TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A Tucson teacher and school received $100,000 and national recognition for outstanding instruction in the skilled trades.
Cesar Gutierrez, the precision manufacturing teacher at Desert View High School, was one of three first-place winners of the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. He was surprised with a check for $30,000 during an assembly at the school on Thursday, Oct. 24.
As part of the prize, the school receives $70,000 to support the skilled trades program. Gutierrez can use the prize money as he wishes.
Gutierrez, who has been teaching since 2007, began teaching precision manufacturing in 2012 at Desert View, where he helped create the iSTEM Academy.
Gutierrez approaches his work with one goal that is particularly relevant to his school’s community.
“I can help students understand that hard work can create opportunity, breaking a cycle of poverty,” Gutierrez said. “There is no greater joy for me than seeing my students begin to experience a sense of economic security and professional achievement.”
Working with local employers, Gutierrez builds pathways to connect students to manufacturing careers. His students can receive up to 25 college credits - nearly a full year of school - toward their associate degree in industrial technology, thanks to a partnership with Pima Community College.
In class, Gutierrez’s students use project-based learning to learn how to apply math, English, science and entrepreneurial skills to the workplace. His class takes on contracted jobs to build parts for local aerospace companies, craft metal signs for businesses and even create their own solar-powered golf carts.
“Project-based learning helps solve the four little words that educators dislike the most, ‘I don’t get it,’” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez’s students have a 100 percent graduation rate in a state where the average is below 80 percent. Eighty-two percent of his students graduate with post-secondary credit, and all have participated in work-based learning by the time they receive a diploma.
“Accolades aside,” Gutierrez said, “our students have high expectations and the confidence to take on any project.”
Nearly 750 teachers from around the nation applied for the prize. Gutierrez is the only Arizona-based winner.
The prize was part of $1 million awarded nationally.
Two other $100,000 first-place prizes were awarded to Wendy Schepman, a landscape operations teacher in Stuart, Fla., and Brent Trankler, a welding teacher in Sikeston, Mo. Each of the 15 second-place winners across the country were also surprised with the news they and their schools will receive $50,000. 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 $32,000 to 32 semifinalists.
The Prize for Teaching Excellence was started in 2017 by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt to recognize extraordinary public high school skilled trades teachers and programs with a proven track record of dedication and performance.