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Story and photos by Rebecca Jefferis Williamson

Oct. 17, 2020 (Santee) A surprise celebration was held at Santee’s West Hills High School on Oct. 14 for teacher Kathryn Worley, who applied for and landed a $100,000 prize from Harbor Freight Tools.

“We have a deep, deep respect for the dignity of the skilled trades and especially for the intelligence and creativity of the people who work with their hands, of students who work with their hands, of teachers who work with their hands, and professionals who really connect with their heart, their heads, and their hands,”  said Harbor Freight Tools for Schools executive Danny Corwin during the presentation.

Corwin made the trip down from their headquarter offices in Calabasas to present Worley with the proverbial lottery-win-like over-sized check. His other two $100,000 award winners’ ceremonies will be held virtually. Harbor Freight Tools USA Inc. is a national tool retailer.

“I’m grateful for Harbor Freight’s support,” said Worley. Worley, the guest of honor at the celebration that included district leaders, West Hills principal Robin Ballarin, teachers, staff, community members and students who were all “masked up” due to the pandemic.

Worley, who has taught woodworking and industrial arts for over a decade at West Hills as well years, 31 in total, at Mount Miguel High School in Spring Valley.

“She’s been very patient and helps with anything,” said a sophomore attending the celebration.

That patience carried over to her continued perseverance in applying year after year, for four years, for the prize.

2020 was her year for crafting the winning application selected from over 632 who applied. The $100,000 will be split up with 70% going to West Hills High School and 30% going to Worley.

Worley currently juggles five different classes on the industrial arts and wood shop.

“We are so proud of Kathy Worley and her program,” said superintendent of the Grossmont Union High School District Theresa Kemper. “It’s great to see her recognized for her achievements and career.”

“She has her eye on digital manufacturing equipment---it’s on her wish list,” said director of college & career readiness for Grossmont Union High School District Eileen Bagg-Rizzo.

“Our son took her woodworking class at Mount Miguel,” said Lemon Grove resident Art Marx. “He made a guitar.  Marx and his wife, Michele, recounted their son’s first songs played on said guitar: Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and teacher Eliphalet Oram Lyte’s song “Row, Row, Row your Boat.”  Marx’s son, a 2010 graduate, still has the guitar they said.

Guitar making is just one of many skills and products she teaches. Students have left with guitars and industrial skill sets that have placed them in professional settings after graduation.

Worley was a 2018 San Diego County Teacher of the Year and a finalist for California Teacher of the Year.  Additionally, she was a finalist for the 2019 prize for Teaching Excellence.

Who was Worley’s inspirational teacher?  “Mr. Lim at Charter Oak High School in Covina.”

An inspirational teacher begat another inspirational teacher.



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