A program that Morgan County Schools wants to turn into an employment pipeline for the planned Mazda Toyota plant in Greenbrier has been recognized as an educational model.
The auto body collision repair program---which is located at the Morgan County Schools Technology Park at Brewer High in Somerville, AL, and serves every student in the district’s five high schools and students at Hartselle City---was one of three singled out by the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools.
“This award recognizes schools that serve as outstanding educational models for other schools in Alabama,” CLAS Executive Director Vic Wilson said.
The auto body program has been at the school since the early 1970s and “has always been outstanding” and prepared students for a job, Morgan County Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. said.
“It’s nice to see that it’s finally getting the recognition the program deserves,” he said.
Jeremy Childers, career tech and workforce development director for Morgan County, said the announcement made by Mazda and Toyota a year ago saying that they'd construct a $1.6 billion plant in the Huntsville-annexed Greenbrier part of Limestone County is putting pressure on career tech programs countywide to produce more skilled workers.
“We’ve accepted that challenge,” he said.
The Japanese automakers have said the facility could generate as many as 4,000 jobs with an average salary of $50,000 annually.
Logan Cannon, a junior at West Morgan High, has been tracking the plant’s development. He’s one of 46 students in the auto body collision repair program.
“This is a profession I want to get into,” Cannon said, adding that he developed an interest in painting cars after watching an uncle paint a Chevrolet El Camino.
Teacher Glenn Winton is a 2001 Brewer graduate who was in the auto body collision repair program when he was a student. Between his junior and senior years, he got a job in a body shop and is aware of the opportunities for students.
“Three businesses called me last semester looking for advanced students, and I didn’t have them ready,” Winton said. “There is a big demand.”
He said the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA plant will have robots that paint most of the vehicles, but every auto production plant has an onsite area that repaints about 5 percent of vehicles that robots mess up.
“This is where I want this program to be a pipeline for the Mazda Toyota plant,” Winton said.
Chris Mason, a senior at Brewer, said he enrolled in the program this year to “get skills I’ll need to land a good job” when he graduates in May.
“I’ve learned a lot, and this will help,” he said Jan. 14 as he prepared to paint a car door.
When he took over the program eight years ago, Winton said he polled 15 to 20 Morgan County auto body shops about what they needed from high school graduates.
He said they wanted students with entry-level skills, meaning they need to know how to do things such as car door disassembly, painting prep, sanding and parts removal.
“The shops will provide specialized training,” Winton said.
Body shop pay can range from $14 per hour for entry-level employees to $28 for workers with experience.
Childers and Winton said students are not limited to just preparing and painting vehicles. Students in the program recently repainted some light fixtures that are in the International Space Station.
Both Childers and Winston said a school that is in NASA’s HUNCH (High schools United with NASA to Create Hardware) program designed and built the fixtures, but they were painted by Morgan County students.
“We want to make sure these students are not just exposed to cars and trucks,” Childers said. “Somebody has to paint the rockets and parts for the rockets. They can be trained here at our technology park.”
Wilson said the CLAS Banner School program was created in 2001 to recognize model school programs, and the auto body collision repair program in Morgan County was selected from 160 entries.