Spotlight on Community College Leaders: NCACCT Chair John Watts
By Ashley Blizzard, NCACCP/NCACCT Communication Coordinator & Events Manager
For more than 19 years, NCACCT Chair John Watts has been a Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) trustee. Appointed in March 2001, Watts never really had the option to not be fully immersed in the education realm. As he put it, “education is in my blood.”
According to Watts, education has always been his passion. The fact that his mother was a 42-year educator herself (two years teaching at Winthrop and 40 years teaching in the public school system) and his dad started out as a social studies teacher, it’s no wonder that being involved in education has been so important to him.
Watts began his public advocacy for education as a local school board member with the Alexander County Board of Education. There, he completed and served two, four-year terms. After completing his terms on the Board of Education, Watts continued to stay involved in education by participating with various education committees. However, he became frustrated with the lack of financial support education continued to receive in his home county. He soon realized that in order to help Alexander County financially, he needed to be where he could have more control financially, and thus became a county commissioner. It was as a county commissioner that Watts was really able to positively affect his local community college, Catawba Valley, by helping obtain a portion of bond money that allowed CVCC to go from a then 3,500 square-foot campus to a 15,000 square-foot campus. That is really when his interest in community colleges began.
Being a trustee has been a very rewarding experience, according to Watts. Despite not really knowing what to expect when he began as a trustee, Watts appreciated that his fellow board members at CVCC were accepting of him and what he had to say.
When asked what the top two issues NC Community Colleges are facing right now, Watts stated that the first issue would be maintaining and expanding their enrollment. The second issue would be to increase the community college funding. “We have to do better for our faculty in terms of pay,” said Watts.
Community colleges are much nimbler than their university counterparts, according to Watts. “They are able to change a process, curriculum and policies quickly,” he said. “Universities aren’t able to do that.” This is why community colleges are so important to Watts. He likes the fact that community colleges can make changes quickly based on the needs around them.
Something that has surprised Watts during his time as a trustee is just how quickly trustees can affect change in a positive manner. “That’s why it’s important to share our story,” says Watts.
One of the ways in which the trustees at CVCC have been able to positively change their community is through their abilities to shift their focus from the importance of a building. “The future of education isn’t necessarily brick and mortar,” said Watts. Instead, the trustees have tried to service customers where they are. Sometimes online is the best way to serve their community. The fact that Watts and his fellow trustees have been able to understand that is what he is most proud of about CVCC.
Advancements that Watts would like to see at CVCC would be to achieve a multi-campus designation into Alexander County. Currently, CVCC is located in Hickory, NC—approximately 20 miles from Alexander County. Expansion into Alexander County could further the education of those who could benefit from all that CVCC has to offer.
When asked about the best advice he had ever received, Watts said, “Don’t speak unless you have something to say.” Guidance that he would give to a new trustee is very similar. To a new trustee, Watts said he would recommend, “Go in it with your heart, and listen before you speak.”
When Watts isn’t volunteering, he spends much of his time as a pharmacist for Walmart. He began his career with Crown Drugs, but has served the people of his area as their local Walmart pharmacist since 1993.
Many would likely be surprised to hear that Watts’ first job was as a local radio announcer, which he did for about 10 years. He also announced high school baseball games and became a color analyst for football games, a title he passed down to his son, who continues to serve as a color analyst for the high school.
Sports has always played an important role in Watts’ life. Besides his former announcing of baseball and football games, he finds these days that attending a UNC Tarheel basketball game is one of his favorite ways to relax. If he can’t be at a game in person, he enjoys watching them on television, as well as watching a Yankees baseball game or a Packers football game.
In spite of his love of sports, Watts said his best vacation ever didn’t involve sports. Instead, it was in 1996 when his wife, Susan, and his two young children went to Washington, D.C. The vacation must have made a great impression on his daughter (Nita) as well, as she currently lives there and is a speech pathologist for Prince William Schools just outside of Washington. His son, Jonathan, followed in his dad’s footsteps in that he stayed in his home county where he serves as magistrate.
A few places he hasn’t visited but are on his bucket list are Italy, the Holy Land and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. However, it is clear that Mr. Watts’ love of home is what truly “fills his bucket.” His love of Alexander County and the people who live there is evident in all that he’s accomplished to help better the county and surrounding areas. When asked what he was most proud of, Watts said it was being able to make positive changes for the people of Alexander County during his tenure on the Board of Education, as a county commissioner and as a CVCC trustee.
The North Carolina Association of Community Colleges appreciates all that Mr. Watts has done for CVCC as well as the state’s community colleges as a whole. Watts will serve as the chair of the NCACCT Executive Board through June 2020.