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Dr. Taran Chun from Granite Park Junior High School in Salt Lake City was one of 11 educators to receive the Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education Friday, May 11, 2012, in Salt Lake City.
(Education) is truly a team effort. I'm a little uncomfortable with the spotlight. —Sam Clemmons, teacher

SALT LAKE CITY — In a change of scenery from the traditional classroom, 11 Utah educators were honored Friday in the ballroom of the Little America Hotel, part of the 20th annual Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education.

They still found themselves standing at the front of the room, only this time to thunderous applause.

Among those educators named as award winners was Fremont Elementary teacher Sam Clemmons. He was the first-ever recipient of the Mark H. Huntsman award for excellence in special education and began the awards portion of Friday's banquet by receiving a hug from Mark Huntsman on stage.

"It was a total surprise," Clemmons said of the honor. "(Education) is truly a team effort. I'm a little uncomfortable with the spotlight."

Clemmons began working in special education in 1983. He said the field typically has a turnaround of between two and four years and credits his students for his longevity.

"We've had some tremendously wonderful kids," he said.

David Huntsman filled in at the event for his father Jon — who was out of town — a task which he described as "daunting." He spoke about the inspiring power of teachers and shared his own experience of a sixth-grade teacher who helped him believe in himself when he was struggling in school.

"Each of you here tonight are here because you impact your students in much the same way," he said. "Tonight we've here to recognize the contribution you make and I can promise you, 20 or 30 years from now your students will be thinking of you."

He also reminded the night's winners that the $10,000 prize that accompanied their awards came with the requirement that it not be transferred to anyone else or invested in their classrooms.

"My dad would like you to indulge yourself," he said.

When asked what he was planning to do with his $10,000 check, Clemmons said he's taking the family — which includes children and grandchildren — to Disneyland, but added that the trip was planned before he was named as an award recipient.

Clemmons was grateful to the Huntsmans for their decision to begin honoring special education teachers, who he said don't get a lot of recognition. Beginning in 2012 an eleventh honoree will be named each year from the field of special education.

Although Jon Huntsman was unable to attend, he still managed to congratulate the evening's winners through a text message read by his daughter Jennifer Huntsman Parkin.

"My heart is there. All day I have thought of our great teachers," the message stated. "No individuals do as much for our fellow citizens as our teachers."

Karen Huntsman, who oversees the awards with her husband, also gave her thanks to the past and present award winners and other educators in attendance.

"I pay tribute to each of you for making a difference in this world," she said.

In addition to Clemmons, the honorees included Oak Hills Elementary principal Julie Larsen, Liberty Elementary teacher Judy Mahoskey, Upland Terrace Elementary teacher Ann Jenson, Granite Park Junior High principal Taran Chun, Hillcrest Junior High teacher Amy Hall, Mueller Park Junior High teacher Kevin Poff, North Sevier High principal Jill Porter, Riverton High teacher Jay Hales, Jordan High teacher David Morrill and Ogden City volunteer Phyllis Savage.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com