A sixth-grade teacher who unabashedly says "Utah teachers are the best" was honored Friday as Utah's Teacher of the Year.

Lilia Eskelsen, an instructor in Granite District's Orchard Elementary, shared the spotlight with Jay B. Taggart, Weber District, who was selected the state's Superintendent of the Year. Both automatically become candidates for the national titles in their categories.Eskelsen was nominated by peers for creative teaching that includes involving students in their community and for her outspoken dedication to the profession.

Accepting her award, she said she welcomed a time in the spotlight as an opportunity to tell education's story to the public.

"Most teachers are quiet, behind-the-scenes people. Well, I don't have a humble bone in my body. I am shamelessly proud of the work I do with my students," she said. Those in Utah who believe the state has a mediocre education system fail to realize Utah's teachers have done more for less for years, she said.

Accepting the $500 award that went with the honors Friday, she gave a clue to the closeness she develops with her students. "They want to know what WE are going to do with it," she quipped.

Taggart was commended as a role model and mentor to others in education and primarily as an active, forceful activist for children.

"He is an influential leader because he has so many natural followers. He is a man of sensitivity and compassion," said Don Richards, executive of the State Society of Superintendents. He cited as an instance of Taggart's devotion to children a conference the latter planned on the theme "Never give up on a Kid."

The superintendents' competition is sponsored locally by the society and nationally by the American Association of School Administrators. The selection of a national Superintendent of the Year will be announced next March.

Taggart said that in a time of "administration bashing" he was pleased to see honor paid to those in this area of education. He has been a teacher, principal and assistant principal. He was Morgan District superintendent from 1975 to 1982, when he returned to Weber.

Runners-up to the Utah Teacher for 1988 are Steve Songer, an art teacher at Weber High School, and Ruth Ann Yahne, Layton High School chemistry teacher. They received checks from Key Bank for $300 and $200 respectively.

The money awards were presented by John Howard of Key Bank, who applauded educators as "people building minds."

The finalists were chosen from among 24 teachers nominated throughout the state.

Each of the honorees also received a citation from the State Office of Education.

Gov. Norm Bangerter and his wife, Colleen, were present, and the governor joined those giving accolades to the outstanding educators.

"You said it right," he agreed with Eskelsen. "Utah teachers ARE the best. And they do it with less money and more kids."