Auto Industry Leaders Rally to Save and Improve Petaluma High School's Classic Autoshop Program

March 8th, 2017


petaluma high Auto shop

photos provided by Cruisin' the Blvd (not an actual PHS shot)

No matter what field of business — a common topic amongst those in the hiring seat is the challenge of finding young people even partially trained for an entry-level position. 

At a time when education in the United States is so often failing to provide students with skills they need to land a decent job, Petaluma City Schools District is inviting automotive industry professionals, city schools staff with an interest or connection to district Auto and/or Career and Technical Education programs and community stakeholders to an important study session at the district office on Thursday March 9th, 2017 at 6 pm.

The single-track nature of herding high school students towards four-year college programs in the U.S. excludes the many who might otherwise seek success  through solid vocational training. It's time to figure out how to develop a better two-track system by dropping the college for all mantra and the stigma surrounding vocational training in this country. 

Public-private partnerships offer a good solution to boosting vocational training programs for our students — a win-win for industries in need of a steady flow of incoming trained workers and talent and those who might not be suited to the costly four-year college academic route. 

Up for serious discussion on the 9th is the current status of the Petaluma High School Auto Shop Program. Attendees will explore the viability of the PHS Auto Program in light of challenges including an outdated shop/learning facility, declining enrollment/interest in auto shop and a vacant .4 FTE teaching position. 

Though other Career and Technical Education course offerings are available at PHS, it's time for a new strategy for PHS and district to offer students a pathway into automotive careers.  

Leading members of the local automotive industry have expressed their considerable interest in developing a viable renewed program given that demand for skilled labor in this arena continues to outstrip demand. 

Wouldn't it be great to have more open dialog like this to match our young people with exciting careers in which they are able to build a good life for themselves and stay in this area, if they wish?

petaluma high Auto class

Despite the lack of ladies in this shot, lots of female students have taken Autoshop at PHS through the decades. If you were one of them, get in touch and send a photo to add to this post. 

A little bit of history. In the early 1900s, only about one in ten American 18-year-olds  finished high school. By 1940, numbers of high school graduates reached 50 percent.

During the post war years, The G.I. Bill significantly boosted education in the States. High school graduates through the 1970s looked forward to leaving school and finding decent paying jobs with plenty of room for promotion.  Since then, as automation and technology has risen, training demands have changed significantly. Most new jobs, including those in the autoshop industry require more specialized training than ever before and high school grads are being churned out into the system without being given the skills they need to perform. Let's start with learning how to make change from a $10 bill, construct a business-like email, show up to work on time . . . the little things that friends in business continually report as woefully lacking in so many youngsters starting out with their first jobs.

"The future of our youth and automotive industry is at stake.  I’m hoping you too will want to be part of the legacy that turns this decision around so we don’t see one more of our vocational programs disappear in the Petaluma City High Schools," says Greg Gustafson, Manager of Freeman Collision Center in Santa Rosa and President of Petaluma non-profit Cruisin' The Blvd, Inc (producer of the annual American Graffiti event. 

Greg has voiced his deep concern and his strong desire to find a solution to save and improve the PHS Autoshop program and create new, similar programs in other Sonoma County schools in an inspirational letter to Petaluma City Schools governing board, office of the superintendent and principal.

He wrote of how he was a graduate of Petaluma High school class of 1984, raised by a single mother who did everything she could to keep her steady job, a roof over her family’s head and food on the table.

"During the course of my four years at PHS I attended Fred Brunton’s auto shop class. Fred was an educator that knew how to get the most from his students.  He took the time to learn why they were interested in the automotive industry and then worked to pull those interests through his course curriculum.  He quickly discovered that I was the third generation in my family interested in following footsteps already taken in automotive industry.   He also learned I lost my father at an early age and had no one to guideline me so Fred put me under his wing.  My interest in school was not in academics and only the vocational studies kept me energized at PHS.  Otherwise my only interest was when the final bell rang to get to the two jobs I held as a teenager to pay for the car I owned and hobbies I was interested in."

 Shortly after Greg's graduation he left Petaluma and served in the U.S. Army. His job was with Bradley Fighting Vehicles (armored personnel carriers) where he maintained a fleet of vehicles and quickly rose through the ranks — not being afraid of hands-on work. He left the Army after serving  four years with an honorable discharge. 

"I returned to Petaluma where I worked as a night manager with a local pharmacy named Tuttle Drug while putting myself through Santa Rosa Junior College," wrote Greg. "Still not interested in academics I eventually opened up my own business repairing computers under contract for Hewlett-Packard.  Soon I had over 25 commission technicians working for me in four states.  Eventually with economy and industry changes I closed the business."

A close friend in Sacramento persuadedGreg to work for him as an estimator in the auto repair industry. "I’m quite sure that reflecting back on my vocational studies with PHS in the auto shop is what gave me the confidence I needed to accept the position.  After two years I was elevated to a management position at one of the company’s facilities in downtown Sacramento. Eventually the commute took its toll though and I didn’t want to leave Petaluma so I resigned from a fantastic company.  Spirited about my new found career though I had built enough confidence to stay in the industry and search out other opportunity."

 Twenty one years on, Greg is  manager of the Freeman Toyota and Lexus Collision Center — a multi-million dollar business working with dozens of insurance companies and managing over 50 employees.  

If you, your friends or family experienced Petaluma High School's Autoshop program over the years or have something to contribute to strengthening this important discussion at the school district offices, please do attend. 

Petaluma School District offices are located at 200 Douglas Street, Petaluma. CA 94952.

Contact Greg at:

Or call Communications Manager for the school District, David Fichera, at 707 778 4890. 

  Posted in: Local Community News