Williamsport teacher named finalist for national excellence prize

CARA MORNINGSTAR/Sun-Gazette Randy Williamson, Williamsport Area High School construction trades instructor, left, looks over some steps that Nathan Welch, twelfth grade student, has been working on at the Williamsport Area High School. Students learn how to construct steps, install drywall, plumbing and electrical and many other interior finishes of houses.

A Williamsport Area High School construction trades instructor, Randy Williamson, was named as one of 10 finalists for the 2017 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

As a finalist, the school and the teacher will receive at least $30,000 and up to $100,000 if they win the top prize in first place, according to a news release.

The finalists are chosen from outstanding skilled trades teachers and programs in public high schools nationwide.

“I’m very thankful for the recognition,” Williamson said. “There are a bunch of CTE (career and technical education) programs that deserve it … but thankfully, we’re being recognized.”

He said it’s important to acknowledge the availability of the programs in the area.

“That’s what Harbor Freight is trying to do,” he said. “They’re recognizing these programs.”

Having a trades job can be vital to some students.

“I think there’s a paradigm shift in our country where we’re getting past that stigma of … everybody has to go to college,” he said. “We’re starting to realize that … you have this group of kids that (doesn’t) have to be educated, and there’s still good, quality, life-sustaining jobs out there for them.”

Many of his students go on to find work directly after high school, and many go on to earn degrees.

“One of the big misconceptions we have as parents in this society is that if a kid’s taking this class, they’re only going to ever pound nails for rest of their life. That’s not true,” he said. “Those jobs exist, and those jobs are good. So is the plumbing job, the electrical job, the HVAC job … there’s tons of money to be made in those fields.”

Williamson prepares his students both for jobs and for continuing their studies. His students have built a small-scale house, generated computer-designed construction plans and installed electrical and plumbing systems, drywall, flooring and more.

“What we’re training the kids to do coming out of this program is basically that kids have two options,” he said. “They can go directly into the work force and start working. They have the basic skills for that. Or, they can go on to a post-secondary school … and go for an associate degree or four-year management degree.”

He said the students have an opportunity to earn five college credits through the construction trades program.

Nolan Robinson, an 11th-grade student, said he enjoyed learning under Williamson’s teaching.

“It’s been great. It gives me a better understanding than just trying to go out and do it myself. He’s a great teacher, and he teaches us well,” Robinson said. “The floor systems we’re doing right now … if you want to build a house, you have to know how to do that exactly right.”

Robinson said he enjoyed the chance to learn more about the trade.

“If I ever went and did my own business, I’d look back on what I did here and go from there,” he said. “I’m just glad we have this opportunity. Some schools don’t have these opportunities.”

Randy J. Zangara, district career and technical education director, said the teaching excellence recognition shows exactly what kind of teacher Williamson is.

“It exemplifies a lot of different things. No. 1, it shows the strength of him as an educator. That’s undisputed. He has a very good resume of what he’s done throughout the track of his career,” Zangara said. “It also exemplifies the strength of our program and the kind of students that we push through there.”

He said it also shows the strength of the local industry.

“We have a very strong construction community, and that is something that really drives our program,” he said.

The program is sponsored by West Branch Susquehanna Builders Association, where Williamson also happens to be vice president, and by the Occupational Advisory Committee.

“It’s a whole, well-rounded community effort,” Zangara said. “And, on top of it, to throw in the strength of our school district to be able to provide a program like that with the support of the administration … we see the value in trying to create individuals to be beneficial to our community to work in someday.”

He said having recognition like this finalist choice really shows the community just how strong the program is.

“I think it’s great we have a teacher recognized for it,” he said. “I know his heart and soul goes into getting his kids to be the best that they can be someday, whether it’s that they go on to the military, go on to college or just leaving and getting a job in a trades field.”

Zangara said he is proud of Williamson and of all the students who have the opportunity to work with the program.