Victor Williamson insists he makes a statement to his Central Elementary School classes by coupling black Nike running shoes with dress slacks, pressed shirts and ties.
"I always wear tennis shoes. It's my trademark" Williamson said. "I tell my students that if you want to survive in life you've got to keep running."Regardless of favored fashions, there are undoubtedly few who would not want to be in Williamson's shoes right now. The 16-year teaching veteran was given a $25,000 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award during a school assembly on Tuesday.
Recipients can spend the $25,000 prize on anything they wish. A speechless Williamson had no real immediate plans for his unexpected windfall.
"Maybe I'll go on a wild ride on the stock market," he said. "Maybe I'll pay off some bills. Maybe I'll have a party for the school."
This marks the second year Utahns have been surprised by the Milken foundation, which selects teachers for the award based on creativity, dedication and skills as an educator.
In addition to Williamson, two teachers in the Weber School District were to receive their awards Wednesday.
Since 1985, the foundation has recognized the exemplary work of 1,330 teachers, counselors, librarians and principals in 38 states. Six teachers from the Beehive State won places in the education network last year.
"I'm almost embarrassed," said Williamson, after State Superintendent Scott Bean presented the news to the cheers of excited students. "It's like winning at `Wheel of Fortune.' "
Williamson, a math teacher and director of Alpine's celebrated Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center, did not know he had been nominated for the honor by district officials.
The space center is a mock spaceship designed around spacecraft from the "Star Trek" television series. Student crews learn how to cooperate, communicate and apply basic science to simulated situations.
Williamson is the first teacher from Alpine to be named a Milken educator. He and other winners will receive a check at a June conference in Los Angeles.
"We have so many teachers who are exceptional," said Alpine Superintendent Steven C. Baugh, who submitted Williamson's resume to the foundation's selection panel. "We just had to focus on somebody, and he was a perfect candidate."
Baugh said foundation officials called him Friday to arrange an assembly at the school. Winners aren't told of the award until their names are announced.
"They were so concerned that it was to be a surprise," Baugh said. "And I'm not good at keeping secrets."
Williamson, 40, who has been US WEST's Teacher of the Year and recipient of the prestigious Huntsman Award, started at Central Elementary while a student at Brigham Young University. He never left.
"Teaching has been good to me. It's what I wanted to do since I was 12 years old," he said. "It's what I'm going to die doing. I'm here for the duration."