Above, Van Nuys High School teacher Joe Agruso, right, and his students tour auto dealerships, where graduates often land high-paying jobs.

Teacher and Substitute Teacher Appreciation Week is May 7-11, and LAUSD Daily is celebrating the classroom heroes who work every day to educate, lead, mentor and inspire the students of L.A. Unified. Each day this week, we are profiling a teacher or substitute teacher selected by their Local District administrators as an example of the highly skilled and dedicated professionals who make up our teaching corps. Today, we feature Joe Agruso, who teaches automotive sciences at Van Nuys High School.

Joe Agruso, left, talks with former student Francisco Perez, who is now a  services consultant at Keyes Chevrolet.

While teachers may not always have the opportunity to catch up with their students after they graduate, it’s not the case for Van Nuys High School automotive sciences teacher Joe Agruso.

“There isn’t one car dealership in the San Fernando Valley I can walk into where I don’t run into one of my former students,” he said, chuckling. “I am honored to know so many are finding success in the local automotive industry and beyond.”

Agruso did not plan for a career as an educator. At a young age, he was certified as a technician with multiple auto makers and ultimately found success as a technical services manager for Galpin Ford in North Hills. He also became involved in Automotive Youth Educational Systems, a national partnership that connects automotive manufacturers and dealers with educational institutions for the sake of fostering the next generation of automotive professionals. As chair of the San Fernando Valley chapter, he found his way into the education arena.

“People kept asking me, ‘Why don’t you teach?’” he said. “I didn’t think I knew anything about what to do in the classroom, and I was already doing really great where I was.”

His perspective changed fourteen years ago when his son was born.

“Working in upper management in the industry pays really well, but it also means long hours,” he said. “My wife helped me see the importance of continuing to do work in the field while having a positive impact on many lives and having more time to spend with my family.”

Teacher Joe Agruso stays in touch with many of his graduates, including, from left, Valeri Tavadyan, Ivan Reyes and Dana Salazar.

He came to Van Nuys High by way of the Regional Occupational Program (ROP), a statewide initiative that integrates core academics with vocational preparation. He went back to school and earned a degree in automotive sciences along with a teaching credential. Over the last 14 years, he’s helped to build an award-winning automotive program that graduates dozens of students annually with the certification and skills to work in high-paying jobs.

Agruso recently led a cohort of students on tours of Keyes Motors dealerships, where managers were clamoring to convince students to come work for them as soon as they graduate.

“I’d like to think I have influenced every student who comes through my door in a positive way,” Agruso said. “Not every student will actually go into a career in automotive sciences. However, they all acquire a solid foundation in hands-on laboratory skills that are relevant in numerous industries, whether it be engineering, bio-medical sciences or any number of highly technical careers that are in high demand.”

Agruso’s contributions have garnered him the respect and admiration of career educators, including Van Nuys High Principal Yolanda Gardea.

“Mr. Agruso is one of the most passionate teachers I have had the pleasure of working with,” she said. “His passion is contagious and is passed on to his students. It benefits them greatly, as many students in his automotive program achieve success on a national level.”