Rich Wright named new Utica Shale Academy director

SALINEVILLE — Rich Wright is taking his administrative and coaching talents to another level as the newest director of the Utica Shale Academy.

Wright, who has been head football coach at Southern Local High School for four years and was its assistant principal for the past three years, assumed his newest duties on Aug. 1. He replaces Eric Sampson, who was director of the community school since its inception in 2014 but departed for another role in education. Wright said he was eager to guide high school students towards success in the growing energy field.

“You wear a lot of hats, and there are plenty of administrative duties with attendance, testing, graduation points and career opportunities,” he said. “We have welding with the New Castle School of Trades and courses involved with the gas and oil industry. There are a lot of opportunities in the industry and you can get a lot of verifications here.”

He has been working with the USA Board of Directors and sponsor Jefferson County Educational Service Center to implement ideas and strategies and expand the program even further.

“We’d like to expand by increasing our student options and one of those areas includes a stronger connection with NCST,” he said. “Doug Velasquez, director at USA’s Columbiana High School satellite location, has ideas and we’re looking at entrepreneurships and a technology-based partnership with Youngstown State University.”

Future plans are to increase enrollment in the NCST welding program, and Wright noted classes begin at the East Liverpool site on Friday. Students began attending NCST last September and currently study for two and a half hours a day, three days a week to earn 250 hours of welding credit. Site visits are also on the agenda during the 2018-19 school year to various oil and gas sites to gain an understanding in how they work.

He also is looking at ways to increase student enrollment at USA, which stands at 45 participants between the main location at SLHS and the Columbiana branch. Flyers have been distributed throughout the area while he touted the program at the school district’s annual back to school bash held Aug. 14.

About 50 students have graduated from USA since it began, with the largest class being in 2018 at 22 people, and Wright says that’s indicative of the growing demand for a work force in the energy field.

When it comes to his new role, Wright said he liked the one-on-one interaction with students.

“There is comfort of serving kids face-to-face and it’s kind of like being the head coach of the program. I like the interaction and it’s nice to help kids decide their career path in life, especially if they are juniors and seniors,” he said. “It’s just a great program and I like being part of it.”

Chuck Kokiko, superintendent of JCESC, thanked Sampson for his service and welcomed Wright into the fold.

“Eric spent four years at Utica Shale Academy and he was dedicated to the school,” Kokiko commented. “We wish him luck with his future endeavors in education.”

He added that Wright was the right choice to succeed Sampson and was providing many ideas to build the program.

“Rich Wright was part of Southern Local and is familiar with the Utica Shale Academy, so we’re excited to see him move to the role of director. His educational and coaching experience will lend itself well to the students in the shale academy and he’s brought new ideas for student enrollment as well as increasing attendance.

“He’s also reaching out to communities and the oil and gas industry for the creation of additional opportunities for students.”

For information, contact Wright at (330) 420-5353 or visit the website at uticashaleschool.com.