Johnny McDonald has only been in Tennessee for a little over a year now, but in that short time, he’s managed to take an ailing HVAC program and turn it around enough to necessitate hiring additional staff. But, McDonald, who serves as an HVACR instructor at Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Murfreesboro (TCAT Murfreesboro), said it’s all in a day’s work.
“I guess I kind of like the challenge of taking something that’s not at its best and making it the best,” he said. “Our placement rate is almost 100 percent.”
McDonald’s tireless commitment to improving his program and ensuring his students have the tools they need for a successful career have earned him the title of The NEWS’ 2015 Best Instructor runner-up.
TURNING IT AROUND
McDonald got his first taste of HVAC while working in maintenance for a Georgia school system. “It was kind of an accident,” he said. “I’ve always been good at maintenance work, but they kept sending me to fix HVAC systems, and when it came to the refrigeration side, I realized I had a lack of knowledge. So, I went to school at what was then Middle Georgia Technical College [now Central Georgia Technical College] at night and found I really liked HVAC.”
McDonald was eventually hired by the school and spent the next 10 years running its HVAC program before moving to Tennessee last year to be closer to his daughter and two grandchildren. But, when he took over the HVAC program at TCAT Murfreesboro, he realized he had his work cut out for him. Luckily, he’s no stranger to resuscitating HVAC programs.
“In Georgia, when I first took over the HVAC program, they wanted to close it because it had fallen off, and I said I wanted to have a chance to try to run it,” McDonald said. “I got out, beat the bushes, and got students. It’s a really great program down there now, not so much because of what I did, but because we got students in there again, and the school saw it would make it.
“Up here, it’s the same thing,” he continued. “The program was a little run down with limited space and budget, and I’ve had to make changes and obtain equipment to get it back up to speed. I’ve spent most of my time here revamping the program. I’ve written standards for the program, and I’m presently working on supplemental teaching aids and things like that to go along with the standards.”
McDonald’s hard work has already paid off. On Sept. 1, the college launched a night HVAC program.
“It mirrors the day program,” he said. “We’re going to hire an adjunct instructor, too. We’re actually growing.”
Judy Henegar, assistant director at TCAT Murfreesboro, said McDonald has been instrumental in turning the school’s HVAC program around.
“I hope he stays with us because he has so much to offer for the future, and we’re a growing facility; we are building a second building, so that will free up some more space for him,” she said. “I think Johnny has a great future here, I really do, and if he does in the future what he’s done in this short span of time, there are no limits for him or his program.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
McDonald has also managed to make a positive impression on several students in his short time at TCAT Murfreesboro. Matthew Lenard, a current student at the school, said McDonald’s infinite patience has already earned him a reputation among the students as an excellent educator.
“A lot of times, teachers have their breaking point, and you can tell they have an attitude if you don’t get it right away, but he’s the complete opposite,” Lenard said. “He’s never gotten mad or impatient. That’s one thing that has made me think he’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.”
McDonald is also very understanding and willing to spend extra time with students to make sure they understand the materials, Lenard added.
“He doesn’t just want you to pass his class — he wants you to be a good technician. He wants to put his best foot forward when it comes to producing new techs, and he wants them to find a job. He has a lot of connections, and he’ll make calls for you and prep you for interviews. He’ll let you know what’s going on in the HVAC world. He’s just a good, genuine guy.”
While McDonald has big plans to continue growing the HVAC program at TCAT Murfreesboro, his constant goal is, and always has been, to simply make a difference in his students’ lives.
“One of the things I enjoy most about teaching is seeing a student complete this program, go out, and start a career. I have many students up here and in Georgia who have been so changed by this career, and it’s great to see them go out and find success,” he said. “My job is to make sure students leave with a skill they can earn a living with, and I want them to understand and learn. I’m here for the students.”
Publication date: 9/21/2015