Dr. Gary Udouj, Jr., has been named first director of the Career Education Center and District Innovation established by the Fort Smith Public School District following a successful May 2018 election boosting the district’s millage. A key part of his job will be renovation of a former warehouse into the Career and Technology Center.
Fort Smith voters in May 2018 approved the school millage increase, the first in 31 years, raising the millage rate in Fort Smith from 36.5 mills to 42 mills. The new rate is expected to raise $120.822 million, $35 million of which will go toward district-wide safety improvements. The millage plan included a new $13.724 million Career and Technology Center (CTC) featuring specialized lab spaces and classrooms for courses in healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing within the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) disciplines. The facility is set to open in 2021.
In February, the estate of William L. Hutcheson Jr. donated the former Hutcheson shoe manufacturing building to be the CTC site. The 181,710-square-foot building that sits on almost 17 acres at the corner of Zero Street and Painter Lane will save the district at least $3 million that had been budgeted to buy an existing building for the career center.
“The Career Education Center is one of the highest profile components of the Vision 2023 Capital Improvement Program recommended and approved by citizens of Fort Smith and Barling in May 2018,” noted a FSPS press release. “Working with education leaders and industry partners, he will oversee the design and the implementation of student-focused and high quality curriculum, career plans that meet state requirements, and track student progress on state standards, career credentials, career certifications and college credit.”
Udouj, director of the FSPS Adult Education Center since 2008 is a Fort Smith native and Southside High School graduate. He earned a doctoral degree in adult learning and lifelong learning, a master’s degree in adult education, and a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Arkansas. In 2015 he was named the Outstanding Adult Education Administrator by the Arkansas Association of Continuing and Adult Education.
“Throughout his career in Fort Smith Public Schools, Dr. Udouj has connected families to economic opportunity through innovative programs supported by strong partnerships with K-12, business, industry, and higher education. I look forward to seeing the many ways that Gary will contribute to the success of this cutting-edge program, our school district, our students, and the State of Arkansas,” Superintendent Dr. Doug Brubaker noted in the statement.
Udouj will join a design team developing the construction plan for the CTC building, according to the district.
“I am excited about this opportunity to help develop and expand the Career and Technology Education program for Fort Smith Public Schools. This will be a great program for connecting students with training for demand occupations in a premier facility. We will be able to offer hands-on classroom instruction that aligns across high school and college requirements, equipping students with stackable industry recognized certifications and concurrent credit,” Udouj said. “We will be able to offer on-the-job training through apprenticeships and internships, with strong mentoring and linkages to adult apprenticeships and continued education at the post-secondary level. We will have a premier, state-of-the-art facility and will be working with business and industry to help fill the gap in mid-skilled employment in our region, and working with our partners in adult education and higher education to make sure we are creating pathways to continued learning and career success for our students.”