Two other $100,000 first-place prizes were awarded to a construction trades teacher from Michigan and an industrial diesel mechanics teacher from Ohio. Another 15 second-place winners across the country received $50,000. Harbor Freight Tools donated $34,000 to 34 semi-finalists.
The prize 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. The prize is awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a program of The Smidt Foundation.
“These incredible teachers are an inspiration—to their students, to their communities and to us,” said Eric Smidt, Harbor Freight Tools founder. “They are masters of their trades and instill in their students a passion for the skilled trades that gives them a path to a meaningful, good-paying career. These are local jobs in every community across America, building and repairing homes, fixing cars and appliances, and so much more. We're honored to be able to recognize these teachers for inspiring and developing the future workforce our country needs.”
Charles Kachmar has been a teacher for 23 years, following a career as a marine insurance underwriter. He has taught metals and welding at Maxwell High School of Technology since 2012. Kachmar has rebuilt and revitalized the skilled-trades program at the school by raising the curriculum standards and developing career opportunities for students through a dual credit program with Gwinnett Technical College, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor.
“It’s all about showing students the doors to a future. That is my love,” Kachmar wrote in his application for the prize. “And I have never been so completely fulfilled in my profession as I am as a welding instructor.”
Under his leadership, Kachmar has changed the image of the welding program at Maxwell High from a class of last resort to one of the most popular classes in the school. Kachmar’s students give back to the community by building beds for local homeless women and children in need of emergency shelter. With the same fanfare as signing ceremonies for college-bound athletes, Kachmar holds a signing ceremony for his graduating seniors to announce where they will go on to school or employment.
“The students become my forever kids,” Kachmar said. “I keep in touch with a majority of them through social media to follow their personal growth. Their success is what gets me excited.”