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Huntsman education awards set to be presented to 11 outstanding educators

Huntsman education awards set to be presented to 11 outstanding educators


Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — After years of dedicated service, 11 outstanding educators will receive Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education this month.

Benefactor Karen Huntsman, the wife of Utah businessman and philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., informed recipients of their success this week, traveling to each teacher’s classroom to surprise them with the news.

“It’s fun to look at the reaction on their faces,” Huntsman said of the shocked recipients. “You can tell they’re not expecting it. Our teacher down in St. George almost passed out.”

The teacher in question, Terry Ogborn, is the founder and principal of Millcreek High School, an alternative school in Washington County. Like her fellow award recipients, Ogborn is being honored for her unique contribution to the education and success of Utah’s children.

“We have fabulous teachers in this state,” Huntsman said. “Really, we do.”

The awards were developed 23 years ago to recognize Utah’s most influential educators. Jon Huntsman Sr. comes from a long line of education professionals, his wife said, which drove his desire “to do something special for teachers.”

Each year, the Huntsmans seek nominations from the students, classroom parents, colleagues and supervisors of the state’s most talented teachers. Jon and Karen Huntsman sit on the initial application reading committee, which passes the most qualified nominees onto a panel of judges for final selection.

Judges then select two teachers and one administrator from each of three divisions — elementary, middle and high school professionals — along with a dedicated volunteer and a special education teacher, who will receive the Mark H. Huntsman Award for Special Education in honor of the Huntsmans’ son who has disabilities.

Honorees are invited to an awards dinner for current and past winners, where they will each receive a crystal obelisk and a check for $10,000. The Huntsmans’ only stipulation is that teachers spend the money on themselves, not reinvesting in their schools and students.

So many teachers deserve this. They give their hearts and souls. Seeing good teachers recognized bodes well for all of us, knowing that somebody recognizes their hard work.

–Catherine Peterson, former teacher

The award's importance is recognized by teachers across the state.

“So many teachers deserve this,” said Catherine Peterson, a former teacher who nominated 2015 award winner Rosemary Jacklin. “They give their hearts and souls. Seeing good teachers recognized bodes well for all of us, knowing that somebody recognizes their hard work.”

The 2015 Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education recipients are listed below, along with quotes from their nomination letter.

Stephen Oliverson, principal, Provost Elementary: "No teacher has ever done more for a Title I school than Dr. Stephen Oliverson. He has proved many times that children from less affluent or educated households can be taught to engage in the same activities and habits that help the more privileged to succeed. … In fact, Dr. Oliverson has used the diversity in his school as a strength to show that all students who enter there are equally capable of high achievement, and the only thing separating those who are the most successful from the least is extra confidence and self-discipline, which students develop very nicely at Provost.” — Christine Elgaaen, parent and former PTA president

Paula Vee Kerr, first-grade teacher, Midway Elementary: “Paula Vee's passion for literacy was so strong that she was asked to be the district literacy specialist. … Even though she was an outstanding specialist, her greatest love was in the classroom teaching children, so she requested to go back to the classroom because she wanted to retire as a first-grade teacher. She went to Midway Elementary to teach first grade in 2007, and is currently in that first grade classroom and loves every minute of it. In a school of 600 students, she has 16 of the most precious first-graders, and treats each one as her own.” — Brian J. Thorne, principal

Pam Engles, sixth-grade teacher, Forbes Elementary: “Pam Engles works at a school where almost 50 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch. Many come from difficult home situations and are at-risk unless teachers take a special interest in ensuring they have bright futures. Mrs. Engles stands out as a teacher who has dedicated her life to not only teaching, but also inspiring these children. She has given her all for 36 years to bless the lives of over 1,000 students. Although that is a large number, she never loses sight of serving the 'one.'” — Kim Jones, principal

Teri Cutler, principal, Willow Valley Middle: “In middle school, hormones are raging and emotions are unpredictable, but Teri Cutler smoothly manages every challenge while creating a learning environment that is productive and safe. … She is available before, after and during school hours to help students who are struggling. Students know they can trust her to listen and, no matter how difficult the situation may be, they can count on Teri to be rational and fair and above all, compassionate.” — Jane Ward, parent and former PTA president

It's fun to look at the reaction on their faces. You can tell they're not expecting it. Our teacher down in St. George almost passed out.

–Karen Huntsman

Rosemary Jacklin, history teacher, Bonneville Junior High: “Rosemary Jacklin is the favorite teacher who coached them, took them climbing on Anasazi ladders in the cliffs of Mesa Verde, taught them history while hiking in the mountains, took them on tour to Washington, D.C., or picked up litter with them for the 'Adopt a Highway' program. They may remember the assignment where they became actual historians, interviewing and videotaping immigrant grandparents or neighbors as they told their unique stories about coming to America. They may recall drawing giant chalk maps of the United States in the school parking lot or painting replica Native American pottery or colonial teapots, or other numerous creative learning activities. … But most of all, they remember she loved them, challenged them and motivated them to succeed.” — Catherine Peterson, retired teacher

Matthew Woolley, earth sciences teacher, Mountain Ridge Junior High: “With the students in his class, Mr. Woolley does more than focus on content. He uses science as a way of observing, thinking and problem-solving. He uses real-world applications to teach them the material. For example, every year he takes his classes to a local stream to collect and analyze data. I am always impressed with the quality of research the students are doing. It is great to see them apply what they are learning in the classroom to what they are doing in the field. Rather than watching videos about the environment, students are in the field collecting and analyzing their own data.” — Mark Whitaker, principal

Terry Ogborn, p**rincipal, Millcreek High:** “Since serving on the original 1986 district committee to study options in education for students not succeeding in traditional high schools, Terry Ogborn has spent the past 29 years creating the innovative and highly respected alternative school, Millcreek High School, located in St. George, Utah. It is conservatively estimated that more than 1,500 students who would not have graduated from high school otherwise have had that opportunity because of Terry and what she has created. … She changes lives daily through her goodness and belief in the ability of each student to succeed in their own way.” — Rebecca Jackson, teacher

Kimberlee Call, math teacher, Davis High: “Kim Call has an incredible impact on students’ attitudes about mathematics and, therefore, their post-secondary educational choices. Countless students coming out of Kim’s AP Statistics program as well as the other math classes that she teaches, have chosen statistics, mathematics, engineering or math education as their college majors. … There is no other teacher within the state of Utah who is doing more to ensure consistent quality mathematics instruction.” — J. Michael Shaw, retired teacher

Leigh VandenAkker, social studies teacher, East High: “Many of the students entering Leigh VandenAkker’s class are unsure of their academic abilities and have few plans for the future. By the end of the year, students report improved GPAs, some by as much as 76 percent. They learn to believe in themselves, have a voice in their education and understand the rigor needed to accomplish their goals. … Ms. V is a master teacher, a true advocate and an invaluable resource to East High and its student body." — Julie Black, parent and former PTA president

Kathy Gowans, volunteer coordinator, Windsor Elementary: “Year in and year out, Kathy Gowans continually strives to benefit our students and bless the lives of our tutors. … Her commitment has led to tremendous growth. This year, six of our students have already reached benchmark. Her inspired program helps in other ways as well. Students gain confidence, students and tutors create lasting bonds and tutors gain the satisfaction of knowing they have made a difference.” — Nancy Buttars, teacher

Alyssa Larsen, special education teacher, Spanish Fork High: “Alyssa’s magnetic personality and genuine concern for individuals in her life sets her apart from her peers. She is a teacher, advocate, confidante, cheerleader, mentor, coach, shoulder to cry on, and a high-five waiting to celebrate even the smallest milestone. … You would have to go a long way to find anyone more deserving of this award than Alyssa Larsen. She is truly a hero in the lives of the people who have the pleasure of crossing her path.” — Dusty Avarett, para-educator

Allison Oligschlaeger is currently studying English and Arabic at the University of Utah while completing an internship with the Deseret News. Contact her at

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