New teacher takes wheel for auto shop

By Rose Egelhoff •The Times-Independent

After the last auto shop teacher resigned on short notice to take care of his aging father, Grand County High School had to scramble to find a replacement. Luckily, they found a competent successor in Donnie McCandless.

The former teacher “had built up a good program with kids that had some high expectations. They wanted to keep going into that trade. So it was hard going through the summer not knowing if we were going to have somebody to start the year off in that program,” said Career and Technical Education Director Jim Stocks.

To find a replacement, Stocks launched a social media campaign and “put the word out on the street,” he said. McCandless was working at Crump Reese Chevrolet and heard about the position.

“I started thinking about it, which I never have before, weighing pros and cons and different things. I decided that I was going to put in for the job so I did and interviewed … Two days later they called and said they wanted to bring me on if I was interested,” McCandless said.

McCandless now teaches all the auto shop courses, or as it’s officially known, the Automotive Service Technician program. At the end, students have the option to take the Automotive Service Excellence exam. The ASE certification is industry standard, Stocks explained, and requires two years of experience plus a written knowledge test. The students can’t get their two years of experience in school, but having passed the written test looks good to employers, Stocks said.

McCandless’ background is in diesel technology, he said. The Grand County graduate went for an associate’s degree in diesel technology at Wyoming Technical Institute after high school then worked in a variety of jobs, all with a mechanical aspect.

“I’ve always been the type that wants to know ‘why’ when it comes to mechanical things. Why it works this way, why doesn’t it,” McCandless said. “What I explained to my class was, I wasn’t a heavy studier when I was in school. I learn with my hands, by doing more than by somebody telling. I’m trying to base a lot of the way I teach on that. I’m trying to build a curriculum that I can teach by book plus by them getting their hands on it.”

McCandless hopes that his students will come out of his classes with strong fundamentals. “I don’t want them leaving here without having a basic knowledge in everything that we’re going to go over, from engines to brakes to something as simple—simple to some people, not so simple to others—as roadside safety. How to change a flat tire, how to change your own oil if you want to do that,” McCandless said.

Ultimately, it was the kids that made him decide to do the job, he said.

“We didn’t have much of a program when I was in high school,” McCandless said. “I didn’t want to see the program get lost. Actually it made me feel really good when I first came in to see how excited the students were to see that they had somebody here to do it. How we’re going to figure out how to get through this year and how I’m going to base everything is just a step-by-step process. I explained to them, I’m learning just like they are. I think the biggest thing was I didn’t want to see the program go away. I’m pretty passionate about that.”