One of the Jackson County School System’s newest leaders was helping greet students and parents Friday, even though his own building won’t be open until 2021.
John Uesseler, named CEO of the Empower College & Career Center in April, officially started work July 1, and he is already immersed in planning that will transform the existing high school facility at the corner of U.S. Highway 129 and Georgia Highway 11/Winder Highway.
While he and his wife, Erin, got their own three children enrolled at West Jackson Middle School and Jackson County High School, and he helped support the first-day-of-school effort at Gum Springs Elementary School, the rest of his day was filled with work on Empower from his office at the school system’s central office.
“Our partnership with local businesses and industries will engage students in real-world learning experiences,” Uesseler explained. Working with those entities, with higher education institutions, and with the community will help students work toward goals that help them reach their college and career objectives.
“We are building the type of education program that must be the foundation of a strong workforce,” Uesseler said.
EC3 will provide a variety of high-tech and academic opportunities as part of the high school experience and, for students who participate in the dual-enrollment program, potentially save parents up to two years of post-secondary tuition, fees, and expenses, including the cost of living on campus.
Students can work toward associate’s degrees through the University System of Georgia or the Technical College System of Georgia – through agreements with Lanier Tech and the University of North Georgia, for example – while earning their high school diplomas, making them immediately qualified for a variety of professional careers and post-secondary opportunities.
“Students will leave high school with authentic experiences that will help them define and refine their postsecondary choices after high school – in college, a career, apprenticeship program, or in the military,” he said.
The program will serve students from across Jackson County, including those at East Jackson and Jackson County comprehensive high schools, Commerce High School, and Foothills Charter High School, with funding provided through state enrollment formulas and corporate sponsorships.
Planning is well underway for the physical renovation of the existing JCCHS facility, as well as the curriculum and scheduling, Uesseler said. Start-up and renovation costs will be covered by a grant awarded in December from the Technical College System of Georgia and a bond referendum approved by Jackson County voters in April.
Program opportunities will begin to become available in 2020, Dr. Howard said, and students will maintain their enrollments at their base schools even after Empower is established in the JCCHS facility following completion of the new high school on Jackson County’s west side.
EC3’s board of directors is led by April Sorrow of Jackson EMC and includes leaders from across Jackson County’s business, industry, and higher education communities.
“Empower will not just help students achieve their future goals and endeavors but will become an additional tool to drive economic development and improve the overall quality of life throughout the Jackson County community,” Uesseler explained.
“We will offer programs that will be aligned with the needs of local business and industry so that we can educate and train students with the current and future skill sets needed for job opportunities right here in Jackson County and the surrounding region.”
‘The skills required’
Uesseler is particularly well-suited to the task – both through his local roots and his training, according to Dr. April Howard, JCSS superintendent.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have someone of John’s background and experience ‘come home’ to Jackson County to lead this effort,” she said.
After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Systems Management at Purdue University in Indiana in 1993, he worked for a county cooperative, the AGCO Corporation, and General Electric Medical Systems, working in retail sales and service and business operations.
Returning to school, he earned a Master of Education degree in Agricultural Education from the University of Georgia in 1999 and took his first steps in public education as an ag teacher at Jackson County High School.
“One of my former classrooms (at what is now the Gordon Street Center) currently houses the Elections & Registration Office for Jackson County,” he said with a smile.
Uesseler helped to lead Jackson County FFA to four consecutive 3-Star National Gold ratings between 1999 and 2002 as well as fourth- and second-place honors in the National FFA Creed Speaking Career Development Event in 2000 and 2001, respectively.
While working toward a doctorate in education with a major in occupational studies and a minor in educational leadership at UGA, Uesseler earned honors as Outstanding University Graduate Teaching Assistant and Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 2005.
Uesseler returned to the classroom as an ag teacher in 2005-2006 at Luella High School in Locust Grove, Ga., then moved into administration as the Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education Coordinator for Henry County Schools in McDonough, Ga., from 2006-2013, including a year that also included responsibilities as Henry County’s World Languages Coordinator.
In 2013, Uesseler was named CEO of Henry County’s Academy for Advanced Studies, leading its steering committee, responsible for writing its initial charter and grant application; collaborating on construction of the 53,000 sq-ft space that houses the academy located on the campus of the former Henry County High School; coordinating its daily operation; and developing business and industry partnerships “to ensure viable and technologically relevant programs and career pathways for students.”
“He brings us the skills required for the success of Empower for our students and our community,” Howard said.
Throughout his career, Uesseler has been involved with leadership and service as an officer and member on a number of boards and commissions, including the Georgia Depar
tment of Education’s Agricultural Education Program Advisory Committee; the CTAE Resource Network; the Georgia College and Career Academy Network, where he was that group’s representative to the Georgia Association of Career and Technical Educators; and the workforce development committees of the One Henry Economic Alliance.
Active in his church, he has chaired the trustees and finance committees and the church council. He also is a 2005 graduate of the Georgia Agri-Leaders forum, a 2018 graduate of Leadership Henry and is a member of the 2020 class of Leadership Jackson.
The Uesseler family moved from Henry County to Jackson County over the summer, including a son, Collier, a seventh-grader enrolled at West Jackson Middle School; and two daughters enrolled at JCCHS, Morgan, a senior, and Emma, a freshman.
“We’re glad to be here,” Uesseler said. “There are great days ahead for all of us.”
Learn more online at http://empowerc3.com/