DACC: Retiring Mary Beth Freeman reflects on career, advancements in technology

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek
Delaware Area Career Center Superintendent Mary Beth Freeman (center) is shown with DACC health-tech and nursing students (from left) Dasha Semenchuk of Centerburg High School, Manuela Anno of Westerville Central High School, Taylor Weiss of Olentangy Liberty High School and Joselyn Mandujano of Delaware Hayes High School inside the health-tech lab March 23 at DACC, 4656 Columbus Pike in Delaware.

When Mary Beth Freeman began her career as an educator, she had a chalkboard in her classroom and would send students outdoors to knock chalk dust from the board's erasers.

As she nears retirement as superintendent of the Delaware Area Career Center 36 years later, she has seen digital and information technology permeate nearly every phase of the DACC's education programs.

The DACC school board has named Jay Poroda – now assistant superintendent at Tolles Career & Technical Center in Madison County – as her successor effective June 1.

"We all know how much Superintendent Freeman has contributed to the growth and stability of our career center. We will always be grateful to her and look forward to similar successes with our new superintendent,” said DACC school board president Ted Backus.

"Nobody had computers in schools" when she started as a teacher at the Newton Local School District in Miami County, said Freeman, 59 of Powell. At that time, she said, no one could have predicted the now ubiquitous spread of digital technology.

"Everything now has information technology," she said. "Technology is no longer isolated to one place. It has been integrated into how you do business, and you can't do business without it today." 

She said computers even help teach welding, a craft that has evolved over centuries. The instructor can monitor students' work from a computer at his desk, she said.

From the Newton district, Freeman moved on to what is now the Miami Valley Career Technology Center in Clayton, where she taught mathematics before being named assistant superintendent.

Thirteen years ago, she was named the DACC superintendent and saw the school close its North Campus on state Route 521. DACC consolidated all its students into what had been called its South Campus, 4565 Columbus Pike. In August 2019, DACC completed renovations at the site that increased its original 84,000 square feet to more than 250,000 square feet, at a cost of roughly $45 million.

From an original enrollment of about 650, DACC is now prepared for 1,200 students at the start of the next school year, Freeman said.

Several reasons, including financial factors, were responsible for the move to a single campus, she said.

Counselors and maintenance employees had to travel between the campuses, and only one campus had a media center, she said.

Now all DACC resources are accessible to all students, Freeman said. "There are more things we can do efficiently," she said.

DACC also learned its students' home school districts each could save $50,000 to $60,000 in transportation costs if DACC had a single campus, she said.

The transition required a lot of planning, and Freeman credited DACC operations director Jack Higgins for his role in the process.

 DACC is proud of its new building, Freeman said, and she emphasized it represents DACC's larger goal of using innovation and partnerships to do "everything we can for our students, delivering the highest education possible.”

First and foremost ... it comes down to every decision we make needs to be because there is something of benefit to our kids," she said.

 From traditional subjects, including construction and cosmetology, DACC has expanded its curriculum to include digital design, app development, cybersecurity, biological science, pharmacy tech and exercise science, she said.

Unlike years ago, many industries now require credentials as a condition of employment, Freeman said. DACC helps students obtain those credentials, which, she said, could springboard them into careers and postsecondary education.

DACC surveys its students soon after they graduate, Freeman said, and 95% are in the workforce, military or postsecondary education.

"That's a really good number," she said.

 In addition to students' education, DACC also makes their well-being a priority, Freeman said.

She said DACC had formed a partnership with the Delaware-Morrow Mental Health & Recovery Services Board about eight years ago, with alternatives to discipline being one objective.

"When kids would get to me for an expulsion, my option (then) was to put them out of school for an extended period of time,” she said. “That doesn't help kids. Typically, there is something more going on in their life. ... You don't ask what's wrong with that child; you ask what has happened to that child."

Today, students could receive support to help them with challenging issues, she said.

DACC has two staff members of Maryhaven – the Columbus mental-health and rehabilitation center – on site full time, she said.

"We have been able to provide our students with so much support. ... We've helped give them ways of learning to deal with adversity in life. ... We have now created a culture that it is OK to seek help when life is difficult,” she said. “Those skills of dealing with adversity they will carry with them throughout their life. That's what I'm most proud of."

"The way Mary Beth has explained it to me in the past ... if the mental and emotional and physical needs aren't met, the academics won't sink in. It won't help them," said Alicia Mowery, DACC public-information officer.

The DACC's transition into the COVID-19 pandemic was made easier by the fact the school earlier had established a culture of support, Freeman said. 

"People were already comfortable reaching out. Our mental-health people were communicating daily with students and families," she said.

As retirement nears, Freeman said, she looks forward "to having free time to revisit activities that I have put on hold over the years and to make plans to travel.”

“I am excited to look at how I can give back to our community," she said.

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