Instructor Steve Cheatwood's curriculum stresses the importance of a solid math  background, and the need to “practice what he preaches” extensively.
Instructor Steve Cheatwood's curriculum stresses the importance of a solid math background, and the need to “practice what he preaches” extensively.
The masonry program includes about 100 students each year.
The masonry program includes about 100 students each year.

When Steve Cheatwood took over instruction of the masonry program at Lawrence County High School, Lawrenceburg, Tenn., the school board, unbeknownst to Cheatwood, had recently considered closing down the program. Five years later, he instructs over 140 masonry students each year.

Cheatwood was running his own masonry construction company when his chiropractor advised him to give up the trade. While he was “bricking” a couple of jobs for another instructor, Cheatwood learned of the teaching opening at the high school from which he had graduated. The teacher who taught Cheatwood was retiring.

Cheatwood applied, was hired, and within a year one of his students was competing in the state masonry competition. It was at the contest that Bob Melton, executive director of the Masonry Institute of Tennessee, got wind of the serious issues facing the future of this masonry program.

Crises looming

“I was aware of the program, but nothing really stood out,” Melton remembered. “Cheatwood showed up at the state competition with a really good candidate. While I was judging the event, he got me interested in his program, so I drove down to take a look-see. It wasn't much. For starters, the classroom and lab space were totally inadequate,” Melton went on.

“I sat down with the assistant principal and told him that the Masonry Institute of Tennessee was very interested in this program and was willing to help. I offered to supply all the materials for a new building.

“Steve and I met with the school board and explained my offer” continued Melton. “The board changed its thinking about the masonry program at that point.”

Melton returned to his office and started called his contacts, including Alley-Cassetty Brick, General Shale Brick, and Southland Brick and Block. Brown's Concrete, Red River Concrete, and Sequatchie Concrete also pitched in, as did Capital City Scaffolding and Equipment, Enco Materials, and Lojac Materials. Donations from the membership of the Masonry Institute of Tennessee totaled 4200 blocks, 25,000 bricks, 300 bags of mortar, doors and door-frames, shovels, and hard hats.

When the 3600-sq-ft building was completed, it had cost $95,000 in donated materials. It is now appraised for $350,000.

New beginning

When the groundbreaking for the combined shop and classroom building took place in October 2005, the project began to take on a life of its own. The mayor and the county executive turned out. Board members of the school district and the Masonry Institute of Tennessee participated. They all shoveled sand into a new, donated mixer to signify the start of the project.

“This was a phenomenal project for the community,” Melton exclaimed. “It came together so fast. We supplied the materials, but many people helped. It was just what this town needed.”