Gary Luster was looking for a change. At 62, with nearly two decades in education, the longtime Greeley Central High School teacher and coach wanted a “hand in the glove” to end his professional career.
“I thought if I retired in seven years, I wanted to do something that I absolutely love,” said Luster, who taught advanced manufacturing at Greeley Central. “I like that a lot more.”
Luster’s new fit is at Roosevelt High School in Johnstown, where he recently began leading the school’s new general construction program. The program was created as part of the Weld RE-5J school district’s push towards vocational and technical education, or CTE, which allows students to earn college credits, industry certifications and acquire work experience while in high school.
The expansion of CTE comes following a factory fee waiver approved by district voters in 2020. MLO will provide Weld RE-5J with an additional $ 4 million per year for the next decade, which will invest in teachers and staff, program and supplies. .
The CTE program consists of courses, which are groups of courses in the same industry or sector. Pathways to Roosevelt this year include: agriculture, digital media and communications, engineering, business administration, and general construction.
CTE’s Weld RE-5J director Ron Hruby said the district hoped to launch the construction program last fall, 2020, but struggled to find a teacher given the good health of the construction industry in Colorado. The best candidates for teaching tend to work in the field. The district then decided to wait a year, and its patience was rewarded with the passage of the surety bond and the MLO, allowing the financing.
Hruby said he spent a good part of the last year looking for a teacher. The program had a curriculum in place. There was interest among the students. Luster has 88 to 90 students in its classes. The program is supported and advised by Aurora-based Aims Community College and Adolfson & Peterson Construction in a CTE partnership, and Hruby said the district received an equipment grant.
Adolfson & Peterson director of pre-construction Anthony Durst, a resident of Johnstown, is working with the school on a CTE advisory committee. Durst said A&P’s involvement in the neighborhood made sense as a “community builder” with an interest in people as well as buildings.
“There is a gap with people in the workforce,” Durst said. “We want to strengthen the workforce and the only way to strengthen it is to be part of school districts across the Front Range and Colorado.”
Durst added that through the relationship with Roosevelt, A&P will bring expertise on the programs and help bring trades professionals into the classroom to speak with and teach students.
One of the students in Luster’s class is Mackenzie Bailey, a 15-year-old sophomore who already has some familiarity with construction. Bailey’s father, Michael Bailey, and step-mother, Kimberly, own C2RS Contracting in Johnstown. Mackenzie Bailey said she enjoyed learning from Luster.
“He’s tough, but it’s a good thing,” she said, adding that Luster wanted the students to be safe. “He really shows you how to do the steps.”
It took Hruby until the end of July to find the right professor at Luster, who coached football at Greeley Central for five years and will be an academic assistant at Roosevelt.
“He had a background as a construction teacher before Greeley, but what interested us most was his passion for helping students,” Hruby said. “His relations with the students. In addition to the fact that we were looking for the right person for the job and that’s what we liked.
Construction has been a part of Luster’s life since he was a teenager in Southern California. He started around the age of 15, working for a cousin’s construction company in the Valencia region. Luster continued to work after college and until his early forties, when he considered teaching and obtained certification.
Luster taught industrial technology at Mountain View High School in Loveland before moving to Greeley Central. He worked with his colleague Bill Alexander in advanced manufacturing focused on electronics and industrial work. Luster said that Alexander had been a great help to him. He enjoyed working at Greeley Central, but advanced manufacturing “was a different type of program.”
“Bill had a background in 3D printing and he kept me posted on developments,” Luster said. “I just wanted to go back to the building trades.