Moore County's Moore County CTE Administrator Wins State Honors page

Moore County CTE Administrator Wins State Honors

Moore County CTE Administrator Wins State Honors
Amanda DixonMary Kate Murphy, The Pilot

Building programs across Moore County Schools that encourage students to explore their interests and follow them toward a career has been an unexpected calling for Amanda Dixon.

She joined Moore County Schools’ district-level administration in 2016 as director of federal programs and grants — a position much like her prior job with Scotland County’s public school system.

Last week, the N.C. Association for Career and Technical Education named Dixon its 2021-2022 Administrator of the Year. She’d previously been selected as winner for the Sandhills region, and was judged against other nominees from other parts of the state based on their contributions toward building successful CTE programs.

Dixon “inherited” the CTE director title not long after she was hired, primarily because the program receives significant federal funding. She knew from her previous experience as workforce development director at Richmond Community College, though, that it would be more than just another hat to wear.

“It’s kind of hard to hold the purse strings and not hold the whole program,” Dixon said.

“I had done some programming (at RCC) with dual enrollment students, but also for underqualified dislocated workers, and I worked a lot with businesses and industries in the region to connect workforce opportunities.”

A lot of things happened in the next year or so. Moore County Schools put the idea of a countywide Advanced Career Center high school on hold indefinitely. Then Congress reauthorized its CTE funding act in a bill commonly known as Perkins V.

In addition to renewing financial support for CTE programs, that bill focused on building students’ technical as well as academic achievement, building links between high schools and post-secondary institutions, and improving accountability.

But Moore County Schools was behind the curve. What’s now called CTE was generally viewed as “vocational” education — the last resort of students not on the path toward a four-year college. With the ACC sidelined, it wasn’t clear how the program would move forward.

“A lot of our curriculum was a tad bit dated. A lot of our programs were a tad bit dated. I knew it was the time for us to really maximize our efforts,” Dixon recalled.

“That’s when we were going through the whole career center idea so when that fell through I knew we still had to find a way and an opportunity to provide meaningful and relevant programs to our students. So I kind of set forth with a plan, started doing some research, talking to businesses and industry stakeholders in the community to really find out where those employment gaps were, where the needs were.”

The goal was a complete rebranding of the opportunities available to high school, and to some extent middle school, students. The district now offers 16 career “pathways” in fields as diverse as agriculture, manufacturing, finance, information technology and health sciences.

More than half of today’s elementary school students will work in jobs for which no description exists now. But the idea is to graduate students that know their own strengths and weaknesses to thrive in an unpredictable job market.

“Our goal is not only for us to help them find their interests but also to help them weed out what they don’t like,” Dixon said.

“It doesn't matter what your GPA is, it doesn't matter what your economic status is; there's truly something for everyone.”

Moore County Schools’ CTE department has come a long way from the “shop and home ec” mentality. The “First in Flight” Drone Academy at Pinecrest High was the first of its kind at a North Carolina high school.

Dixon said that CTE teachers at the district’s middle and high schools have embraced the shift. The program has grown to send many upperclassmen and new graduates directly to apprenticeships and entry-level jobs locally.

“Our goal has really been to never settle, to do everything we can to connect students with opportunities and to help them find the career pathways that are going to help them to be productive and successful citizens,” Dixon said.

“It’s the hard work of the teachers and the staff and the students that have really helped pave the way. They bought into this continuous improvement plan, they’ve raised the bar.”

Dixon will be leaving Moore County Schools at the end of the month to take a statewide leadership position for CTE programming. She’ll serve the southeastern area of North Carolina in one of eight regional coordinator roles with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Career and Technical Education Division.

Dixon earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Methodist College, a master’s in education technology from Lesley University and a graduate certificate in school leadership from Appalachian State University.

She will represent Moore County and North Carolina as an Administrator of the Year nominee for the Association of Career and Technical Education’s Region 2, which covers 11 southeastern states and Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas.
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