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18 Public High School Skilled Trades Teachers Win $1 Million for 2018 Prize for Teaching Excellence

Los Angeles, CA

18 Public High School Skilled Trades Teachers Win $1 Million for 2018 Prize for Teaching Excellence

CALABASAS, Calif.—Three public high school skilled trades teachers—a welding teacher from Georgia, a building trades teacher from Michigan and an industrial diesel mechanics teacher from Ohio—are the first-place winners of the 2018 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. They and 15 second-place winners will receive more than $1 million in prizes.

The first-place winners are Gary Bronson, an industrial diesel mechanics teacher at Laurel Oaks Career Campus in Wilmington, Ohio, Charles Kachmar, who teaches metals and welding at Maxwell High School of Technology in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and Andrew J. Neumann, a building trades teacher at Bay Arenac Intermediate School District Career Center in Bay City, Michigan. They were each surprised in their classrooms today by representatives from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools with the news that they and their schools will receive $100,000— $70,000 for the high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the teacher.

“Skilled trades teachers are unsung heroes,” said Smidt. “The work they do is so important to show students that the skills they learn in high school can lead to great jobs after graduation. We all depend on the skilled trades—from the cars we drive to the homes we live in—and we are honored to be able to recognize these teachers for inspiring and developing the future workforce our country needs.”

Fifteen second-place winners across the country were also surprised with the news they will each receive $50,000, split between the individual teacher or team and their high school skilled trades program. In addition to the more than $1 million in first- and second-place prizes awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, the company Harbor Freight Tools donated $34,000 to 34 semi-finalists.

“The creativity and hands-on projects that these teachers bring to their classrooms is an inspiration,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “This is education at its best, and we are humbled to honor these teachers and shine a light on excellence in skilled trades education.”

The prize was started in 2017 by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt to recognize public high school skilled trades teachers and programs with a proven track record of dedication and performance. The prize is conducted and awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a program of The Smidt Foundation.

First-place winner Gary Bronson has taught industrial diesel mechanics at Laurel Oaks Career Campus for eight years, after working as a professional diesel technician and mechanic for nearly two decades, inspired by the engines and automotive classes he took in high school. In Bronson’s lab, students use basic electrical principles to tackle projects like building mobility scooters and repairing large boats and jet skis. His student teams start with shop safety and procedures and advance to overhauling engines. In one of the most complex projects in his classroom, Bronson’s students work on an International ProStar truck, replacing the brakes, wiring the lighting and completing its annual inspection. Under Bronson’s leadership, the truck has become a project for other skilled trades students at Laurel Oaks, as they work together to debut the truck at the Cavalcade of Customs auto show in Cincinnati.

Charles Kachmar has been a teacher for 23 years, following a career as a marine insurance underwriter. He has taught metals and welding at Maxwell High School of Technology since 2012. Kachmar has rebuilt and revitalized the skilled trades program at the school by raising standards and developing career opportunities for students through a dual credit program with Gwinnett Technical College, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor. Under his leadership, Kachmar has changed the image of the welding program at Maxwell High from a class of last resort to one of the most popular classes in the school. Kachmar’s students give back to the community by building beds for local homeless women and children in need of emergency shelter. With the same fanfare as signing ceremonies for college-bound athletes, Kachmar holds a signing ceremony for his graduating seniors to announce where they will go on to school or employment.

Andrew J. Neumann has taught the building trades program at the Bay Arenac Intermediate School District Career Center for more than 20 years—the same program he attended as a high school senior. A fourth-generation carpenter, Neumann worked for four years as an apprentice and then eight years as a licensed carpenter, where he and his team built homes, malls and other large projects at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. He went on to earn undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degrees as he transitioned into teaching. Neumann continues to use his industry network with regional contractors and labor organizations to connect his students with internships and local employers. As a capstone project each year, Neumann’s high school seniors design, build and market a new $250,000 from the ground up.

The following 15 second-place winners will each receive $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $15,000 to the individual teacher or team. For the four second-place winners whose school, district or state policy prohibits receipt of the individual portion of prize earnings, their prizes will be awarded entirely to their high school.

Matthew Barbercheck

Welding and Woodworking

Republic-Michigamme Schools

Republic, Michigan


Adam Bourne

Carpentry and Electrical

The NET Charter High School*

New Orleans, Louisiana

*School receives entire prize winnings


Jeff Cesari

Power Equipment Technology

Bucks County Technical High School

Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania


Teaching team: Wes Crawford and Josh Gary

Woods Manufacturing, Welding, Agricultural Science

Sutherlin High School

Sutherlin, Oregon


Brad DeMent

Welding and Sheet Metal Fabrication

Delaware Area Career Center*

Delaware, Ohio

*School receives entire prize winnings


Lesford Dixon


Construction Careers Academy

San Antonio, Texas


William Dunham

Industrial Technology

Wapello High School

Wapello, Iowa


Matt Erbach

Precision Manufacturing

Streamwood High School

Streamwood, Illinois


Melissa Hageman

Agriculture Mechanics

South Winnishiek High School

Calmar, Iowa


Robert P. Leiby

Construction Management

Applications and Research Laboratory, a Career and Technical High School for Howard County Public Schools

Ellicott City, Maryland


Ron Martinez

Heavy Equipment Diesel Technology

Dennis Technical Education Center*

Boise, Idaho

*School receives entire prize winnings


Teaching team: Vaughn Nickerson, Robert Cook, Anthony Van Horn


Granite Technical Institute

Salt Lake City, Utah


Joshua Overman

Carpentry and Advanced Manufacturing                     

New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School

New Orleans, Louisiana


Justin Pickard


Paso Robles High School*

Paso Robles, California

*School receives entire prize winnings


Jerry Webb

Manufacturing, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) Systems

Chattanooga Central High School

Harrison, Tennessee

The school’s prize winnings will support the skilled trades program being recognized, and the teacher’s or teacher team winnings can be used at their discretion.

The 2018 prize drew more than 550 applications from 49 states and included three rounds of judging, each by independent panels that included experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The field was narrowed this summer to 52 semi-finalists. The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of online video learning modules, was designed to solicit each teacher’s experience, insights and creative ideas about their approach to teaching and success in helping their students achieve excellence in the skilled trades.

The high schools of the remaining 34 semi-finalists will each receive a $1,000 Harbor Freight Tools gift card to support their skilled trades programs.

For more information about the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools 2018 Prize for Teaching Excellence, including the list of the final round panel of judges, please visit this page.