Eleven individuals, chosen for their commitment to public education in Utah, have been selected as the 2013 recipients of the Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education.
The award winners were selected from the state's teachers, principals and school volunteers. Continuing a tradition established last year for the awards' 20th anniversary, an 11th individual has been awarded the Mark H. Huntsman Award for excellence in the field of special education.
The 11 award winners each will receive $10,000 and will be honored at a banquet ceremony May 10.
David Stephenson is known for connecting with students on a personal level. He stands outside the school each morning to greet students, talk with parents and help everyone begin their day with a smile. Stephenson also gives a book to each student with a personalized note on their birthday.
As the inaugural principal of Traverse Mountain Elementary, Stephenson has worked with the community to create a comprehensive and collaborative educational environment. He enacted health programs for students, set up a sister school partnership with Candlelight Elementary in Africa and worked to create safe routes to school with the partnership of students, parents, teachers and city officials.
Stephenson believes in students and looks for new opportunities to help them succeed, all while working to create strong community bonds.
Suzanne Moss is the kind of teacher who excels at reaching ambitious goals with inadequate resources. An educator with 16 years of experience, Moss volunteered last year to be the first-grade English teacher in Foothill's inaugural Chinese dual-immersion program and took to the task with confidence.
After 20 of her students started the year below grade level in reading, Moss began offering after-school tutoring for students on her own time. Ten of those students are now back on track, with Moss continuing to work with the others twice a week.
Moss is known for her captivating and fun approaches to learning. She regularly arrives early and stays late to make herself available to parents and students, and she prepares a weekly newsletter to communicate information and encourage volunteerism.
After 35 years as an educator and 17 years at Cottonwood Elementary, beloved teacher Marcelle Ross plans to retire this year. Throughout her decades-long career teaching children, Ross has gained a reputation for her enthusiasm for learning that inspires students to reach their full potential.
As a fifth-grade teacher at Cottonwood Elementary, Ross encourages students to engage with their assignments. When filling out their reading charts, students are asked for more than just the total number of minutes spent reading. They are asked to list the number of pages, the title of the book or article they read and a short summary of what they learned. These added details are not presented as tedious busywork, but are designed to motivate students to research beneath the surface into the work they're performing.
Ross' impact at a school can not be quantified, but her successes can be easily seen in the students who gain a love of learning on their way to being the leaders of the future.
A master teacher who now works as principal of Payson Junior High, Carl Swenson is a no-nonsense administrator who challenges both students and educators to step outside their comfort zones and excel.
At Payson Junior High, Swenson has been instrumental in the adoption of programs such as Latinos in Action, in which junior high students visit feeder elementary schools to mentor students. He also implemented the Grizzly Club, which rewards students who demonstrate improved academic performance with extracurricular activities and coupons from local businesses. Swenson also sponsors a school triathlon each year to promote healthy lifestyles.
Swenson is known for saying, "We don't teach subjects. We teach students." He has long served as a principal mentor for BYU's Leader Preparation Program and inspires his staff and students to strive to do better.
Michelle Mourtgos has a knack for using technology to extend education beyond her classroom. In her six years at Grantsville Junior High, Mourtgos has written her own Web-based lessons for students to get extra practice and complete makeup work. She has programmed interactive websites to help her students improve in math and uses PowerPoint presentations, videos and online resources to move beyond the limitations of a textbook in teaching her students Spanish.
Mourtgos has also written computer programs to streamline the school's library accounting process, check student grades, and help students sign up for and secure bus transportation from after-school tutoring.
Mourtgos was the driving force behind the creation of junior high school math teams in Tooele County, founding the district math team competition and hosting it each spring.
She is driven by doing what is best for students and engineers ways for her students to be successful.
The first thing people notice about theater and language arts teacher Joanne Brings is her infectious attitude. But beyond inspiring positivity, Brings is a gifted educator with a love of learning and a penchant for making connections within a diverse population of students.
Before her time as an educator, Brings was an actress and intern for actors with the Royal Shakespeare Theater of London. She draws on those experiences to help direct both the school musical and a multicultural celebration each year.
Brings goes above and beyond, using language arts and theater to help students become their best selves.
In his nearly four-decade career as an educator, Robert Thomas Hicks has excelled at creating a vibrant learning culture in schools and among his students. As principal of Bingham High, Hicks' tenure has coincided with increases in attendance and ACT participation and state championships in athletic, academic and artistic competitions.
Each week, Hicks hosts a lunch with an invited cross section of students to discuss what is going well at Bingham, what needs to be improved and how students are contributing to the school's and their individual successes. Under his leadership, students are made to feel like they are part of the school and responsible for taking an active role in their own education.
Hicks is not one to take credit for a school's success. He believes in students and helps them believe in themselves.
In Margaret Obray's Advanced Placement history and government classes, instead of desks lined up in rows, you'll find students sitting around circular tables, surrounded by overflowing bookshelves.
Obray uses mock trials and simulated legislative debates to bring her subject matter to life. She takes students back in history and challenges them to think about a topic based on what they would have understood and believed in that particular point in time.
Obray spends countless hours outside the regular school day helping students prepare for AP exams and academic competitions. Her AP government students regularly participate in the "We The People" competition, and she serves as a coach for the Academic Olympiad.
Obray is described as a great mediator, finding a healthy balance between authority figure and friend. She makes every student feel valued, listens to their concerns, and cultivates a civil and respectful classroom discourse.
James Felt is known for creating a classroom setting that is fun and exciting while remaining extremely rigorous. The veteran history teacher is known to lecture in costume and sport a green suit on home game days, but also regularly sees a near-perfect passage rate in his Advanced Placement European history classes, which are filled to capacity.
Felt is often described as the biggest fan of Olympus High, working as an announcer for home football and basketball games and serving on a number of school committees. He believes in preparing students not only for college but for life, and he helps them gain the skills they need to succeed on whatever paths they choose.
Felt inspires students to better understand historical events. He is respected by his colleagues, students and parents as an outstanding and influential educator.
Every Monday through Thursday, students at Lone Peak Elementary have the opportunity to participate in a before school orchestra program thanks to the unpaid volunteer efforts of Debbie Beninati.
Four years ago, Beninati — a parent of a Lone Peak student with a degree and certification in music education — recognized that the school would benefit from expanded music education. Knowing that the school lacked the funding for a music teacher, she began setting up two extracurricular orchestras as a volunteer.
But Beninati has gone beyond establishing and running a school orchestra in her volunteer efforts. She regularly works with the fourth-grade music classes and also planned and organized a third-grade talent show.
Through countless hours of her personal time, Beninati has helped many students cultivate a love of music. She is an example of a parent who recognized a need and became part of the solution.
Jo Edan Parker's job as a severe behavioral special education teacher is one that requires specialized training, patience and perseverance. In her position, Parker works with a unique group of children from all over Nebo School District who have severe intellectual and behavioral challenges.
Parker is an advocate for students, who in many cases are not able to speak for themselves. She teaches her students the academic fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as the life skills necessary for public society.
Each month, Parker organizes field trips to help her students gain experience outside the classroom, like buying things and interacting with crowds at a shopping mall or learning good manners while eating at a restaurant. She also works with her colleagues to arrange ways for her students to actively participate in classes like drama and physical education.
With the help of P.E. teachers, Parker founded the Nebo Special Ed Extravaganza, a carnival and dance open to all special education students in the district. She also collaborates regularly with district personnel, speech therapists, occupational therapists, parents and school administrators to review and discuss her students' progress.
Paker is described as a dedicated teacher with an innate ability to read and understand a child's wants and needs. She is able to create meaningful experiences for her students, with unique insight into the way an individual child learns and how resources can be maximized to ensure that children are developing their communication and reasoning skills.