By ROD LEE
Nearly thirty years have passed since Superintendent-Director Dr. Michael F. Fitzpatrick arrived at Blackstone Valley Tech. During that time the vocational technical school for students in Grades 9-12 has witnessed explosive growth, and award-winning renown.
Dr. Michael F. Fitzpatrick in the competition center at Blackstone Valley Tech. The day before, he had taken part in a staff-student basketball game.
Founded in 1964, BVT’s district includes the towns of Bellingham, Blackstone, Douglas, Grafton, Hopedale, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Northbridge, Sutton, Upton and Uxbridge.
The first graduating class in 1970 consisted of one hundred two eager candidates who received training in such trades as auto body, auto mechanics, carpentry, drafting, electronics, machine shop, metal fabrication and plant maintenance.
Since then courses available to the now student body of more than 1200 have mushroomed.
Best of all, Dr. Fitzpatrick said while giving a visitor a tour of the sprawling building on the morning of March 8th, there is a blend of shops and academics; a “tie-in,” as he puts it. A linkage.
“You can learn punctuation and syntax” and regular classroom instruction like that is “integrated” into eighteen different voke tech programs, he said.
There is even a moonlight program in practical nursing (post-secondary) and another in advanced manufacturing foundational skills.
Dr. Fitzpatrick was at the helm of the school when it underwent its most ambitious expansion, in 2001, when the district’s communities overwhelming approved a $36 upgrade. Recent additions and renovations include a two-story classroom add-on, reconfigured voke tech laboratories, a new media center and cable television studio and a unique 1400-seat training and competition center that employs the latest technology for distance learning, technology-based training, performing arts, athletics and exhibitions.
Today’s BVT is leading the way on community projects, Elise Bogdan, communications specialist for the school, points out.
Here are some examples. 1) Students in Construction Technology worked alongside their vocational instructor to build office spaces on the upper level of the Uxbridge Police station. 2) Juniors in Drafting & Design Technology met with Royal Family KIDS camp representatives in Huntington, Massachusetts, about their chapel needs. They measured the site and then created multiple conceptual designs using their architectural drafting and design skills. The project culminated with students presenting their finalized chapel designs to the camp. These were well-received. 3) When a weathered map of the National Register that showcased the Historic District of Whitinsville required a facelift, a creative collaboration between the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor and BVT’s Painting & Design Technology program was born. Under the watchful eye of P&D Instructor Tm Lamont, students worked to flatten, clean and restore the original artwork that the BHC used to create a digital image. They were then able to use that digital image and the technology in their shop to print a vinyl graphic of the map and new signage. They also freshened up the existing frame with a coat of paint.
BVT students have been involved in numerous projects like these.
Known affectionately as “Doc,” or ”Dr. Fitz,” at BVT, Dr. Fitzpatrick has provided the vision that keeps the school moving forward.
Throughout its history, BVT has efficiently and cost-effectively served the workforce needs of the region. In partnership with local colleges, businesses and economic-development agencies, the system works towards enhancing the economic, social and historic strengths of the region while promoting opportunities for students and creating solutions for employers. The school has an enviable benchmark of 100% placement of graduates with career or educational paths suited to their talents and ambitions and which address the needs of business and industry.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said. “There were six hundred sixty students when I arrived.” Now, there are twice that number. “We have almost four hundred industry advisors. We have well over eight hundred candidates for next year’s freshman class. We have a 0% dropout rate. Nobody leaves. We have one hundred ninety three teaching days. No one does that.”
Over nearly two hours, he pointed with pride to the components that make up the school. The competition center, added twenty years ago as part of that $36 million expansion and renovation. An outside patio area. A lab and computer research center. A school-based health center emulating Milford Regional Hospital. A student dining commons with deli. An HVAC/R department with a replica check from the state in the amount of $425,000 displayed on a wall. A modernized manufacturing technologies department. The Three Seasons Restaurant with a bakery element.
Now in his mid-seventies, Dr. Fitzpatrick seems intent on foregoing retirement.
“I have one year left on my contract and I have told the school ‘don’t think long-term like the Red Sox’” in awarding him an extension, when the time comes.
He is an exception, in terms of longevity.
“More than ninety school supers have come through the district and a significant number of town managers, during my time here,” he said.