With “Mr. Q” at the wheel, and a passion for motors sparking their interest, the first set of students to enroll in Cleburne High School’s new Heavy Equipment/Diesel Technician program are operating at full throttle.

Dennis “Daq” Querry, a 2012 graduate of CHS, brought the mix of knowledge, combined with industry and classroom experience needed to fuel this latest addition to the Career and Technical Education program,  Director Mark McClure said. 

“In considering the right person for this program, like in so many areas of CTE, the instructor brings so much more to the table when they have industry experience,” McClure said. “It’s like hunting for a unicorn — you want someone with knowledge, who is also a teacher and likes to work with kids.”

“Daq rose to the top of our list with his career experience with heavy equipment engines, including HOLT Caterpillar which is one of our industry partners,” McClure said. “He came to us from Duncanville ISD where he was an instructor in their CTE program. Rarely do you have someone who is familiar and proficient in gas and diesel engines — they are two very separate things. And that’s what we have in Daq.”

Weeks before the start of school, Querry was already at work in the spaces designated for the new CTE program he would be leading.

“He’s a hard worker and wanted the shop to look impressive from day one, to give kids a vision of what they are going to be doing in there,” McClure said. “He spent hours up here on his own time. I thought that was pretty cool. Not only is he giving our students technical skills, he’s trying to show them how to conduct themselves around others, follow through on their commitments, show up on time — all those soft, but critical, skills. 

“We set high expectations and want kids to meet them,” McClure said. “That will be happening in Daq’s program.”

Querry’s resume reflects a motor-driven life, with the road always leading back to Cleburne. His first job following graduation from CHS was in Honduras working as a dune buggy guide. 

“I was half owner in the company and got some international business skills,” Querry said. “But it was not where I wanted to be for the rest of my life. I came back to Cleburne and worked in an auto repair shop, then left for the oil fields in northern Oklahoma where I worked on frac pumps.”

But the pull on his heart for home was strong and he returned to a new opportunity that was instrumental in where he is now.

“HOLT Caterpillar was having a hiring event for their Cleburne facility,” Querry said. “I went to work for them, while at the same time continuing to learn. They put me through a lot of classes, giving me more knowledge and adding to my skills.”

While at HOLT CAT Querry encountered CHS students like Garrett Mahaffey (Class of 2018) who were also gaining a lot of experience through an internship program the company had established with Cleburne CTE.

“Garrett was a true to test of what Cleburne Career and Technical Education was producing,” Querry said. “I thought how awesome it would have been if an internship program like this had been in place when I was in school. It may have made things different for me. Right after that, I saw Mr. McClure and he told me he was hoping to develop a heavy equipment/diesel tech program at the high school.”

That conversation planted a seed — and a hope — in Querry.  A door relating to that hope soon opened, when Querry received an offer from Duncanville ISD to serve as a welding instructor. 

“I knew an opportunity to teach didn’t come along every day,” he said. “I suddenly found myself a mechanic on Wednesday and a high school instructor on Thursday.”

Querry credits his wife, Wendi, who is a DISD teacher, with helping him develop the skills he wanted for his new career. His technical abilities and experience in the industry qualified him to instruct, but he also wanted to incorporate the teaching practices and classroom management skills he knew would provide a high-powered learning environment for students. 

“I had both Mark McClure and his father as my ag teachers when I was at CHS,” Querry said. “What I learned in welding from both of them took me a long way on the job, and as a welding instructor. 

“I liked working in Duncanville — it was great, but it wasn’t home. I stayed in touch with Mark, waiting to hear when Cleburne’s diesel tech program would be in place.”

He describes the chance to launch the latest CTE initiative and join the CHS faculty as a dream come true.

“The opportunity to work with Cleburne students in the heavy equipment/diesel technician program is awesome,” Querry said. “It’s like a dream come true to be teaching in the community where I grew up, where I learned. I see a lot of me in the kids I’m teaching. We like motor sports, things that move with power. Those things inspire me and they inspire them. We’re all gear heads.”

Junior Bobby Noriega was inspired to enroll in the diesel tech program by his older brother, who was one of the first CHS students to intern at HOLT CAT. He is now a full-time employee. 

“This is my first time to be in a hands-on class,” Noriega said. “Mr. Q is a really inspiring teacher. He works hard to draw us into the lessons. I think I’m going to learn a lot this year.”

Cleburne School Board Trustee Wendell Dempsey has been a teacher and mentor to Querry from the time he was in high school. Motors, cars and what it takes to make them go bridge the years between the two.

“This is an unbelievable thing for Daq,” Dempsey said. “He is a talented, self-driven person. He’ll hold the standards high in this program. He holds himself to 100 percent and will expect the same from his students.

“Daq came to me wanting to learn how to do valve jobs. I saw quickly he was very intelligent and very responsible. Before long he had his own set of keys to my shop.  Even in high school he was self-driven. No one had to tell him to get out of bed and go to work. 

“He’s also an artist in designing and creating metal art and sculpture. He’s always working on something. He’s got an amazing creative side — he’s an artist with a torch.”

Querry called on his artistic side in making work tables for the small and large labs utilized by his students, to give the learning spaces the ‘feel’ he wanted for them. Vinyl wraps he designed cover doors and windows to promote the diesel tech program and provide a visual of the career opportunities available to students who are driven to succeed. 

“It was important to me to have true buy-in for the program with our students,” he said. “I wanted the spaces where they would be working to have a certain look. I also wanted a hot rod feel. Heavy diesel pays the bills — but we’re all gear heads at heart. I like to work with my hands and I couldn’t buy the tables that had the design I wanted. So working with CAD, I built my own.”

In this first year of implementation, students are enrolled in Principles of Transportation, learning about — and on — internal combustion engines and the basic electrical system. They will also earn their OSHA Ten-Hour Certification. Their hands-on learning includes a daily writing assignment. 

Year 2, to be added to the curriculum and course offerings in 2021-22, will have students working on everything from a small Briggs & Stratton engine to a 5.9-liter diesel engine. They will end the year understanding the differences between a regular car engine and a heavy diesel engine. 

At this point they will also decide if they want to continue on with diesel tech, or move into the automotive tech program in conjunction with Hill College. 

 In Year 3, the curriculum powers up and the student technicians will earn the OSHA 30-Hour Certification. Through industry partners RDO Equipment Company/John Deere and HOLT CAT, paid internships will be available to those who have worked their way into the top tier of the class. As seniors, in their fourth year of the program, students will attend classes for half the day, then report to their paid internships.

 On Thursday, representatives of RDO and HOLT CAT visited CHS to meet Querry and tour the Heavy Engine/Diesel Technician facilities.  

“I knew the timing was perfect for this program when I saw the shop space,” Tony Spalding, director of HOLT CAT’s intern and apprentice programs said. “In partnering with the diesel tech program, we also wanted to engage others in the industry, to build a workforce. 

“Now that this is rolling, I want to use Cleburne as a model and replicate it. This program is miles ahead of other high schools across the state.”

The four-member team from RDO Equipment/John Deere was also pleased with the tools and equipment, the facilities, the curriculum and the planning that has gone into this first phase of program implementation.

“It’s impressive — it’s very obvious this program is top notch,” Cory Kosse, vice president of Texas RDO said. “You can see the passion for this program and CTE from both Mark and Daq.”

“We work with a lot of colleges,” RDO Texas Service Manager Jason Sims said. “The facilities here are far more impressive.” 

The visit by industry supporters also proved to be an affirmation that “Mr. Q” is firing on all pistons in his role of teacher. They discussed two specific areas of need that directly align with the curriculum and strategies he has already implemented to produce student technicians who will be career ready. 

“I always felt like God wanted me to make a difference,” Querry said. “I just feel like everything I’ve learned and the experience I have gained along the way have made me the right fit for this job. I am so fortunate to be a part of this. I hope to pour my passion for motors into the kids I’m working with. I know we want this to be a showcase program and I want Cleburne, CHS and CTE to look really good.

“With the new CHS and all the CTE facilities, we’re the full package for students not just in Cleburne, but throughout Johnson County. This is the place to be.”

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