Salem High School’s Derek Wray, an automotive and diesel technology teacher for the Spartans, has been named one of just three Grand Prize Winners of the 2021 “Harbor Freight Tools for Schools” Prize for Teaching Excellence, winning $30,000 for himself and $70,000 for his program. The surprise announcement was made this morning near his automotive shop classroom as well-wishers and media surprised him when the shop’s garage door lifted.
“I am stunned and in disbelief,” says Wray. “I knew something was going on when the bay door went up and saw all of those people, but this is more than I could have imagined.”
Wray’s students immediately joined him outside and were blown-away when they saw the check was in the amount of $100,000.
”High school skilled trades teachers and their programs are an essential part of addressing the skilled trades worker shortage,’’ say Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “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.’’
Back in the summer, on July 15, Wray was first named one of 61 nationwide finalists. More than 700 skilled trades teachers from 49 states applied for the prize, but Wray was the only automotive instructor to win the grand prize.
“This is tremendously humbling,” says Wray. “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 give them, then the results will be measured by their employment and their successes in their own careers.”
About 17 years ago, Wray was a foreman at an independent repair shop in the Roanoke Valley when he received a call from the school. In 2016, he was named the Salem School Division’s Overall Teacher of the Year.
The two other grand prizes were awarded to Jeffrey Bertke, an electrical trades teacher in Piqua, Ohio and Scott Burke, a construction teacher in Lakewood Colorado, and their school programs. 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.
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.
“Among the key things we came to appreciate during the pandemic is the value of hands-on learning and the incredible resilience and commitment of our teachers,” Smidt said. “We are grateful that these outstanding prize winners and thousands of educators like them across the country are developing tomorrow’s skilled workforce.”