ENID, Okla. — Autry Technology Center’s retiring superintendent/CEO said the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in his decision to say goodbye to Oklahoma CareerTech.
“It made us face things in education we hadn’t had to face in the past. It was drawn out for a pretty long period of time,” Brady McCullough said Tuesday during his retirement celebration. “I do think the next school year will be closer to normal, but I think COVID is going to leave a lasting impression on education.”
As McCullough and Autry Tech’s staff, educators and students grappled with COVID-19-related protocols — having moved to an alternate A/B schedule for much of the August-May school year — the longtime vocational training school also completed several major construction projects to expand the east side of its main campus.
McCullough’s reception was held Tuesday in the campus’ newly completed, 2,600-square-foot fabrication lab, which officially was named after him last fall.
The maker space focuses on prototyping and new technology in the manufacturing and mixed reality spaces to complement existing business and entrepreneurial services.
Along with the renamed fabrication lab, Autry also finished constructing a new facility for diesel technology and CNC machining programs, both created to meet local workforce demands. The culinary arts program’s classroom was renovated to add a state-of-the-art training facility, as well. That program will resume in the fall.
In the meantime though, McCullough, who plans to stay in Enid with his wife, said there’s a fishing pole in the back of his truck waiting for him.
“Enid’s our home,” he said. “We plan to be here a long time.”
Many local community members and Autry board members and staff — whom McCullough called his “professional family” — were on hand to wish him farewell during the ribbon cutting in the fabrication lab.
After his predecessor Jim Strate retired, McCullough became Autry’s superintendent in 2015, 30 years into a career in the Oklahoma CareerTech system.
He served as a vocational agriculture instructor, in administrative positions at Meridian Technology Center and Tulsa Technology Center and as superintendent at Green Country Technology Center in Okmulgee.
“We’re not going to say goodbye, just ‘see you later,’” said his successor, incoming Autry Tech Superintendent/CEO Dwight Hughes, who was hired in October. He begins work July 1.
Kyle Hohmann, president of Autry Tech’s Board of Education, said McCullough showed “true leadership” not only in Enid but in the state’s CareerTech system as a whole.
“We see the results of your work right here,” Hohmann told McCullough. “For Brady, we got his best six.”
Fellow Autry board member Martie Oyler said renaming the facility after him was “quite appropriate,” having led a motion for the board to do so in August 2020.
Under McCullough’s leadership, Autry over the last several years also has massively expanded its footprint in the area surrounding the 30-acre facility.
Autry’s newly acquired land — combined, roughly 200 acres — reaches westward to North Cleveland and southward to the city of Enid’s soccer complex off Poplar.
The board in fall 2019 approved acquiring the deed of a new training facility at 1802 N. Van Buren, formerly the site of Zaloudek’s Marine.
Autry’s intended aviation mechanical program hasn’t started yet as it gathers equipment for that program, spokesperson Mandy Mayberry said, but an industrial and mechanical technology program began last year.
In October 2020, another 140 acres of three properties, located directly west of Autry’s facility and behind Willow Plaza, were collectively acquired from a private trust — the deed for 120 of those acres was purchased for $1.3 million, according to the Garfield County Assessor’s Office.
In June 2020, about 60 acres of land south of Autry were acquired at no cost from a correction deed from Mercy Health OK Communities Inc.
Oyler said the land is not for immediate need, but could be used for future expansion and for access roads to the property at 1802 Van Buren.
While the current facility was built in 1965, she said, “We feel like our facility is really in good shape now, and we probably won’t need to add any actual square footage right away, but we do have the space to do that if we need to.”