;03;58;21
Mark Witlock
We were the first. Okay, we are the first. Yeah. And we were created by this community. And this is a concept that was developed in this community, a local steering committee led by Dr. Joe Harless. Sure. You knew Joe. And Joe was well known around the world.

00;03;58;25 - 00;03;59;12
Glen Gould
Yes, he was.

00;03;59;12 - 00;04;19;25
Mark Witlock
Work in training and development. Joe, helpped the community analyze the need of business, design programs that meet those needs, develop those programs, implement and then begin the process of evaluation and redesign reanalysis and redesign.

00;04;19;27 - 00;04;22;10
Glen Gould
And that's known as the ADI process. The ADI process, right.

00;04;22;25 - 00;04;52;09
Mark Witlock
So that's an iteration that keeps flowing. That's why we keep changing. We keep changing to keep up with the economy as needs of business change. But so what we were designed to do 22 years ago was of such interest to the state of Georgia that then Governor Barnes later on, in particular, Republican Lieutenant Governor Casey.

00;04;52;19 - 00;04;55;27
Mark Witlock
Governor Barnes, a Democrat. So a bipartisan.

00;04;55;27 - 00;04;57;14
Mark Witlock
Effort.

00;04;57;21 - 00;05;30;21
Mark Witlock
We don't see much anymore. Yeah. But over the years, the state said we need to replicate this. So, Glen, the state has spent approximately $160 million to replicate this 54 times across the state of Georgia. We've had other states who've done replications, most notably for me, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, San Antonio, Texas. We've had people from other countries come here and begin to do replications in their country.

00;05;30;24 - 00;05;39;05
Glen Gould
Well, that's that's an incredible impact that this community had with it, with a great idea. And people who decided to do something about it.

00;05;39;06 - 00;06;04;25
Mark Witlock
A great idea in this community. It started with the business community and started with the notion that we're changing. Business is changing. We don't have as many supervisors. We use more automation and machinery. We have a global supply chain or a global customer base. And so we need people who can work at younger ages in that kind of environment.

00;06;04;25 - 00;06;08;00
Mark Witlock
And produce and that's what this was all about.

00;06;08;05 - 00;06;34;19
Glen Gould
So let's shift a little bit and talk about the recent past. People are always interested in the things that the impacts of things like COVID 19 and things like that. The things that you had to go through. And since your, you know, right here with the students, there's some concern that maybe the year of extended learning is kind of a lost year.

00;06;34;20 - 00;06;35;13
Glen Gould
Do you see that?

00;06;35;14 - 00;07;01;04
Mark Witlock
Yeah, Glen, it's clear that students suffered during that time. That was not optimal learning. Right. We know that. What we know is we tried to ensure that it wasn't a total loss and there was some success there, but not in these technical areas. Can you as easily do extended learning?

00;07;01;10 - 00;07;03;25
Glen Gould
Well, I guess a good example is that is what we have behind.

00;07;03;26 - 00;07;09;28
Mark Witlock
What we have behind this this this full motion aviation simulator. You can't do that.

00;07;09;28 - 00;07;22;22
Glen Gould
I mean, I can do a computer simulator, but I don't get the feel and I don't get the impact. And certainly I want somebody who has learned in a real simulator how to fly an airplane. Flying my airplane anyway.

00;07;23;04 - 00;07;49;27
Mark Witlock
Correct. Aviation industry, one of the pioneers in the use of simulation in our in our country and our world and aviation for decades has been using simulation like this. But it's a real simulator. And when you get in, you have the motion that you feel flying the aircraft. You have the instrumentation that you use flying the aircraft, and it's as close to flight as you'll get.

00;07;50;13 - 00;08;03;22
Mark Witlock
But you have to get in the simulator, do that. And by doing that, you know, we find some great, great learning. Again, in aviation, a pioneer in that and in our world.

00;08;03;23 - 00;08;18;16
Glen Gould
Yeah. Well, you know, one of the great things about the students that you have for the most part, I know students are students everywhere. But the students you have for the most part, they want to be here. Yeah. You know, a lot of students in a lot of schools, they they they end up in the system. They end up kind of bored.

00;08;18;16 - 00;08;24;05
Glen Gould
They haven't found their spot. And so your students and I imagine they were excited to come back on campus.

00;08;24;05 - 00;08;55;11
Mark Witlock
Our students were excited to come back. In all our schools. We our students were excited to come back here in particular because of the hands on style of learning that is central to what we do at CEC. Our students were excited. Maybe not as excited as our teachers. Yeah. And so the, the the opportunity to pick back up in that hands on technical education, we can't.

00;08;55;22 - 00;08;57;00
Mark Witlock
Yeah, you can't substitute.

00;08;57;04 - 00;09;11;28
Glen Gould
So it's, it's been an incredibly challenging couple of years. Not only did we have COVID 19 and we've had economy problems, but of course, we had a horrible tornado come through and completely destroyed in high school. What impact did that have over here?

00;09;12;04 - 00;09;40;17
Mark Witlock
Yeah, so we've had more students in the ninth grade and then in high school in CEC than we've ever had because in in high school, ninth grade is right behind us here. We have 580 students. Wow. In mobile classrooms on this campus, they'll be here for two more years. We've already had one year of that. Mm hmm. And that'll be here for a couple more years.

00;09;40;17 - 00;09;58;04
Mark Witlock
But that's ninth graders. Because of their proximity, we can get more of them involved in programs here. We will like our whole school system is done. We'll like lemonade out of lemons. And we will have more in in in high school students go through this program than we've ever seen.

00;09;58;18 - 00;10;04;08
Glen Gould
And so you you are you going to you expanding or is the campus changing or?

00;10;04;10 - 00;10;18;14
Mark Witlock
Yeah. So we're on the list for next expansion and ESPLOST and the new ESPLOST collections will start in July of 2022.

00;10;18;29 - 00;10;19;21
Glen Gould
So right now.

00;10;19;21 - 00;10;33;04
Mark Witlock
So right now. Yeah. And those collections for the next five years will help to pay for an expansion here that so far is budgeted between expansion and renovation at about $20 million.

00;10;33;10 - 00;10;52;02
Glen Gould
So this is one of those things where when you go and vote for a SPLOST, you know, this is what you get. And I think it's important to point that out that, you know, you may not be so, have so much in favor of extra taxes, but this particular one actually is an extra because it was already there and it's still doing great things.

00;10;52;02 - 00;11;00;19
Mark Witlock
So and we have lots of visitors because of the great economy here. We have lots of visitors to Coweta County who eat in our restaurant.

00;11;00;19 - 00;11;01;05
Glen Gould
That's right.

00;11;01;08 - 00;11;02;22
Mark Witlock
Who pay that tax?

00;11;02;23 - 00;11;11;18
Glen Gould
I've forgotten that when I was involved with the chamber, I know that there was a a numbers and it was a surprisingly large number of of tax dollars.

00;11;11;21 - 00;11;14;00
Mark Witlock
Estimates are close to 40% to 50%.

00;11;14;00 - 00;11;15;23
Glen Gould
I say. That's what I thought it was. But I wasn't going to say.

00;11;15;25 - 00;11;33;01
Mark Witlock
Yeah, 40% to 50% of the tax paid by people who don't live here now that's a good thing because they help pay for our schools. They the impact of their visit is sometimes they move here.

00;11;33;02 - 00;11;34;10
Glen Gould
That's right. That's right.

00;11;34;10 - 00;11;38;09
Glen Gould
And that's a great thing. We're growing and growing and we're growing so that ESPLOST helps.

00;11;38;11 - 00;11;43;16
Glen Gould
So tell me just a little personal stuff. How long have you been in Coweta?

00;11;43;26 - 00;11;51;16
Mark Witlock
Yeah, I was born and raised in Coweta County. I left after high school, after graduation I was gone.

00;11;51;16 - 00;11;52;01
Glen Gould
Did you go to Newnan?

00;11;52;09 - 00;12;17;02
Mark Witlock
I went to Newnan High School. I was in the ninth grade here at Central Educational Center. That was during the early days of desegregation. And so I was part of the group that helped desegregate our schools, that worked really well in Coweta. And Central was a part of Newnan High. I spent my ninth grade here.

00;12;17;02 - 00;12;33;18
Mark Witlock
10th, 11th, and I graduated in half a year in the 12th grade, went off to the University of Georgia, on to a consulting role post graduate school, and then to Bank of America for 18 years.

00;12;33;20 - 00;12;35;23
Glen Gould
And some of that was international?

00;12;35;25 - 00;13;01;05
Mark Witlock
Yes, some of that was international. About half the time at Bank of America was spent traveling around the world, working primarily in some some really innovative trade finance types of service for manufacturers worldwide, and in particular, trying to help American manufacturers. And we worked with a consortium of banks from around the world.

00;13;01;10 - 00;13;08;11
Glen Gould
And so then you take that experience. How do you end up back here in Coweta? I guess you didn't leave Coweta, probably.

00;13;08;18 - 00;13;18;16
Mark Witlock
Well, we did not live here until the early 1990. Okay. We moved here. My wife, not from this area.

00;13;18;17 - 00;13;21;05
Glen Gould
Okay. And how did you end up in this role?

00;13;21;13 - 00;13;56;23
Mark Witlock
Yeah, I ended up in this role because when I was still with Bank of America and was traveling internationally, we decided to move here. Our daughter was young, my wife from a military family. We wanted to raise our daughter in a home town. And it became a great place for Erin to grow up and to live when we did that, I got involved as a volunteer in the school system looking at this new state law called Charter School.

00;13;57;03 - 00;14;20;25
Mark Witlock
And among the things that happened out of that was an interest in getting into school choice, educational change. And when that opportunity came, as the community was looking at CEC, it was a great opportunity for me to raise my hand and say, I think I'd like to be part of that.

00;14;21;13 - 00;14;24;01
Glen Gould
So now were you the CEO from the beginning?

00;14;24;01 - 00;14;38;16
Mark Witlock
I was the first employee. And so 22 years ago, August 10th, 2000, I'd been on board for about close to five, six months, and we opened CEC.

00;14;39;28 - 00;14;49;16
Glen Gould
That's amazing. So it wasn't I didn't realize that. I mean, I guess it's been here for about six, seven years when I came down with it for the first time. Still, it's surprising.

00;14;49;20 - 00;15;02;13
Mark Witlock
Yeah. So by that time, six, seven years in, we were starting the the work directly with the state on the replications around the state of Georgia.

00;15;02;15 - 00;15;04;09
Glen Gould
That's really great. And you said 50.

00;15;04;21 - 00;15;06;04
Mark Witlock
54 others.

00;15;06;04 - 00;15;06;25
Glen Gould
So we got 100.

00;15;06;25 - 00;15;08;26
Glen Gould
And 70, soon to be 57.

00;15;08;26 - 00;15;09;07
Glen Gould
Counties?

00;15;09;14 - 00;15;13;12
Mark Witlock
We have 159 counties. 180 school.

00;15;13;12 - 00;15;18;22
Glen Gould
So about 30. About 30% have access.

00;15;18;23 - 00;15;31;01
Mark Witlock
Yeah. When you count some of the regional college and career academies, you're getting to 40 plus percent of school districts in Georgia that are part of the state.

00;15;31;02 - 00;15;43;10
Glen Gould
That's fantastic. So tell me if you know, I always I always like to ask people so that they can kind of share their experience in Coweta. If you if you had to pick like a restaurant you really like.

00;15;43;11 - 00;15;53;21
Mark Witlock
Yeah. Oh, gosh. I've always liked Mama Lucia's. Among others. Certainly. I could. I could. The list is long.

00;15;53;23 - 00;15;58;05
Glen Gould
That's right. That's right. And if you had to say one of the best things about living in Coweta?

00;15;59;17 - 00;16;14;08
Mark Witlock
I think it's the opportunity Glen, when I grew up in Coweta, a great place. Not as many conveniences as we've got today. We can be close to Atlanta, but we don't have to go to Atlanta.

00;16;14;20 - 00;16;15;06
Glen Gould
That's right.

00;16;15;23 - 00;16;17;26
Mark Witlock
That was not true when I was growing up.

00;16;17;28 - 00;16;18;29
Glen Gould
Yeah, I would imagine.

00;16;18;29 - 00;16;45;00
Mark Witlock
There were many things that you had to go to Atlanta to get. Yeah, still a great place to live and to grow up. But the conveniences now, it's pretty amazing. And that leads to a diversity of the economy. That just continues to bring in investment, new jobs, new opportunities, new technologies and things that create great opportunities for our students.

00;16;45;00 - 00;16;54;18
Glen Gould
And you're helping create an atmosphere where there are good, high paying jobs that are in demand, that are going to be filled so that our young people don't have to leave the community.

00;16;54;19 - 00;17;23;28
Mark Witlock
Our young people don't have to leave the community. Our employers understand that they need this generation who are in incredibly bright. And since my days in school, we now have pre-K through 12th grade. You've got a couple of extra years of school. These students are incredibly bright. They're ready to take on the next opportunity more quickly than my generation was.

00;17;24;07 - 00;17;42;22
Mark Witlock
The technology's there. And just some tremendous opportunities locally for these students. I can tell you that we've got any number of jobs just thinking about the manufacturing industry, where we did a lot of work, $40,000 to $80,000 a year at age 18.

00;17;43;04 - 00;17;43;25
Glen Gould
It's amazing.

00;17;43;25 - 00;17;44;13
Mark Witlock
For these students.

00;17;44;14 - 00;17;49;19
Glen Gould
That is incredible. Yeah. And not only that, but opportunity to grow.

00;17;49;19 - 00;18;12;09
Mark Witlock
Opportunity to advance within the industry, opportunity to help define Coweta as a place where companies continue to want to invest more and create more jobs for our citizens so that we don't have to commute so much outside of Coweta for those jobs and great careers.

00;18;12;09 - 00;18;26;02
Glen Gould
So somebody like you and this will be my last question. Somebody like you has access to a lot of information that the average public does not. You know, you talk to people and you're you're in the know you're you're the not only are you the CEO here, but you're also...

00;18;26;03 - 00;18;28;15
Mark Witlock
The Director of Public Policy for the County County School System.

00;18;28;15 - 00;18;46;00
Glen Gould
So there you go. I mean, so you have a lot of knowledge not only about the school system and CEC, but just about the community in general. Is there anything that you heard recently that you said, hey, that's exciting. And I you know, and you've told other people about or, you know, just something that's going on that maybe the average citizen doesn't know about.

00;18;46;04 - 00;19;11;10
Mark Witlock
Well, let me tell you what I'm hearing generally from from friends around the state, from friends at the Capitol, do a lot of work there. Great folks that I get to interact with, Glen, I'm hearing that Coweta is on the radar screen. It is considered one of the great places to live and work in the state of Georgia.

00;19;12;20 - 00;19;25;03
Mark Witlock
I can tell you from the work to replicate CEC, this community started something that people literally around the world have been looking at.

00;19;25;03 - 00;19;26;27
Glen Gould
Yeah you were share with me, like Japan and...

00;19;26;27 - 00;19;32;00
Mark Witlock
Japan, India, Australia, Germany.

00;19;32;08 - 00;19;34;06
Glen Gould

00;19;34;06 - 00;19;34;17
Glen Gould
Don't we have the German Apprenticeship Orgram?

00;19;34;17 - 00;19;35;02
Mark Witlock

00;19;35;03 - 00;20;04;26
Mark Witlock
We have the first working German certified apprenticeship program ever in America that begins at age 15. Yeah, that's never been done before. And get a chance to work with friends in Germany and elsewhere. But the the the opportunity that I hear about is keep building, keep building, keep doing what you're doing. Keeping innovative in Coweta, that's something that people keep saying about this community.

00;20;05;04 - 00;20;32;08
Mark Witlock
It is innovative. We are not afraid to try something a little bit different. To take the next step. And we do it all because I think our heart's in the right place. We want to create great opportunities for our citizens here locally. It's not about attracting everybody else. It's about doing things that are good for our citizens in Coweta County.

00;20;32;12 - 00;20;34;28
Glen Gould
And if they come well that's that's that's even more.

00;20;35;00 - 00;20;35;10
Mark Witlock
All the better.

00;20;35;10 - 00;21;03;01
Glen Gould
That's right. Oh, that's that's wonderful. Well, Mark, I just want to thank you for taking time today and sharing with us. I mean, I've had the privilege of knowing you for for better than ten years now, and you've always been willing to help me with any project that I've had. And I know that's just your nature. You do that with the entire community, and we're grateful, I mean, to have somebody of your experience and expertize, to be able to lead this type of thing really just makes this a great community and you're a leader in it.

00;21;03;01 - 00;21;03;19
Glen Gould
And I'm grateful.

00;21;03;19 - 00;21;20;28
Mark Witlock
You're leader, I appreciate what you do and what you have been doing and what you will do. And let me tell you something. I have fun doing this. I know this is fun. It's great to be around these young people who are the brightest generation we've ever produced.

00;21;21;04 - 00;21;46;18
Mark Witlock
Well, that's it's encouraging to hear, because I know we don't hear a whole lot of encouraging things. So thanks so much and thank you for watching. I'm Glen with Dry Cleaning Connection. This is Connections. My guest today was Mark Whitlock with the Central Educational Center. And we thank you for watching and hope you have a great day bye now.