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Next week, Western Illinois University School of Agriculture alumnus Jay Solomonson will conclude his presidency of the Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers (IAVAT). Currently the director of career and technical education, an agriculture and co-op instructor and FFA advisor at Orion (IL) High School, Solomonson is no stranger to serving as a leader and a role model for agriculture educators.
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Ag Alum's IAVAT Presidency Addresses Ag Teacher Retention, Recruitment in IL

June 10, 2015


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MACOMB, IL — Next week, Western Illinois University School of Agriculture alumnus Jay Solomonson will conclude his presidency of the Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers (IAVAT). Currently the director of career and technical education, an agriculture and co-op instructor and FFA advisor at Orion (IL) High School, Solomonson is no stranger to serving as a leader and a role model for agriculture educators.

Most recently, Solomonson was named the 2014 IAVAT Illinois Agriscience Teacher of the Year, an award that recognizes teachers who have inspired and enlightened their students through engaging and interactive lessons in the science of agriculture. In 2011, he was recognized with the IAVAT State Excellence in Teaching Award, and in 2009, he and his wife Sheryl were honored with a Young Leader Excellence in Agriculture Award from the Illinois Farm Bureau. Solomonson (who will begin his term as IAVAT past president once the new president is elected at the 2015 IAVAT Conference next week in Springfield) said the role as the president includes goal setting and management tasks, as well as serving as the face of the organization.

"One of our main goals this year was to reevaluate our current FFA activities calendar and consolidate our events. This has been an ongoing goal, and we accomplished it this year. Another issue we have been trying to address is the shortage of agriculture teachers in our state, by focusing our efforts on both the recruitment and retention of those teachers," Solomonson explained.

According to School of Ag Director Andrew Baker, Solomonson "has always been" an advocate for teachers, especially for agricultural teachers.

"Jay is an individual who devises solutions to tackle problems when he encounters them in his work and in the ag education field. His presidency has been about restructuring the state calendar to reduce teacher shortage by reducing teacher burn out. Teacher retention is a big issue in Illinois, and Jay has provided the leadership to ensure this becomes a reality. He is a great role model for younger teachers and has facilitated and attended many professional-development activities that support teacher retention and recruitment," Baker noted.

Solomonson, a 2002 WIU graduate, said working with agricultural education organizations during his teaching career has not only provided him with the opportunity to serve in his field, but also to learn and apply what he learns to his job.

"I have served the IAVAT or FFA in some fashion over the past 12 years," Solomonson noted. "Since everything we do in agricultural education is interconnected, I get to work with a variety of agriculture teachers and FFA members from across the state, and that directly impacts my program at Orion. I definitely use skills I have developed while serving the IAVAT in my classroom, and I can bring those experiences in my own classroom to the IAVAT."

Solomonson also noted the role of the IAVAT president requires the individual in the office to serve the organization's 368 members in a variety of other ways.

"First and foremost, I was in charge of creating an agenda and running our state board of directors' meeting, section chairman meetings and annual conference. Throughout the year, I worked with our board of directors in conducting state business, worked with state staff and ran our state FFA career-development events. I also represented Illinois at the national level through the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE). In addition, I represented the IAVAT on a variety of other boards and organizations, including the Illinois Association of Career and Technical Educators (IACTE), Illinois FFA Foundation Board of Trustees, Illinois FFA Center Administrative Council, among others," he said.

At the conclusion of the 2014-15 academic year, Solomonson finished his 13th year of teaching in the Orion school district. During his time at Orion, he has guided the agriculture education program and the FFA chapter there to many successes, as well.

"We are consistently named a national finalist chapter in the FFA National Chapter Award Program. We have had eight state championships, in both career-development events and proficiencies, as well as one national winner and two teams in the top 10 nationally," he said. "The thing I believe that helps our department and chapter achieve success is the number of students we have had go into the agriculture field—and many of them have been successful. Nothing is more gratifying than to hear how successful your former students have become in their own lives, knowing you may have had some small part in their success stories."

Like Solomonson, Baker said he feels gratified by the success of his former students.

"I have been very fortunate in my position to have a vantage point from which I can stand back and observe my former students grow in their careers. That is what I love about my job! Jay also continues to support his alma mater in many different ways, but his most important contribution has been to be a positive role model for many generations of agricultural teachers now and in the future," he said.

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (WIUNews@wiu.edu)
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