Dos Pueblos High School teacher Chris Mollkoy, who teaches industrial arts, was awarded $50,000 Thursday as a winner of the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.
Mr. Mollkoy receives $15,000 for him personally, and $35,000 is for the school’s trades program. He is one of 15 to receive a $50,000 prize; three others received a $100,000 grand prize.
More than 600 teachers applied and were sussed out in three rounds of judging. The application process included a question-and-answer section and a series of modules designed to assess teachers’ knowledge and creativity.
“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.
The competition was started in 2017 by Eric Smidt, founder of Harbor Freight Tools. He seeks to recognize outstanding trades instruction.
“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.”
Mr. Mollkoy was the first in his family to graduate from college and earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a teaching credential from UC Davis. He taught high school English and coached wrestling for seven years before obtaining a contractor’s license.
He started his own finish carpentry company and eventually returned to teaching — but as a trades teacher.
In 2018, he received the Marvin Melvin Award, an honor designating him as the career and technical education teacher of the year in Santa Barbara County.
To enhance students’ opportunities, he partners with local organizations like Tradart, Partners in Education, the Santa Barbara Contractors Association and Santa Barbara City College’s Construction Technology program.
His students have been involved in the community, making hiking signs damaged by a recent wildfire and even donating a tiny home to a local nonprofit.
— Annelise Hanshaw