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2017 HFTFS Prize for Teaching Excellence Finalist

Cole Smith & Bill Hartman

Construction, Woodworking & Design

Rancho Cotate High School, CA

“We get to teach these young folks about things like integrity in work, about how to conduct themselves in challenging environments, how to handle adversity when the build goes awry, and a million other lessons that lead to forming a strong foundation of character.  You mix in teaching them how to tie a half windsor knot so they can look good for an interview and how to delicately ask the boss for some more responsibility, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that we have the best jobs a couple of building junkies could ask for.”

Combining Bill Hartman’s years of experience in the construction industry and Cole Smith’s deep background in technology has allowed the two teachers to create a truly modern construction program at Rancho Cotate High School.  “We are old school and new school, and we make sure our students learn to be the best of both worlds.”

Hartman has taught woodworking for fourteen years, and owned his own cabinet shop for twenty years prior to that.  He educates his students not just in woodworking technique, but also in what it takes to have a successful business in the woodworking industry.  Smith has been teaching nearly as long, but came to it via a different path.  Raised in a construction family, Smith pursued a passion for technology, obtaining a degree in the Philosophy of Technology and ultimately deep expertise in CAD/CAM.  He teaches engineering and technology at Rancho Cotate.

A key project in Smith and Hartman’s woodworking and sustainable construction classes is the construction of an off-the-grid tiny house.  From the computer-designed blueprints to construction of the 153-square-foot structure, students learn the multitude of trades that go into building a house.  The finished product, complete with a composting toilet, water filtration system and solar panels, is sold to a member of the community.  Says Cole, “Students learn to weld up the trailer, design the wall structure, install the utilities including a solar PV system, put on a metal or shingle roof, and of course do all of the finish work.  But most importantly they gain an understanding of the role of affordable housing in our community and they get to build a close relationship with at least one person they are helping in this struggle.”

Smith and Hartman work hard to ensure their program is tailored to the evolving local industry, and bring in industry representatives to serve on their advisory counsel and to speak in the classroom.  Hartman has also partnered with the North Coast Builders Exchange (NCBE), a local trade group, to form a program called the North Bay Construction Corps, a series of classes and extended weekend workshops where students learn from industry professionals in the field.  At the end of the training sessions, students complete a two week “boot camp” with Habitat for Humanity, and are guaranteed an interview with a local construction firm.  

Smith and Hartman are committed to innovative learning in the classroom, and to ensuring that their students have a bright future with options for real-world work.