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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Muir Elementary School Principal Kevin Prusse gets covered with Silly String during an assembly honoring students for reaching reading goals. The letter nominating Prusse for Huntsman Awards calls him a counselor, cheerleader, communicator, budget analyzer, building caretaker and friend to the students.

The six teachers, three administrators and volunteer selected for the 16th annual 2008 Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education will join the ranks of 162 previous winners over the years.

The educators were nominated by their peers and stand out due to their creativity and innovation, dedication and sincere love for students and selfless voluntarism.

They stay after school and arrive early to make sure struggling students don't slip through the cracks, they use their talents and creativity to engage and motivate students, they help other educators become the best they can be and they sacrifice their time to improve their communities.

To celebrate their efforts, the award winners will be honored at a Friday banquet at the Little America Hotel, where each will receive a crystal trophy and a $10,000 check. The honorees in elementary, middle and high schools were selected by a panel of distinguished education and business leaders.

"They were selected from an impressive collection of nominations submitted by schools throughout the state," said Jon Huntsman Sr., whose family sponsors the awards. "Again this year, our winners are among the most outstanding representatives of their peers in the field of education, all of whom we hold in the highest esteem."

The following profiles are derived from the winners' nomination letters.

Dianne Krehbiel

Oakridge Elementary

Salt Lake City

Dianne Krehbiel, music teacher at Oakridge Elementary, is not only an outstanding teacher but a professional musician who works to open up the world of learning for her students through music.

What sets her apart from other teachers is her ability to inspire children with music, nominators said. Through music she has also found ways to help her students learn in areas like math, science and social studies, which has resulted in increased understanding and improved achievement.

She is able to provide an environment where students can explore, improvise, create and work together in ways that don't require paper and pencils.

Krehbiel has also made herself available to mentor college students and other teachers who want to follow in her footsteps. She has been selected by the state to mentor those seeking endorsements, and her classroom has become an observation destination for those training in both music and education from Utah colleges.

"There is a bit of magic at Oakridge, and the magic is Dianne," said Rosanne Newell, Oakridge principal.

Susan VanFrank

Cottonwood Elementary

Salt Lake City

Discipline problems are rarely an issue in Susan Van Frank's first-grade class. The teacher at Cottonwood Elementary is known for letting her students know what she expects from them and what they should expect from themselves.

In her classroom students have many choices, but their decisions come with either rewards or consequences. That freedom has created a peaceful classroom and learning environment.

She has also created a reading program in her classroom where students are grouped according to their levels and arranges for students to have one-on-one reading with a volunteer.

Peers say she also has a creative flair that she uses in classroom projects — from things like art project, mock businesses using pogs and money, and one time even a "jail" for those caught stealing "money."

And in VanFrank's class students lead the parent-teacher conferences, presenting what they have done, things they learned and how they plan to meet their goals.

Brian LeStarge

Churchill Junior High

Salt Lake City

His hands-on approach to teaching science and energizing students has won Churchill Junior High's Brian LeStarge a spot as a student favorite, as well as earning the respect of parents.

Nominated for his enthusiasm, LeStarge, who teaches eighth-grade integrated science, has proved his passion for science and learning through teaching students both young and old. Though he has the qualifications, knowledge and skills to work in a more lucrative science career to support his large family (he and his wife, Lisa, have eight children), he remains where his passion lies.

The highly awarded Granite District instructor believes he needs to be in the classroom to make science exciting for his students.

Many a student has been inspired to take up a career in science following LeStarge's insightful teaching and curriculum development. Several have also excelled in his class who have not done as well in other science courses.

Heath Wolf

Farmington Junior High


Dedication to excellence in education is the hallmark of Farmington Junior High School's Heath Wolf, as he works overtime to ensure that his students achieve the highest level of performance they are capable of.

Farmington's jazz and symphonic bands have excelled due to Wolf's attentive direction in the past seven years — earning them a spot at statewide competitions and exclusive invitationals. Wolf's reputation as a master teacher, musician and mentor has strengthened the school's band program.

It has been said that students who perform under his tutelage have the rare privilege of being part of something that enriches their lives, a first for many.

Wolf draws on the success of his students to keep their motivation high. He actively recruits additional students from local elementary schools to participate in the summer band program, where encouragement of the basics is instrumental.

Those who work with Wolf know him as a kind and caring professional who makes students his No. 1 priority and has instilled excellence and ethics of hard work in his students.

Bruce Decker

Clearfield High


Clearfield High welding teacher Bruce Decker is well known for affecting students' lives and careers. The list is endless of students who chose to go into welding as a career after he was able to light the spark.

His classes are always full, and he never turns students away, while making sure that even those who have struggled with academics can find success in welding — he knows how to motivate students while they are learning and having fun

Decker's workday extends into the evening when he teaches students in the alternative program and has a knack for inspiring and motivating struggling students to find success in college and in their careers.

He is concerned about student self-esteem and has had his students involved in community projects like building a railing for a handicapped individual and making signs to label the halls for new students.

The district also called upon Decker to help design the welding shop for a neighboring high school. As the welding teachers division president, he set up a workshop for high school and college welding teachers from all over the state last summer.

"He is a perfect example of that one teacher that makes such a positive impact on so many lives," said Helen DeHay, Clearfield High counselor.

Gary Taylor

Davis High


There is no denying that calculus teacher Gary Taylor is a math whiz. But you will still find him teaching every level of math at Davis High, from struggling students to the Advanced Placement kids.

Taylor has been a mentor to his colleagues, has conducted workshops at the school and district levels, presented at the Utah Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National AP Conference and has co-authored a calculus textbook.

The AP calculus program at Davis High is No. 1 in the state, with 97 percent of students passing the exam. About 35 percent of the students who graduate from the school enter college with an AP calculus credit.

He works with students both before school and after school, while often working with staff members at lunch. Taylor also conducts AP review sessions in the evenings, on Saturdays and even over spring break in order to ensure students are prepared for the exam.

Kevin Prusse

Principal, Muir Elementary


Kevin Prusse is more than just a principal. He is a counselor, cheerleader, communicator, budget analyzer, building caretaker and friend to the students.

As a counselor and cheerleader, the Muir Elementary principal motivates staff, students and parents to do their best through his constant and persistent example. He is a hands-on principal who is "everywhere" in the school — the lunchroom hearing the latest recess news or the classroom doing a cooking demonstration.

As a communicator, he makes sure parents are informed on what is going on in the school and even sends families thank-you notes. He knows every child's name and parent's name in the school and often knows things that are going on in the students' lives.

When a student comes into the office with a scrape or bump, he often is the one who comes to the rescue. He acknowledges each student's birthday by presenting them with a small gift, and when sixth-graders graduate they each receive a handwritten letter from Prusse, wishing them well and thanking them for their contributions to the school.

John DeGraffenried

Principal, Spanish Fork Junior High

Spanish Fork

Spanish Fork Junior High principal John DeGraffenried is a man with a vision of success for students, parents and teachers.

He is a multitalented administrator who is able to not only envision what ought to be, but is able to persuade his teachers to get on board and implement that vision.

He is data-driven and makes his decisions on facts, not impression, reading volumes of research and putting his facts in order long before making changes. But when data is not available, DeGraffenried is not afraid to implement new programs and be the first to provide information to others.

Each year that DeGraffenried has been at the helm, test scores in the school have increased in every core area. Failing grades and D grades have dropped by 60 percent since implementing his Student Advisory Period, and discipline problems are down.

Peers say he has turned a good school into a great one and that as an administrator he is a "rare find in the chest of educational treasures."

Paul Schulte

Principal, Highland High

Salt Lake City

Paul Schulte's leadership as principal of Salt Lake City's Highland High School has taken the school to higher heights.

With more than 1,500 students who speak upward of 35 different languages, Schulte is required to deliver on myriad levels. He expects all students to meet and surpass graduation requirements and provides the help they need to get there.

In addition to the minimum requirements, Schulte particularly awards rigor and excellence at his school. He is devoted to learning the best and most advanced educational practices and spends countless hours training for the implementation of Professional Learning Communities, a highly effective educational strategy that has been adopted by several top schools in the nation.

Schulte's energy, passion and devotion help him maintain a positive attitude while dealing with problems that inevitably face a high school principal. Positive changes in curriculum and implementation have pushed the school up in national rankings as well as requiring more of its teachers.

Revered for his personal interaction with teachers and students, Schulte is known as the change that Highland needed.

Rodney Miller

Volunteer, Park Valley School

Box Elder District

Twelve years ago Rodney Miller saw a need and rolled up his own sleeves to take care of it.

A teacher at Park Valley School was charged with instructing four different math groups at the same time. Miller decided he could put his time and math skills to good use at the rural school, and for the past 12 years he has volunteered in not only math but social studies, reading, physical education and remediation both during school and after. Plus he is able to help struggling math students both during and after school.

Brain Anderson, head teacher at the school, said Miller has a college degree, which is hard to find in the small community. He could work elsewhere but chooses to serve the school and community. Miller is also confined to a wheelchair, which provides students with an outstanding example of overcoming life's obstacles — making something tragic into a very positive experience for everyone.

He adds a dimension of fun to the school, from wheelchair racing to contests to cut his hair. School leaders say everyone has benefited from his services.