Johnston County Public Schools named Gabe Patton as the district’s First Year Teacher of the Year at the annual Outstanding First Year Teacher of the Year Banquet on April 7.
Patton, a CTE-Aviation teacher at Cleveland High, received a $500 check sponsored by Ryan Taylor with Horace Mann Insurance Company for being named the JCPS First Year Teacher of the Year.
A lifelong learner, Patton collaborates with other districts, DPI’s Career & Technical Education Department, and local universities in an effort to grow and expand their program and generate learning opportunities for students across the state in the CTE-Aviation program.
A 20-year veteran of the United States Air Force, Patton retired as a Master Sergeant from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in 2017. His journey into the armed forces was quite serendipitous.
All set to attend college after high school, one of Patton’s friends needed a ride to the recruiting office. Patton decided to go into the office with his friend just to hear what the recruiters had to say. “He sold me on the travel,” he laughed.
Per his request, Patton was immediately deployed to Europe where he stayed for seven years. Young, single, and with a passion for travel, he used any extra money and free time to hop all around Europe.
While at his first duty station in the United Kingdom, Patton met another member of the Air Force that shared his passion for travel. Her name is Amanda and they became travel partners. Then they decided to become life partners and were married at Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral in England. Patton and his wife later welcomed a son while in Europe, who now flies drones for the Air Force.
Patton began as an F-15 crew chief, meaning he was an aircraft mechanic. As he moved up through the ranks, Patton eventually became responsible for a team of people. “I really enjoyed that aspect of it,” he recalled. That was when Patton felt the call to become a teacher.
In 2002, Patton, his wife, and son came back to the United States. They were assigned to Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert of California. He went ahead of the family to get set up. Patton said that going from Europe where it’s lush to the desert was a bit of a culture shock.
On his first day while driving to the base he saw a road runner being chased by a coyote, just like in Looney Tunes. “It was the weirdest, most surreal thing,” Patton remarked.
While stationed at Edwards Air Force base Patton worked with NASA and Boeing on some test projects. He was also part of the process for the Space Shuttle Discovery’s return flight. Due to weather conditions the shuttle couldn’t land in Florida and had to be redirected to Edwards Air Force Base.
Another exciting life event that happened in California was that he and Amanda decided to have another child, which turned out to be twin daughters, who are now students at Corinth Holders High. At that point his wife decided to leave the Air Force and focus on being a mom to their three children.
In 2017, Patton retired as a Master Sergeant from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. He decided to use his knowledge and roll right into flying drones privately. North Carolina had been deemed a test bed for unmanned aircraft and there was money to be made if you had the proper licensing, which Patton possessed.
He and his wife talked about his teaching upon retirement, but Patton continued flying drones for a living. “I was chasing the money,” he recalled. Yet, teaching was still on his mind.
Finally his wife said, “Stop talking about it and go and do the teaching thing.” Patton decided he wanted to be a social studies teacher because of the amount of traveling he was able to do during his time in the armed forces.
He chose JCPS to begin his new career because his son had such a wonderful experience at Riverwood Elementary. ”It was the right fit for our family,” he said.
Prepared with his resume and dreams of sharing his adventures with JCPS students, Patton attended the virtual job fair. Once again, his trajectory was forever changed.
He met Suzanne Lujan, Executive Director of Career and College Readiness for JCPS. Patton shared with Lujan that he wanted to be a social studies teacher. Upon seeing his resume and qualifications, she said, “You’re not going to teach social studies.”
Lujan’s department wanted to start an aviation program at Cleveland High School and Patton checked all of the boxes for the position. “I’m the weirdest, oddest guy qualified for this job,” he laughed.
He met with Principal Sauls and discussed how to set the program up. “They (the administration) have been nothing but supportive of my vision,” he said.
Currently there are 65 students in the Career and Technical Education elective. The first semester’s course was Introduction to Aviation.
Some students from the first semester took and passed the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Drone License Exam, got drones for Christmas, set up their own websites and are actively making money with their drones. “It’s a trade, and these kids can get jobs right out of high school.”
Patton said that even if the students don’t end up getting the license, just knowing the lingo can help them land a job. “Drones are going to be in almost every industry,” he declared.
Full of energy and excitement for his program, Patton is looking forward to next year, which will offer a Level 2 class. “It’s going to be awesome,” he said. The second year students will dive into the industry side of drone technology such as thermography.
As the 2022 Outstanding First Year Teacher, Patton’s energy and excitement is contagious. “I love coming to work every day!” he exclaimed. JCPS is grateful that Patton chose to bring his knowledge of drones and passion for teaching to the district.