Vocational Education in Russell County – Then & Now

© Jerry F. Couch 2021

Russell County’s vocational-technical school was established in the former Cleveland High School complex in 1966. At that time, the buildings had been in use for over half a century – and were showing their age. Never mind – the quality of education was more important than a building. Today, those long-ago students (including me) will tell you their time was well-spent. The Senior Class of 1970-1971 were the last graduates of this school.

Above: The old Cleveland High School as it appeared in 1931.

Mr. David Musick served as principal of the vocational school during its years of operation at Cleveland. Though Russell County’s high schools had offered limited vocational programs in the past, Mr. Musick was the first person to direct a school dedicated to that purpose. There was no established precedent for him to follow, so he made administrative decisions based upon study, common sense, and his respect for his students and their needs. A consummate educational professional, he handled his job in a calm, quiet way, making it look easier than it was.

Teaching “HOW” is a much different concept than teaching “who, what, when, where, and why.” Academic subjects (English and government) were also offered at the vocational school. Students could study additional subjects by attending Cleveland High School for half the school day.

Pictured below are members of the vocational school’s 1970-1971 faculty during the final year at Cleveland.

Top row, L to R: Jeanette Askins, Government; Henrietta Bostic, Cosmetology; Stephen Bundy, Electricity. Second row, L to R: Wanda Castle, Nurse’s Aide; William Hanshew, Masonry; Nancy Hart, English. Third row, L to R: James “Mickey” Hoge, Math & Related Subjects; Beecher Jackson, Welding; Obia Lockhart, Building Trades. Fourth row, L to R: Harold Owen, Drafting; Vivian Tiller, Cosmetology; Robert Wallace, Auto Mechanics.


From the Clinch Valley Times Archives

March 4, 1971 — Members of the Russell County School Board toured the new Russell County Vocational-Technical school Monday to give the final inspection as work nears completion on the 52,000 square foot structure.


Members of the board were given a detailed tour of the most unusual building in Southwest Virginia. The building, designed by Beeson and Beeson, and constructed by Click Construction Company, is built in a circle. Standing high on what is known as the Flatwoods section of East Lebanon, the round building stands out alone in a beautiful setting overlooking the valley below.

Above: From the Johnson City Press-Chronicle July 25, 1969

The circular building, costing $1,100,000 was financed by federal, state, and local funds. State and federal sources furnished 77.21% and local government furnished the remaining 22.79% of the total project.

The diameter of the structure is 236 feet.

The school will open this fall for boys and girls desiring to acquire a trade. The attached drawing illustrates where these classes will be held.

Over 215 boys and girls are expected to enroll this fall at the school. In the next few years, the enrollment is expected to reach 450.

Mr. David Musick will be the director of the school [Editor’s Note: A personnel change was made after this article was written. Carl Jackson was the new school’s first principal}.

Those who inspected the new school were Mr. Musick, the director; Mr. Beeson, the architect; Mr. Click, the contractor; and the following members of the school board, Chairman S. A. Fraley, Jr., Carter L. Taylor, T. A. Gilmer, Jr., A. P. Levicki, Russell County School Superintendent, and W. H. Wade, clerk for the board.




For my parents, it was important that we get a high school education. College was not something that fit into the equation, and I had a real struggle getting them to let me go to Vo-Tech (Drafting).”

I moved away from the area when I was a divorced, single mom of two and finally found jobs that paid more than minimum wage. Yes, the drafting came into play, and I finally got to finish up a degree I started at SVCC. Critical thinking is what really saved me though.

There should be more Vo-Tech curriculum available in this area with a hands-on approach to education There is also the opportunity to face complex problems head-on. I will share that, and even though it took me 22 years, I did get a bachelor’s degree, as well as MBA.

I will never forget when the counselor in high school gave out her infamous advice – work in a sewing factory until you get married.


When Russell County Vocational School opened for the 1971-1972 school year at Lebanon, the following classes were offered: Auto Mechanics, Building Trades, Cosmetology, Drafting, Electricity, Electronics, Machine Shop, Masonry, Nurse’s Aide, and Welding.

Below: Russell County Vocational School’s Class of 1972 commencement program.



In 2021, the Russell County Career and Technology Center offers the following classes: Auto Mechanics, Building Maintenance, Building Trades, CNA Certified Nursing Assistance, Auto Collision Repair, Cosmetology, Criminal Justice, Culinary Arts, Horticulture Science, Masonry, Practical Nurse, Veterinarian Assistance, and Welding.

Each year, several hundred Russell County students and adult learners choose vocational education as a way of enhancing their employability. It’s never too early and it’s never too late.


From Jerry Couch — In 1970, I made a choice to attend the vocational school. The guidance counselor at Castlewood High School discouraged me from doing so because I was “an academic student.” I went anyway, and doing so helped put me on the track of a lifetime of good jobs. The needs of every person are unique.

Follow your heart.

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