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Brewton teacher wins $100K prize for excellence


Special to Atmore News

Jason Blackwell, a high school industrial maintenance teacher at Escambia Career Readiness Center in Brewton, has been named a grand prize winner of the 2022 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, winning $30,000 for himself and $70,000 for his program.
Blackwell’s experience in the skilled trades began when his father, a tradesman, told him, “If you listen to me, I’ll teach you everything I know.”
Blackwell did just that, learning and following in his father’s footsteps. But in 2012, Blackwell was in a wreck that changed his life — he could no longer do much of his trade work that required intense physical labor.
However, he was soon approached with an opportunity to teach, and he decided he wanted to share with others the knowledge his father had shared with him. With 20 years of experience and certifications across multiple trades, Blackwell has taught several different courses in his nine years in the classroom — all with the same goal to empower and support his students.
Blackwell encourages his students to take ownership of their learning and work collaboratively to solve problems. First-year students partner with more experienced students, and all take on leadership roles throughout the year. There are group competitions within their student-run company, and Blackwell teaches financial and project management, with students in charge of estimating costs, procuring materials, planning the schedule, and performing and evaluating the work.
Blackwell has a bachelor’s degree in Career and Technical Education from Athens State and is currently pursuing a master’s in education from the University of Alabama. He won the SkillsUSA Alabama High School Advisor of the Year in 2020 and 2021.
The mission of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is to increase understanding, support and investment in skilled trades education in U.S. public high schools.
Overall, there are winners from 15 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
The winning teachers come from a variety of skilled trades career pathways including automotive, construction, carpentry, industrial technology, welding, agricultural mechanics and machining.
“We cannot overstate the impact that high school skilled trades teachers are having in the classroom. Hands-on skilled trades classes are making a comeback, and we couldn’t be prouder to celebrate the accomplishments of these remarkable teachers and their programs,’’ said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.
The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was launched in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of national tool retailer Harbor Freight Tools, to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools.
“We deeply appreciate the work skilled trades teachers do to prepare and inspire our next generation of tradespeople,” Smidt said. “Their work is urgently needed, because while our country’s need for building and repairs is growing, our skilled trades workforce is shrinking.”
The 20 winners will split $1.25 million in prize money. The five 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 individual skilled trades teacher behind the winning program.
The 15 additional prize winners will each be awarded $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $15,000 to the teacher. Due to school, district and / or state policy regarding individual cash awards, the schools of several of the winners will receive the entire prize winnings.
The 2022 competition drew a record 768 applications from all 50 states and included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership.
The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of 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.
In June, the field was narrowed to 50 finalists. The high school skilled trades programs of the 30 finalists who were not named winners Tuesday, October 4, will each receive a $1,000 gift card from Harbor Freight Tools.
$100,000 grand prize winners:

  • Bill Culver – Construction teacher at Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Wash.
  • Cory Torppa – Construction teacher at Kalama High School in Kalama, Wash.
  • Jared Monroe – Automotive Technology teacher at Columbia Area Career Center in Columbia, Mo.
  • Jason Blackwell – Industrial Maintenance teacher at Escambia Career Readiness Center in Brewton, Ala.
  • Kristie Jones – Construction and Carpentry teacher at Franklin County Career and Technical Center in Meadville, Miss