Two high school skilled trades teachers from northeast Georgia are finalists in a national teaching competition. If they win, it could bring great rewards for them and their students.
Rodney Presley and Dave Darden are competing for the annual Harbor Freight Tools for Schools award for teaching excellence. They are among three Georgian finalists and 61 nationwide in the $ 100,000 grand prize winning competition. Presley is Professor of HVACR and Construction at Lanier College & Career Academy in Gainesville. Darden teaches automotive service technology at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens. The other finalist from Georgia is Jody Kemp of Peach County High School in Fort Valley.
All of the finalists are up for a share of over $ 1 million in cash prizes.
“Despite the dramatic need for a new generation of workers, research has shown that most American high school students do not have access to high-quality skilled trades programs,” says Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. He says the goal of the award is to highlight some of the country’s most outstanding programs and “celebrate teachers who make a big difference in the lives of students.”
Reading his competitive biography, it’s clear that Rodney Presley is one of those teachers who make a difference. Presley was running his own HVAC business “when he saw with his own eyes the desperate need for highly skilled workers and began teaching about it.”
Its students showcase their skills by participating in National SkillsUSA events. They make products for sale in the school’s MetalWood design studio and build a small house. Students also participate in an industry “signing day” where they commit to a career in the trades. Last year, nine of Presley’s students signed with employers, according to Harbor Freight.
For advanced students, Presley runs a county-wide “Habitat High” program in partnership with local Habitat for Humanity. He also helped organize a student skills challenge with the Georgia General Contractors Association.
Darden also uses his expertise in the field to help students in the classroom. He incorporates his 35 years of experience as a master automotive technician into his courses. To hone his teaching skills, Darden completed a Masters in Workforce Training in 2019 and will graduate from graduate school this fall.
Darden’s program at Cedar Shoals is ASE / NATEF certified – an industry standard. This year, its advanced students converted an old SWAT truck into a fully operational food truck. They also turned two school buses into bookmobiles for their school district.
Darden was a finalist for last year’s Excellence in Teaching Award.
An independent jury selected the finalists from over 700 applicants. The finalists come from 30 states. They will now move on to the second round of the competition. The judges will narrow the field to 18 winners who will receive cash prizes.
The Smidt Foundation funds the awards. Harbor Tools owner Eric Smidt started the foundation to advance skilled trades education in American high schools. Corwin says he hopes other communities will be inspired to create similar programs for their own high school students.
The top three grand prize winners will each receive $ 100,000, of which $ 30,000 will go to the winning teacher and $ 70,000 to their school’s trades programs. The foundation will award $ 50,000 to the 15 additional winners, $ 35,000 going to each of their schools and $ 15,000 to each teacher.
The winners will be announced at the end of October. For a full list of finalists, click here.