Johnston County Public Schools named Gabe Patton as the district’s First Grade Teacher of the Year at the annual Outstanding First Grade 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 JCPS First Year Teacher of the Year.
A lifelong learner, Patton works with other districts, the DPI Vocational and Technical Education Department, and local universities to develop and expand their curriculum and generate learning opportunities for students from across the state through 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 path in the armed forces was quite fortuitous.
All set to attend college after high school, one of Patton’s friends needed a ride to the recruiting office. Patton decided to go to the office with his friend just to hear what the recruiters had to say. “He sold me on the trip,” he laughed.
At his request, Patton was immediately deployed to Europe where he remained for seven years. Young, single and an avid traveler, he used his extra money and free time to tour Europe.
While at his first duty station in the UK, Patton met another member of the Air Force who shared his passion for travel. Her name is Amanda and they have become travel partners. Then they decided to become life partners and got married at Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral in England. Patton and his wife then welcomed a son to Europe, who now flies drones for the Air Force.
Patton started out as an F-15 crew chief, which means he was an aircraft mechanic. As he rose through the ranks, Patton eventually became responsible for a team of people. “I really enjoyed that aspect,” he recalls. It was then that Patton felt the call to become a teacher.
In 2002 Patton, his wife and son returned to the United States. They were assigned to Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert. He preceded the family to settle down. Patton said going from Europe where it’s lush to the desert was a bit of a culture shock.
On the first day, while driving to base, he saw a road runner being chased by a coyote, 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 Space Shuttle Discovery return flight process. Due to weather conditions, the shuttle was unable to land in Florida and had to be rerouted to Edwards Air Force Base.
Another exciting life event that happened in California was that he and Amanda decided to have another child, who turned out to be twin girls, who are now students at Corinth Holders High. At that time, his wife decided to leave the Air Force and focus on being the mother of their three children.
In 2017, Patton retired as a Master Sergeant from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. He decided to use his knowledge and jump straight into private drone piloting. North Carolina had been seen as a test bed for unmanned aircraft and there was money to be made if you had the proper license, which Patton had.
He and his wife talked about his teaching in retirement, but Patton continued to fly drones for a living. “I was looking for the money,” he recalls. Yet the teaching was always on his mind.
Finally, his wife said, “Stop talking about it and go teach.” Patton decided he wanted to be a social studies teacher because of the amount of travel he was able to do during his time in the armed forces.
He chose JCPS to start his new career because his son had a wonderful experience at Riverwood Elementary. “It was the right fit for our family,” he said.
Prepared with his resume and dreaming of sharing his adventures with JCPS students, Patton attended the virtual job fair. Once again, its trajectory was changed forever.
He met with Suzanne Lujan, Executive Director of Career and College Readiness for JCPS. Patton shared with Lujan that he wanted to be a social studies teacher. 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 the boxes for the position. “I’m the weirdest, weirdest guy qualified for this job,” he laughed.
He met Principal Sauls and discussed how to set up the program. “They (the administration) just supported my vision,” he said.
There are currently 65 students in the optional vocational and technical education course. The first semester course was Introduction to Aviation.
Some first semester students have taken and passed the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Drone License Exam, got drones for Christmas, created their own websites, and are actively earning money from their drones. “It’s a trade, and these young people can find a job as soon as they finish high school.
Patton said that even if students don’t get the license, just knowing the lingo can help them land a job. “Drones are going to be in almost every industry,” he said.
Full of energy and enthusiasm for his program, Patton looks forward to next year, which will offer a Level 2 class. “It’s going to be awesome,” he said. Second-year students will delve into the industrial side of drone technology like thermography.
As an outstanding 2022 freshman teacher, Patton’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious. “I love coming to work every day!” he exclaimed. JCPS is grateful that Patton has chosen to bring his knowledge of drones and his passion for teaching to the district.