Previous Winners

Meet a Few of the 2020 Winners

Kathryn Worley

Industrial Technology
West Hills High School
Santee, CA
Kathryn Worley
“When students are in the classroom at 6:40 a.m. for a 7:15 a.m. class, something good is happening.”

Kathryn Worley remembers the prophetic words of her woodshop teacher, commenting on her chosen career path: “Forget medicine. You are going to be a woodshop teacher.” Two years into her college education, Worley decided to skip being a doctor in favor of entering the trades (she still earned her bachelor’s degree and, later, a master’s and educational specialist degrees). Before becoming a teacher, Worley found a job at a pool table manufacturer, starting on the assembly line and moving up to quality control.

In the classroom, Worley applied what she learned about creating good products. Students in her classroom design products, build furniture and manufacture machined parts, gaining skills in six types of design software and in trades like welding and computer numerical coding machining, With deep relationships to industry, Worley’s students make connections to employers like Taylor Guitars, LifeProof, the carpenters union and drone manufacturers. Her students compete in “Shark Tank”-inspired design competitions, judged by engineers, where they design, manufacture and market unique products to industry and community professionals.

Worley’s students appreciate her program—nine in ten who begin the program’s first semester continue through for all three years. More than 90 percent of students complete all assigned projects, and 85 percent believe Worley’s program teaches them workplace skills like responsibility and timeliness. One in three of her students enter the trades. A 31-year teaching veteran, Worley was a 2018 San Diego County Teacher of the Year and a finalist for California Teacher of the Year. She was a finalist for the 2019 Prize for Teaching Excellence.


Nicole Taylor

Warren Technical School
Chamblee, GA
NIcole Taylor
“Students enter my program and have a small class setting of like-minded peers. I teach with an instructional model that provides them patience and support for the way they learn which leads to fundamentally sound vocational outcomes. They are provided multiple ways to assess their understanding of the content with the hands-on portion of the classroom being the main component.”

A graduate of Norfolk State University, Nicole Taylor honed her trades skills through her building construction technology major along with her industry experience. She worked as a roofer each summer during college, a project manager for two homebuilders after graduation, and as a small business contractor.

Taylor has taught for 11 years at Warren Technical School, which educates students with special needs in career skills as well as core academics taught from a career-oriented perspective. Taylor guides her classes through leveled National Center for Construction Education and Research curricula. Beginning with safety, tool usage and drawings, Taylor’s students advance to basic carpentry, electrical and masonry before diving deeper into specific trades. Students work in pairs, providing each other peer-to-peer tutoring, while Taylor provides group lessons and remediation as needed.

Beyond the classroom, Taylor’s students connect with peers through SkillsUSA, and with industry professionals through work-based learning, career fairs and guest speakers. They also serve the community through special projects, like maintaining and constructing shelters for Atlanta’s unhoused population. A believer in continuously improving her practice, Taylor earned a certification in special education to better serve students.

Last year, Taylor was named a teacher of the year for her school, the only trades teacher to win the honor. She helped place six students in jobs, a particularly important achievement for the students she serves.

“Our special education vocational school receives students with deficiencies in math and reading. Their confidence has been depleted and the traditional methods of demonstrating achievement and understanding have not worked in their favor,” Taylor said in her prizewinning application. The end result of her program, Taylor added, “are students whose self-esteem, confidence and skill sets develop and flourish in ways they could have never imagined.”


Wayne Violet

Automotive Technology
Washington County Technical High School
Hagerstown, MD
Wayne Violet
“The automotive industry is rapidly changing with new technologies constantly being developed. We live in an exciting time with the fully autonomous car just around the corner. This level of technological sophistication requires constant training and a willingness to learn.”

Wayne Violet graduated from the program he now teaches. After high school, he earned an associate degree in automotive technology from the Community College of Baltimore County Catonsville while working as an apprentice at the local GMC, Buick and Pontiac dealership. Violet’s plan was to stay in the industry, leading him to pursue a bachelor’s in business administration, serve as a master technician and become assistant service manager at a Chevrolet and Cadillac dealer. His manager there tipped him off about an opening at his old high school.

“I came into teaching mid-year with no prior teaching experience which is an intimidating way to be baptized into education,” Violet recalled in his prizewinning application.

Violet took over a two-year program that provides more than 1,000 hours of instruction, thanks to block scheduling. His is one of the rare programs in Maryland offering a true dealership experience to students. Students accept donated vehicles and either repair them to sell or to head to auction or, alternately, to prepare the vehicles to be scrapped. The shop operates like a used car dealer, ensuring vehicles are in good condition to resell.

A cooperative work program allows Violet’s students to begin their careers while attending school, including job shadowing and paid apprenticeships even if they are under 18. For the past 10 years, at least half of Violet’s seniors have received cooperative work placements. Violet also supports his students to qualify and pass the nationally recognized Maintenance and Light Repair Entry Level Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Foundation exam, achieving a 90 percent pass rate for his students.

Violet keeps up his own qualifications as well. After becoming a teacher, he received a master’s in career education from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, graduating with honors. He holds 12 ASE certifications and attends training courses year-round to provide students with a competitive education, and he was recently certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid and is a suicide prevention first responder. Violet was a finalist for the 2019 Prize for Teaching Excellence.