A Day in the Life of a Michigan Department of Education Employee

Office of Performance and Transformation's Communication Representative Monica Drake follows different State of Michigan employees throughout the year

Next month, Joan Church is celebrating 48 years working with the Michigan Department of Education (MDE).

“I was practically born here,” joked Church, Specialist for the Office of Career and Technical Education (OCTE).

“People ask me all the time, ‘Why aren’t you retiring?’ But I really like what I do. Why would I quit a job I really like?”

She started working at MDE fresh out of high school at age 17.

“My friend’s mom, who worked for Civil Service, asked me if I wanted a summer job, and I started working with the Student Loan Program in October 1970,” said Church. “I worked there for seven years, and then I started with the Office of CTE. I’ve been here ever since. I went from being a secretary to an analyst to a specialist. I’ve been very grateful and feel very blessed to be able to grow in this position.”

Church said she’s continued working for MDE’S OCTE throughout her career because she enjoys helping students.

“OCTE offers training for students to get a job and opportunities for students to succeed at a job. There are a lot of jobs that are high-wage, high-skill and in high demand that don’t require a college degree,” she said.

OCTE oversees high school instructional programs – such as trade classes or early college credit opportunities – that teach students skills in a specific career. There are approximately 350 high schools that currently offer state-approved CTE programs. Church is the go-to person for answering any district’s questions about OCTE’s enrollment reporting.

Church said that when she first started working at OCTE, data reports were collected by mail. Envelopes were stuffed by hand; districts were mailed paper forms; and administrators mailed back the forms with the number of students enrolled in each course and the student’s demographics. The data was then keypunched by prisoners.

Now enrollment information is collected electronically through the CTE Information System. The information is used to determine the amount of CTE State School Aid categorical funding for each district.

The student information is also used to follow up with students after they graduate, to find out how they are using their training and if they got a job. 

Church said her favorite part of working at MDE is the opportunity to meet a lot of education professionals. One way she helps her customers is by assisting in bi-monthly conference calls between all users of the CTE Information System.

“We tell them about any updates to the system, and it’s also an opportunity for users to tell us if there are any problems,” she said.

“I like working with people, and I like figuring out problems. Since I’ve worked here for so many years, I understand the inner workings of things, and that’s been really valuable.”

Church has met a lot of different people while working for MDE and to know Church is to love her.

Jenny Geno, Director of CTE for the Saginaw Intermediate School District, said of Church, “She is a huge asset at OCTE. She is customer service focused and is always willing to go above and beyond to assist. She provides detailed technical assistance when needed, offering solutions, rather than just answering questions posed.”

“She is very knowledgeable and accurate with her support. If she doesn't know something, she will find out for you, and then follow-up later to make sure you have everything you need. Joan is truly one of a kind, and I deeply value her and all she brings to OCTE.”

Deb Miller, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Programming for the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, said, “Joan is quietly mighty. Her calm, friendly, demeanor has deescalated many a frantic situation in the field in need of technical assistance and/or information for student data and financial expenditure reporting.”

“Joan has a challenging job in managing the student system and expenditure reporting system. Change is always around the corner, and Joan is right there – steady and diligent. The CEPD directors around the state know that they can count on her to either have an answer immediately or reference a document for an answer. She is our resident historian, and I say this with deep respect. Joan is a true caregiver with the people she serves, and easily wins us over with her chocolate chip cookies. Everyone needs a Joan in their organization, and our CTE statewide organization has been fortunate indeed for her years of service.”