Giving Back: Betty J. Montgomery

It’s unlikely that anyone is better qualified to help Kentucky students overcome academic hurdles in pursuit of their dreams than Betty J. Montgomery of the state’s office of Career and Technical Education.

That’s because she has walked the same arduous path – in her case, from emancipated minor to college graduate, technical school teacher and now the Business and Marketing Program Consultant for the CTE office in Frankfort.

It’s been a long journey for Montgomery, who moved to Inez in Martin County in 1981 after her parents divorced in Virginia.

Living with an aunt and uncle, she was drifting through her senior year at Sheldon Clark High when a teacher asked her if she was interested in the school’s work-based learning program.

It was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

For half the school day she worked at a local dentist’s office – for pay – and the school provided transportation.

“That was a pivotal moment in my life. I had no resources, no role models, and that program put me on the right path,” she said.

After graduation, Montgomery was hired full time by the dentist and stayed there two years before working at the local library for five years.

Montgomery wanted to attend college but had no idea how to go about it. Encouraged by the library staff, she took a job at Prestonsburg City College as an administrative assistant because she could take two classes for free every semester.

So semester by semester she hit the books after school. First, she earned an associate’s degree. When Sullivan opened a branch on campus, she earned her bachelor’s degree – at the tender age of 40.

Oh, by the way, she raised a daughter and never missed her activities.

“I wanted to be a role model for my daughter and show her that I could do it,” Montgomery said.

Throughout that time, Montgomery drove past the Martin County Area Technical Center on her way to work.

Ever aspirational, Montgomery dreamed of working there. “I knew there were plenty of kids like me at that school who needed encouragement to pursue their education. I wanted to help them,” she said.

Again, she had a dream but no clue had to realize it. So she called the Career and Technical Education office in Frankfort and talked to Dale Winkler, who held the exact position that Montgomery fills now.

Told to call Morehead State University, Montgomery did just that, was interviewed the next day and was accepted into the master’s program.

Montgomery get back on the phone to Winkler, who agreed to interview her for an open teaching position at Martin County. She got the job – and two years later her master’s degree.

For 10 years, she taught at Martin, doing what she felt called to do – help kids realize their dreams. She was the resident encourager-in-chief on campus.

“I was supposed to give back what I received and that’s what I did,” she said. “I wasn’t just teaching my curriculum, I was getting my kids to believe that yes, they could realize their dreams.”

A year ago, Montgomery took the Frankfort job to work with teachers like her.

“My job is to help business and marketing teachers,” she said. “If I can encourage them to have that same mission, then that is encouraging that many more students to follow their dreams.”

Just like she did.