DECATUR – Heartland Technical Academy has a new executive director.

Bret Hitchings, formerly the assistant director, was named to the top spot at a special meeting of the board of control on Wednesday. Former executive director Jodi Ferriell has accepted a new position as director of the Capital Area Career Center in Springfield.

“I've really enjoyed working with Jodi,” Hitchings said. “I've learned a lot from her and I wish her all the best.”

The tech academy, he said, offers a variety of dual-credit opportunities for high school students as well as certification in several career areas so that the students can leave the tech academy with skills and credentials that will give them a head start.

“In today's economy, there are jobs out there, but you have to have the right skill set and the right licensure to be employed in those areas,” Hitchings said. “That's why we exist.”

The partnership with Richland Community College, he said, is significant in that Richland offers support and facilities to allow Heartland to have state-of-the-art offerings for students. One of those benefits is the new Workforce Development Center, which is due to be completed and open by the start of the new school year in August, will serve Richland's needs but will also provide space for the tech academy's welding, auto body and auto mechanics programs. When those move to Richland's campus, the entire tech academy program will be located there, he said. Those programs remained at the tech academy's annex at Eldorado and Jackson streets when the rest of the classes moved to Richland two years ago.

“We'll be offering additional certifications and enhancing dual credit opportunities for students and it will open doors for the future,” Hitchings said.

The tech academy's programs are all full for the fall, he said, with 375 students registered, though sometimes that number fluctuates as students' schedules change at their home high schools.

Ferriell plans to commute to her new job in Springfield and described the Career Center as simliar to Heartland in many ways. It offers technical and career training for 800 students from 20 schools, with programs that include emergency medical technician and licensed practical nursing training for adults.

“This has been a great opportunity and what we have going here is great,” Ferriell said. “Opportunity for students, a lot of technology, and it really helps prep students going to college and gets them started on their careers.”

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