Two teachers at New Orleans charter schools are among 15 second-place winners in the 2018 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. Each won $50,000 — $15,000 for himself and $35,000 for his school's skilled-trades program — as part of $1 million awarded nationally.

The local winners are Joshua Overman, who teaches carpentry and advanced manufacturing at New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School, and Adam Bourne, who teaches carpentry and electrical at The NET Charter High School.

"The creativity and hands-on projects that Mr. Overman and Mr. Bourne and the other winning teachers bring to their classrooms is an inspiration," said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.

Overman has taught at Sci High for two years. A third-generation builder and master carpenter, Overman started his own construction company. He has built large commercial buildings, multimillion-dollar homes, boats, movie sets and props, and geodesic domes.

"Having worked overseas and with tradespeople from all over the world, I came to discover that the perception of the trades in the U.S. is relatively unique in the Western world," Overman wrote in his prize application. "For example, tradesmen in Australia, not unlike the U.S., can make a lot of money, but unlike the U.S., they are given a tremendous amount of respect."

All of Overman's senior students have gone on to college or community college. He has helped students with special needs work their International Baccalaureate in carpentry and go on to continue their carpentry careers.

"As student and parent interest grows in the work that we are doing, my program is expected to triple in size," Overman said. "We are creating real, immediate opportunities for these kids, their families, and the New Orleans community."

Bourne has been a carpentry and electrical teacher at The NET Charter High School for four years, after working for more than a dozen years as an electrician, carpenter, job site manager and business owner.

Bourne was inspired to become a teacher after he saw the high number of unemployed minorities in New Orleans and wanted to help create meaningful training opportunities for young people. 

"I work hard to create high-quality classroom sessions, but the lights come on when students put their hands on tools and go to work," Bourne wrote in his prize application.

Bourne helped expand the NET's carpentry and electrical crafts program at the school and to 10 other charter schools, resulting in a nearly 100 percent job placement rate for students earning the course credential and completing the program.

"What I love most about being a teacher is seeing students change the course of their future as many of my students get jobs and make more than their entire household at age 18," he said. "They help stabilize their family and future not only for themselves but often for younger brothers and sisters as well."

The 2018 prize drew more than 550 applications from 49 states and included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel that included experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership.