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2021 Prize Winner

Nicholas Jordan


Montecito High School, CA

“I see myself in my students and value my ability to relate to them. I was not scholastically inclined and doubted my self-worth and failed to see opportunities based on my strengths. My students need someone to focus on their strengths and provide them with insight into opportunities and experiences they may not have elsewhere.”

Nicholas Jordan is in his eighth year of teaching construction at Montecito High School, a continuation high school in Ramona, California. Jordan fights against the stigma that choosing a construction pathway is considered less respected and finds it incredibly rewarding that he is contributing to developing the U.S. skilled workforce.

Hailing from a family of educators with both parents and his brother in education, Jordan grew up in his dad’s classroom and auto shop before he retired after 31 years of teaching the automotive program at Ramona High School. Following graduation, he decided that college was not for him, immediately started working in construction 23 years ago, earned his contractors license and started a business. Due to the 2008 economic crisis, he had to close his business, but found a new opportunity by pursuing his journeyman certificate for the Local 547 Carpenters Union and working in structural concrete. When his brother called and told him that Montecito HIgh School was starting a construction program, he found it to be serendipitous and his second calling of teaching construction.

Jordan teaches his students not only practical skills like framing, roofing, plumbing and electrical, but also the importance of being dependable and having a good work ethic. He has leveraged many of the connections that he made in his years of working in the industry to provide students with employment opportunities in both union and non-union partnerships. Students take annual field trips to the Carpenters Union and Association of General Contractors to begin developing relationships for their future.

From 2017 to 2019, 38 of Jordan’s students completed OSHA-10 certifications. Of those 38 students, 33 of them are actively working in construction (86.8 percent). In 2020, they had 64 students complete the certification. Many of those students are already working in construction, as others continue through the pathway to graduation. To commemorate their success and students entering into a career as a skilled trades professional, Jordan has incorporated “signing days” as part of his program.

Jordan understands that real life experiences matter and seeks to make the learning experience equally relevant. His students competed in the TeamWorks event of the California state competitions of SkillsUSA, the national career and technical education student organization, and won first place in 2018, 2019, and 2021. In 2020-2021, their chapter won six gold medals and as three-time California state champions, his students again advanced to the National Competition in the areas of carpentry and TeamWorks. Last year, his program was featured in the Spring issue of SkillsUSA Champions magazine.

Outside of the classroom, students support their high school by improving the district’s facilities during financial hardships, repairing siding on portable buildings, building a snack bar for the high school swim team and expanding the weight room for the football team. They provide landscaping services for the middle school and have built backpack racks at various elementary schools. For the last four years, they have collaborated with a fifth grade classroom to build benches, planter boxes, and adirondack chairs. Additionally, Jordan’s program has worked with the “Wounded Warrior Project” and helped build homes for homeless military veterans, which was an unforgettable and moving experience for Jordan and his students.

As a continuation high school, Montecito High School has an enrollment of just under 120 students per year and the focus is on credit recovery and career training education. Each trimester, they enroll new students from the local comprehensive high school that are behind in their credits by at least 60 credits or more. 90 percent of our newly enrolled students arrive at Montecito High with an attendance rate of 20 percent and a grade average of 1.3 or lower. Out of 120 students, more than 70 percent of those students are enrolled in Jordan’s construction program, where he helps impact and change these students’ lives. A total of 90 percent of students graduate from Montecito High, with an average attendance rate of 90 percent.

As one student told Jordan in an interview about what the construction program meant to him, “When I first came to Montecito, I had never used a hammer. I thought I would just get through and try to work in fast food and try to stay out of jail. Now, I have won competitions. I know how to build. I am a carpenter.”

Jordan has won several other state and district teaching awards including school site Teacher of the Year, District Certificated Teacher of the Year; and has been nominated for the California League of High Schools Educator of the Year for 2018. Jordan was a finalist for both the 2018 and 2020 Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“Teaching in the skilled trades provides a medium for students to explore working with not only their minds, but their hands and taking what they learn in the classroom and immediately applying it to see its purpose in solving a problem. When a student gets excited at the end of the day after seeing the product they have produced, that is where the magic happens!”