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Valley Journals

Murray School District’s nine employees and a volunteer receive honors

Apr 09, 2018 04:39PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest Junior High’s English teacher Amanda Halverson is surprised when she learns she will receive Murray Education Foundation’s Pinnacle award as an outstanding educator. (D Wright/Murray School District)

Murray Education Foundation will honor five teachers, a classified employee and a volunteer at its 15th annual Pinnacle Awards.

In addition, Liberty Elementary Principal Jill Burnside recently was recognized as the Utah Instructional Leader of the Year and two teachers were honored with the Laura Baker Professional Learning Grant.

The seven Pinnacle award-winners were slated to receive a statuette, $500 and a gift basket of items from area community and business leaders at the invited-guest gala on March 15 at Murray High. 

The Pinnacle award-winning teachers include Issachar Beh, a Murray High English and English-as-a-second language teacher who has taught at the district for 16 years; Shalice Benedum, Liberty Elementary’s sixth-grade teacher who has taught in the district for 12 years; Ellie Ferrero, Liberty Elementary’s fifth-grade teacher who has taught in the district for 25 years; Amanda Halverson, Hillcrest Junior High’s English teacher for five years; and Rochelle McGowan, Riverview Junior High’s math teacher for 10 years.

The Pinnacle classified employee winner is Sarah Buck, who has been the Spartan Station manager at Murray High for eight years and the outstanding volunteer is Hillcrest Junior High’s Cheree Larson.

Benedum was caught off guard when a group from the school district’s office and the Murray Education Foundation came to congratulate her.

“I really don’t know who nominated me,” she said. “It was a total surprise; they showed up in my classroom and my family was there. I feel honored to be recognized. I love my job and my kiddos.”

Her principal, Jill Burnside, said that Benedum and Ferrero are examples of the quality teachers at Liberty.

“We have amazing, hard-working teachers at Liberty,” she said, adding they celebrated as a staff and faculty with a cake. “We are a small, older school, but we have the best community with top-notch teachers.”

Burnside, herself, recently received an award—the Elementary Instructional Leader of the Year by the Utah Association of Elementary School Principals—in February. 

“It’s pretty humbling when there are so many elementary principals who are great in the field and I’m just in my third year and am already being recognized,” she said.

Burnside, who was a teacher for five years and a reading specialist for 10 years before working at the district office prior to becoming a principal, said her nomination pointed out how her school has moved from a “B” grade to an “A” with the statewide report card as well as increased statewide SAGE scores during the two years she has been principal.

“I have dedicated teachers and together, we look at our students and the interventions we are using to determine a more effective way. We’re working smarter with the data we have so we can target everything we do. We’ve becoming a collaborative, cohesive staff and together we have one purpose—for our kids to move forward together,” she said.

Murray District’s Director of Teaching and Learning Melissa Hamilton, who nominated Burnside, said she reaches to the community to support the student recognition program as well as to support families in need. Burnside also took a team of teachers to trainings, and in turn, allowed them to take the lead in developing and refining the collaboration efforts at the school. 

Even with the focus on school-wide achievement goals, the nomination said Liberty maintains a friendly atmosphere.

“The school is a warm, welcome, inviting space where teachers are positive and feel empowered, students are celebrated for their progress toward their personal goals and parents are invested in the school’s outcomes,” it stated.

Two secondary teachers, Murray High School English teacher Jennie LaFortune and Riverview Junior High computer science teacher Patti McConnell, recently were selected as Laura Baker Professional Learning Grant winners.

The Laura Baker Grant is awarded yearly to two teachers seeking to make professional learning a priority in their careers. After reviewing applications, the Murray District Teaching and Learning team chooses those that specifically focus on strengthening instructional strategies and have a positive impact on student learning.

LaFortune was slated to participate in the South By Southwest (SXSW) Educators Conference March 5-8 in Austin, Texas, and McConnell was to attend the Google Workshop at Computer-Using Educators Conference March 14-17 in Palm Springs, Calif.