Surprise: Franklin County construction teacher earns $100,000 prize from Harbor Freight Tools

Published 10:43 am Tuesday, October 4, 2022

MEADVILLE — Harbor Freight Tools for Schools selected five teachers nationally to receive a $100,000 grand prize and Franklin County’s own Kristie Jones was one of the recipients. A construction and carpentry teacher at Franklin County Career and Technical Center, she won $30,000 for herself and $70,000 for the center. 

It was a big surprise that was hard to keep secret in a small town. Jones’ husband Brad Jones said he and their son Drew didn’t discuss it. 

She had arrived at her classroom Tuesday morning and was talking to a staff member when she heard something in the shop. 

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“I heard noise in the shop,” Kristie said. “I heard the doors open and I thought maybe the maintenance guys were coming in. I was walking down to come check.”

She walked out into a shop full of people including U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Lynne Russo with Harbor Freight Tools. Her students were also gathered around the shop. 

Hyde-Smith said the prize money should go a long way in Franklin County.

“Thank you for being you. Thank you for stepping up and doing what you have done. Recently, she was advocating for skilled workers in my office,” Hyde-Smith said. “I have the heart for skilled workers. She took the time to bring her son Drew to Washington D.C. to meet with me. I knew she was dedicated. Thank you for recognizing skilled workers. Thank you for being Kristine Jones.”

Jones, in turn, offered her thanks. “I couldn’t be here without the Lord. He knew I needed to be here to be with these kids and to serve the community,” she said. “Everything in this shop has been donated by the hands who care. My family, advisory team and community members My school board put faith into me. There are not enough ‘thank you’s’ I could say. Thank you to everyone.”

 Jones said she plans to use the money to buy uniforms for competitions, upgrade the shop’s electrical and air filtration systems and purchase new tools. 

Harbor Freight selected 20 winners to split $1.25 million in prize money this year. The five grand prize winners will each receive $100,000, with $70,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the individual skilled trades teacher behind the winning program. 

The 15 additional prize winners will each be awarded $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $15,000 to the teacher. Due to school, district and/or state policy regarding individual cash awards, the schools of several of the winners will receive the entire prize winnings.

Teachers receiving the awards came from a variety of paths such as automotive, construction, carpentry, industrial technology, welding, agricultural mechanics and machining. 

“We cannot overstate the impact that high school skilled trades teachers are having in the classroom. Hands-on skilled trades classes are making a comeback, and we couldn’t be prouder to celebrate the accomplishments of these remarkable teachers and their programs,’’ said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. 

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was launched in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of national tool retailer Harbor Freight Tools, to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools.

“We deeply appreciate the work skilled trades teachers do to prepare and inspire our next generation of tradespeople,” Smidt said. “Their work is urgently needed, because while our country’s need for building and repairs is growing, our skilled trades workforce is shrinking.”

Harbor Freights prize drew 768 applicants from all 50 states in 2022. These applicants went through three rounds of judging by an independent panel of industry experts. The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of video learning modules, was designed to solicit each teacher’s experience, insights and creative ideas about their approach to teaching and success in helping their students achieve excellence in the skilled trades.

Jones has a master’s degree in special education and credentials in construction, carpentry, and science. She sits on the board of directors of DonorsChoose, a non-profit organization that matches teacher requests with donors nationwide. She was a finalist in 2021 for the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.