Meadville Tribune

Local News

November 1, 2012

Sprong springs into action at Career & Technical Center

MEADVILLE — Kevin Sprong describes himself as “typically a pretty smiley kind of guy,” but his new job has boosted his outlook to a whole new level.

“A lot of my friends and family have been remarking that I’ve been smiling a lot,” Crawford County Career and Technical Center’s new assistant director confessed during a recent interview at the Thurston Road facility.

What has turned Sprong into an extremely smiley guy since the start of the current school year isn’t simply the satisfaction that comes from successfully navigating yet another step up the career ladder. A teaching and administrative veteran of “mainstream” K-12 public education, he made a leap of faith, stepping aside as superintendent of the Forest Area School District in Tionesta to refocus his career on the program of study popularly known as career and technical education.

As Sprong sees it, the place for career and technical education is, well, everywhere.

“We’ve had class valedictorians who came to the Career and Technical Center,” he said. “Whether students go on to college or directly into the workforce, there’s an idea out there that coming to the center limits what they can do in the future. That’s simply not the case.

“These kids who are coming in and getting in a background in drafting — they’re going on to become engineers. Or kids are getting basic framing experience in the carpentry lab, but they’re thinking, ‘Fine. I know how to build it — now I want to know how to design it,’ he continued.

“This is such a gateway to many, many other opportunities that aren’t just jobs right out of high school,” he said. “Our labs can lead to many, many different careers and areas.”

Local boy comes home

Born in Meadville and raised in Saegertown, Sprong graduated from Saegertown High School in 1992. During his high school years, he was active in sports, playing volleyball and basketball as well as summer baseball and soccer.

While he never attended the school formerly known as Crawford County Vocational-Technical School himself, Sprong’s connection to both the school and this area’s industrial base are strong.

During high school and college, he worked in a lumber yard and also in a tool and die shop in Meadville. “My whole family is a tool and die family,” he explained.

“Although I was going on to attend college, I started in industry when I was in high school, although my involvement was minimal at that age,” he said. “I was in tool and die for about three years, working full-time for a little while and then working about 30 hours a week when I went back to school to become a teacher. Although I enjoyed it, I knew that I didn’t want to be behind the machine every day for the rest of my life.”

After earning an associate’s degree in business at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Sprong spent about six months in Pottstown, just west of Philadelphia, working for the Meadville-based Dad’s Pet Products — now Ainsworth Pet Nutrition. “At the time, I was engaged to the woman who has been my wife for the past 17 years,” he recalled. “We found out that wasn’t the place we wanted to live and raise a family, so we moved back to northwestern Pennsylvania.”

He’d always wanted to teach, so he returned to Edinboro for a degree in health and physical education. Finding jobs in that field hard to find, his first teaching job was at Maplewood High School, where he spent a year teaching industrial arts and computer-aided drafting.

When a job opening came up in Forest County in health and phys ed, “I taught for several years, then became a principal at the high school,” he recalled. “That became a K-12 principal position — and then the last two years just prior to coming here I was the superintendent. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience — I learned so much.”

When the position opened up in Meadville, however, he was ready to make the move. “I’ve just been so happy,” Sprong said. “This has been one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had to date.”

It’s an experience he’s eager to share.

That’s why he’s working with Director Neil Donovan and Eileen Mullen, program coordinator of Crawford County K-12 Career Education Alliance, to promote career and technical education as a solid base for post-secondary success that may or may not include a four-year college degree.

One of the first items on their agenda is a Nov. 13 open house at “Tech,” which is in the running to become CCCTC’s new nickname. Open house sessions are scheduled for 9:15 to 11:15 a.m., 12:45 to 2:45 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. From 6:30 to 8 p.m., representatives from Precision Manufacturing Institute and Edinboro University will be on hand to promote “Success Starts Here,” a new technical education pathway that starts at Tech, moves to advanced training at PMI and culminates with an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science from Edinboro.

“I love this place,” Sprong said. “I heard good stories before I started. I’d been with the same district for the last 12 years, so this move was really big for me. I did some research, talked to some people. Growing up here, I have family and friends who either know someone who works here or  work here themselves. The only thing I heard was good things — and now that I’m here, it’s so true. It’s an awesome group of people to work with — the entire staff, all the way across the board.”

But that, he hastens to add, is just the beginning. “The kids,” he said. “The kids. The kids have blown me away. Not that we didn’t have good kids in Forest County, because we did. But these kids want to be here. When kids are off school or the opening is delayed, they come here anyway. I guess that’s common around here, but it just blew me away.”

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