Jay HS teacher wins $50,000 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize

Jay HS teacher wins national award

Jay High School automotive technology teacher John Gunderson is a national winner in the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence awards. He receives $50,000 – $35,000 for his school and $15,000 for himself.

Gunderson was one of 61 finalists in the nation, selected from over 700 applications. After three rounds of judging, 18 grand prize and national winners were selected and were honored around the country.

The campus planned a celebration befitting the honor and Gunderson was brought into the courtyard on “Mustang 1,” the school’s golf cart, with accompaniment from the Mustang drumline and cheerleaders. It was a lot of fanfare for someone who, quite frankly, prefers the opposite.

In 2018, Construction Careers Academy teacher Les Dixon won the same award. He presented this year’s award to Gunderson on behalf of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools which included a big check and a tool chest. Joining the celebration were superintendent Dr. Woods, the Jay HS administrative team, and Gunderson’s high school automotive teacher and mentor Tom Berger.

“John Gunderson, to his core, truly believes in his students,” said Jay HS principal Teresa Cuellar-Hernandez. “He loves what he does and it shows through his relationships with his students and his peers. His hands-on, real-world, engaging lessons keep his students wanting more. His students see him as their mentor and have so much trust in him. We couldn’t be happier for him as this honor is very well deserved.”

Gunderson has been teaching at Jay HS since 2005 and he also serves as the campus Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department Coordinator. He graduated from Marshall HS in 1997, where he took his first automotive course his senior year. After working several years as an auto shop technician, Gunderson entered an alternative certification program to start his journey as an educator.

“As I work with my students, I get to watch as they develop the skills and knowledge that will make them successful in their fields, but also to become powerful advocates for the trades themselves,” Gunderson said.

About 180 students are enrolled in the Jay automotive program and students are able to earn industry certifications along with their coursework. Gunderson’s goals as a teacher depend on each student. Through his class he wants students to explore all facets of the industry and then help them be prepared to take the next step.

“John is the teacher that CTE administrators dream about having on their staff,” said Deborah Ruel-Schaefer, Director of Northside Career and Technical Education. “He is skilled in the craft of teaching, knowledgeable about his subject, and an amazing leader. He is committed to providing a learning environment that will deliver his students to high demand and high wage occupations.”

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize, now in its fifth year, was created to spotlight excellence among high school skilled trade teachers, a group of educators that is often overlooked and underappreciated. In recent months, the importance of high-quality skilled trades education has received more attention nationally because of an urgent shortage of skilled tradespeople in the workforce.

Gunderson was also a finalist for the 2020 Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Supt. Dr. Woods, left, with teacher John Gunderson