SALT LAKE CITY — Jon and Karen Huntsman have selected 11 individuals as recipients of the 2014 Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education.
The awards, in their 22nd year, are awarded to two teachers and one administrator at the elementary, junior high and high school levels, and one community volunteer. An 11th award, the Mark H. Huntsman Award, was established in 2012 to honor excellence in the field of special education.
"It is impossible to measure the extent to which special education teachers benefit the community and the state and foster a higher quality of life for students and their families,” Karen Huntsman said in a prepared statement. "We only wish we could present an award to every educator who dedicates his or her career to preparing our children for the future.”
Award winners will each receive a $10,000 gift from the Huntsman family and will be honored at a banquet in Salt Lake City on May 16.
Principal, Elk Run Elementary School, Magna
Jonathan Adams has more than two decades of experience as an educator and is described as a man of integrity, who can be trusted to say what he means and does what he says.
Adams was selected as the founding principal of Elk Run Elementary in 2011 and recently accepted a district position overseeing elementary education.
"Jon is the quintessential example of what an educator is," Gail Howe, Granite School District's director of school accountability, said. "He is visionary, kind, flexible, sincere, fair and, above all, he always puts the child first."
Teacher, Brookside Elementary School, Springville
Second-grade teacher Darla Stapel excels at moving beyond paper-and-pencil lesson plans to hands-on experiments and demonstrations that inspire an attitude of learning among her students.
A notable feature of Stapel's classroom is an in-class store, which helps students learn financial literacy by earning and spending classroom currency. Stapel also uses learning games to help students master mathematics and geography with an open invitation for parents to participate in weekly game days.
"I can't imagine a better person to teach and inspire my children," Catherine Rich, a parent who prepared Stapel's nomination materials, said.
Teacher, Longview Elementary School, Murray
Longview Elementary teacher Tina Nilsson's classroom is described as a place of excitement, energy and discovery. The roughly 20-year educator is known for her keen intuition and ability to understand an individual student's needs, which helps to stop underachieving children from slipping through the cracks.
Nilsson was involved in the creation of Longview Elementary's sixth-grade Shakespeare Festival, which has continued for 18 years, as well as the school's fourth-grade science fair. She currently works as a fifth-grade classroom teacher, where she engages students with imaginative and original lesson plans.
"She is an outstanding teacher who not only does an incredible job of teaching, she shows the students that she truly cares about each one of them," said Lori Brockbank, a parent whose son was a student of Nilsson.
Principal, Lehi Junior High School, Lehi
Since joining Lehi Junior High School as principal, Joel Perkins has implemented or enhanced a number of programs aimed at reducing the number of students who enter high school off track for graduation.
Together with school faculty, Perkins has overseen the incorporation of study blocks into the class schedule, allowing students earning D or F grades to receive targeted tutoring during the week. The school has seen a decrease in the number of students entering ninth grade with credit deficiencies, which Perkins sees as a direct correlation to receiving a high school diploma.
"Not only is Mr. Perkins great at inspiring students to achieve, he also does a wonderful job of expressing those goals to parents and motivating them to be involved in the education of their children," Karen Ashman, a parent volunteer who prepared Perkins' nomination materials, said.
Teacher, Cedar Ridge Middle School, Hyde Park
Science teacher Roger Donohoe has taught for more than 20 years and is described as someone who embraces and is true to the title of educator. At Cedar Ridge Middle School, Donohoe is actively involved in after-school programing and regularly remains after the school day has ended to work with students.
"He is funny," student McCay King said. "He makes learning fun, and he teaches in a way that makes hard things easy to understand."
Teacher, South Hills Middle School, Riverton
With more than three decades of classroom experience, science teacher Dawn Monson is known by her peers as a master teacher who can educate, collaborate and lead. She is described as an educator who inspires students to inquire and learn for themselves.
Monson is often seen sporting a tie-dye lab coat, and she guides students in hands-on laboratory experiments and exploratory activities. She engages her students to not simply learn about science but to perform science themselves.
As chairwoman of her department, Monson has also led her fellow teachers to great heights, earning the highest science proficiency scores in the district, according to South Hills Middle School Principal Ben Jameson.
"There are no students who fall through the cracks in Dawn Monson's room," Jameson said. "They receive the help and support they need before they have time to fall behind."
Principal, Roy High School, Roy
Roy High School Principal Gina Butters is described as an administrator who blends sensitivity and strength and holds a high standard of professionalism. Her standards and expectations are high, but she also believes in being fair and honest.
At Roy, Butters worked with the school's faculty to redesign a bell schedule that incorporates opportunities for struggling students to receive the help they need. A system of incentives was also created to reward high-achieving students and keep them motivated to succeed.
"She is a teacher's and a student's kind of leader," Roy High School Assistant Principal Alicia Mitchell said. "She believes in the power of people."
Teacher, Highland High School, Salt Lake City
The classroom of world history and social studies teacher Kyle Bracken is one where history comes alive, whether it be with students putting Genghis Khan on trial or interviewing Christopher Columbus on the day he arrived in the new world. Bracken uses role playing, skits and lively discussions to make his class dynamic and memorable.
A 12-year educator, Bracken stands at the door each day and greets students as they arrive. He is described as a mentor and motivator who makes history relevant and helps make difficult concepts understandable.
"Mr. Bracken forever changes the lives of his students," Michele Mattsson, a parent who prepared Bracken's nomination materials, said. "Under his care, history becomes a love, not just a requirement."
Teacher, Springville High School, Springville
Priscilla Leek has taught at Springville High School for more than 25 years and is known for her student-centered approach to the classroom. She looks for opportunities to interact with individual students and has a clear vision of what the focus should be for successful outcomes.
At Springville High, Leek created a Knowledge Bowl competition and worked to develop an Advanced Placement Psychology program, in which 90 percent of students typically pass the AP exam, according to Principal Michael Brown.
"Her entire life is devoted to the long-term success of the students with whom she is entrusted," Brown said.
Volunteer, Granite School District
Ilene Gorzitze, or "Mrs. G" as she is more commonly known, has followed her retirement from teaching with roughly two decades of volunteer work in Salt Lake City and West Jordan schools.
With a committment to physical education, Gorzitze has contributed her time to maintaining and stocking school P.E. closets and working as a volunteer P.E. specialist, often teaching several classes each week.
"During these past several years of program and budget cuts in education, Mrs. G has been our source of help by providing important P.E. experiences," parent and volunteer Catherine Ehlert said in her essay nominating Gorzitze for a Huntsman award. "She has taught students the habits and skills that will be carried with them throughout their lifetime. She has taught teamwork, the love of sport and fair play. We are healthier and richer in body and spirit for having known Mrs. G."
Mark H. Huntsman Award
John Jay Harris
Special education teacher, Eaglecrest Elementary School, Lehi
Recognizing excellence in the area of special education, this year's Mark H. Huntsman Award winner is Eaglecrest Elementary School teacher John Jay Harris.
Harris strives to create a classroom environment where students want to be, knowing that it will help them learn. He connects individually with each student, removing barriers to learning and creating lessons that incorporate fun and hard work.
Harris is known for being available to parents, quickly responding to email at all times of the day, and keeping parents informed through regular correspondence and invitations to participate in class events.
"His classroom is magical, enticing and so much fun — a place you want to be. And not just because of all the cool things, but because of how he makes you feel when you are there." Mountt Mahogany Elementary kindergarten teacher Laura Smith said. "I witnessed countless breakthroughs with the kids and wondered in awe, 'How did he do that?'"
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