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Stratton Among Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence Finalists

High school skilled trades teachers and their programs are often overlooked and underfunded. As the United States faces a critical shortage of skilled trades workers, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is shining a spotlight on excellent public high school skilled trades programs with its annual Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES Automotive Technology instructor John Stratton, is among 61 public high school teachers nationwide who were named today as finalists for the 2021 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. Stratton and the Automotive Technology program are in the running for a share of $1 million in total cash awards.

Stratton was chosen by an independent panel of judges from a field of more than 700 skilled trades teachers who applied for the prize. The finalists are from 30 states and specialize in trades including advanced manufacturing, welding, construction, automotive and agriculture mechanics.

“Despite the dramatic need for a new generation of workers, research has shown that most U.S. high school students do not have access to high-quality skilled trades programs. The goal of the prize is to highlight some of the most outstanding programs nationwide and to celebrate teachers who are making a difference in the lives of students,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “Our hope is that the stories of these dedicated teachers will inspire other communities to create similar programs for their own high school students. All high school students who want to learn a skilled trades and have a talent for working with their hands should have the same opportunity.”

Stratton joined the OHM BOCES Career and Technical Education Center as an Automotive Technology teacher in 2003. He brings more than 27 years of experience working in the automotive industry to his classroom where he enjoys seeing students from diverse backgrounds become lifelong friends, knowing students have become successful in their careers and having former students give back to the program by serving on the consultant committee.

Prior to joining BOCES, Stratton was employed as a technician, shop foreman, and service manager. He is ASE certified as a Master Automotive Technician, and in Maintenance and Light Repair, and Advanced Engine Performance. Stratton is a co-advisor for SkillsUSA, and a member of ACTE, the North American Council of Automotive Teachers (NACAT), and the National Auto Service Task Force. The OHM BOCES automotive technology program received international recognition when he was chosen for the 2018 NACAT/SEMA Award. Stratton was named as the 2020 SkillsUSA New York State Advisor of the Year and 2021 SkillsUSA Region 1 Advisor of the Year. In 2019, the Automotive technology program was recognized by Tomorrow’s Technician magazine as the top automotive program in the northeast and one of the top 4 high schools and post-secondary programs in the nation.

The full list of finalists is available here.

Eric Smidt, the owner and founder of Harbor Freight Tools, said high school skilled trades programs provide a pathway not just to a good job, but also to a meaningful career and a good life.

“High school skilled trades teachers are heroes. Our teachers and their programs are an essential part of meeting the national challenge of educating the next generation of skilled trades workers.”

Winners join a nationwide network of outstanding trades teachers who convene throughout the year and in a three-day summer institute to share best practices and brainstorm ways to improve high school skilled trades programs.

The 2021 finalists now advance to a second round of competition, where they will be asked to respond to online expert-led learning modules designed to solicit their insights and creative ideas about teaching practices. The finalists will be asked how ideas from the modules might be used to inspire students to achieve excellence in the skilled trades. Two rounds of judging, each by separate independent panels of reviewers, will narrow the field to 18 winners and, finally, name the three Grand Prize winners and 15 additional prize winners.

Grand Prize winners will each receive $100,000, with $70,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the skilled trades teacher behind the winning program. The 15 additional winners will each be awarded $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school program and $15,000 to the teacher. Winners whose school, district and/or state policy prohibits receipt of the individual portion of prize award were eligible to apply on behalf of their school’s skilled trades program. If they win, the entire share of the prize will be awarded to the school.

About Harbor Freight Tools for Schools

Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is a program of The Smidt Foundation, established by Harbor Freight Tools owner and founder Eric Smidt, to advance excellent skilled trades education in U.S. public high schools. With a deep respect for the dignity of these fields and for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools aims to drive a greater understanding of and investment in skilled trades education, believing that access to quality skilled trades education gives high school students pathways to graduation, opportunity, good jobs, and a workforce our country needs. Harbor Freight Tools is a major supporter of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program. For more information, visit: