By Shawn Nowlin email@example.com
There are thousands of educators across the country teaching auto diesel and technology on the high school level. Three of them, Jeffrey Bertke of Pique, Ohio; Scott Burke of Lakewood, Colorado, and Salem High School’s own Derek Wray, recently won the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence Award for $100,000.
Eric Smidt is the founder of Harbor Freight Tools. In 2017, he started the Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence program to recognize teachers who inspire students to learn skilled trades that will prepare them for life after graduation.
This year’s grand prize attracted more than 700 applications from all but one state and included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel of experts from education, industry, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership.
In his prize application, Wray wrote, “I feel like if I can do right by my students and give them the most up to date training and the most professional and personal education that I can, then the results will be measured by their employment and their successes in their own careers. It also can be measured by the fact that companies will hire my students again and again, so we can repeat the process year after year.”
Last Thursday, Wray was presented with a check during a surprise ceremony on the campus. Wray’s high school skilled trades program received $70,000, while Wray received $30,000 for himself. Present for the occasion were city council members, board members, students and various school officials.
To say that Wray was surprised would be an understatement. “I am still stunned and in disbelief. I knew something was going on when the bay door went up and I saw all of those people, but this is more than I could have imagined,” he said.
During the ceremony, Bob Kilmer, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Education Advisor, provided some remarks, stating, ”High school skilled trades teachers and their programs are an essential part of addressing the skilled trades worker shortage. These dedicated educators make a huge difference in the lives of young people every day, setting them on a course for a meaningful career and to make a difference in their community.’’
The advisory board that Wray assembled for his class consists of directors, shop owners, managers, technicians, former students and administrators from the school. In addition to guiding the training program, the advisory board also shapes that curriculum so Wray can educate his students on the most relevant and necessary information.
This year, two of Wray’s students registered for post-secondary technical training at an automotive and diesel school, five students are working at apprenticeships at independent repair facilities and two students currently work as apprentices at car dealerships.
Prior to getting an unexpected call from the then-school principal 17 years ago which led to his employment at Salem High, Wray worked as the foreman at an independent repair shop. Five years ago, he was named the Salem School Division’s Overall Teacher of the Year.
Never in his wildest dreams did Wray think he would earn such a prestigious honor. I am optimistic, he said, that the program can use some of the money to acquire a Tesla so students can learn more about electric vehicles. “This is tremendously humbling,” he added.