Chad Sutton

Garrett High School construction trades teacher Chad Sutton has been named a winner of the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. He will receive $50,000, which will go to the school’s skilled trades program.

GARRETT — Garrett High School construction trades teacher Chad Sutton has been named a winner of the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, receiving $50,000 as part of $1 million awarded to 18 trades teachers nationwide.

Sutton’s prize will go to the school’s skilled trades program. He joins 14 other prize winners, who each received $50,000, and three grand prize winners, who each received $100,000 as part of the annual prize.

“It is pretty cool to be mentioned with some of the great programs from around the country,” Sutton said. “I have always thought we have something pretty special here at Garrett High School. It’s great that others around the country believe the same.”

Sutton started teaching construction trades in 2008, after owning and operating his own construction company with his wife for a decade. Through a special career-oriented academic program, students in the Garrett-Keyser-Butler Community School District start exploring construction and manufacturing as early as fifth grade, selecting career paths in their junior year of high school. Those career paths shape their academic course load — English, math and science are incorporated into construction classes and vice versa, as Sutton is a firm believer in collaborating with colleagues.

Sutton’s background in the construction industry has also helped facilitate partnerships with more than 50 local businesses, opening the door to career exploration and development of employability skills for his students. Sutton also serves as director of career development for the school district.

“We have an amazing staff in the Career Development Program that works extremely hard every day to offer so many unique opportunities to our students,” Sutton said.

Receiving $50,000 in prize money to help support students in the program is amazing bonus, he added. The prize money will be used to support programming in construction, welding, architecture, engineering and design, and the heavy highway program.

“Raw materials, equipment repair and replacement, consumables, you name it, this money is very helpful for the success of our students,” Sutton said.

“What I am most excited about is that people in the community will continue to learn that we have something special here in the Career Development Program at Garrett High School and our students will be looking for internship and pre-apprenticeship opportunities,” he added. “That is a great way for students to use the skill and passion they have developed to pursue a career that allows for economic freedom — it is exciting for our community.”

“This year has been one of the toughest on record for skilled trades teachers as they switch between in-person, remote or blended learning — all while trying to do their life’s work of preparing the next generation of tradespeople,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “At a time when tradespeople are more essential than ever, so is trades education. We are honored and grateful to have the chance to shine a spotlight on these teachers’ amazing work.”

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was started 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 and the teachers who inspire students to learn skills to prepare for life after graduation.

As recent research from JFF (formerly known as Jobs for the Future) and funded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools found, students who “concentrate” (or take multiple trades courses as part of a program) are more likely to graduate than their peers. Upon graduation, students are prepared for either further education or work in fields that routinely rank among the hardest jobs to fill and that have come to be widely recognized as “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Trades teachers are educating and developing the tradespeople of the future,” Smidt said. “Many of the students in their classes today will become — as soon as next spring — the workers who keep our critical care infrastructure, our communication networks, our homes and cars up and running. The prize is our way of saying thank you to their teachers.”

The 2020 contest drew more than 600 applications from 48 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 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 July, the field was narrowed to 50 finalists. The 32 finalists who were not named winners will receive $1,000 gift cards from Harbor Freight Tools. Additionally, given the challenges teachers are facing due to COVID-19, teachers who applied for the prize but did not advance to become finalists were eligible to receive $100 gift cards from Harbor Freight Tools.

Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is a program of The Smidt Foundation, established by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt, to advance excellent skilled trades education in public high schools across America. For more information, visit and Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter.

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