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The City Journals

Murray District honors its outstanding teacher, employee of the year

Aug 19, 2019 02:24PM ● By Julie Slama

Murray School District’s Cris Westerfield and Kathy Beesley were all smiles after being named outstanding employee and teacher of the year, respectively. (D Wright/Murray School District)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

This summer, it wasn’t the students, but Viewmont third-grade teacher Kathy Beesley who had homework.

By early August, Beesley had several pages to submit as part of an application to be considered as state teacher of the year.

Shortly before the last day of school, Beesley and English-as-a-Second Language District Lead & ESL Para-educator at Parkside Elementary Cris Westerfield were named Murray School District teacher and employee of the year, respectively.

“I was walking down the hall when I saw the principal and superintendent walking toward me,” Beesley said. “I thought, ‘Uh oh, am I in trouble?’ I couldn’t believe it when they told me. It’s pretty humbling; we have so many dedicated teachers.”

Both Beesley and Westerfield recently were honored at Murray Board of Education meeting, where they were presented a wooden clock.

“I was very surprised and genuinely caught off guard,” Westerfield said. 

Westerfield, who has been with Murray District since September 2008, works with ESL students throughout the district, ensuring they get the services they need. She works out of Parkside, where many refugee students attend, because “that has the highest concentration of need.”

“In the last six years, we’ve seen a huge influx of non-English language students, more than when I initially started,” she said, estimating that population is about 400 districtwide.

Westerfield and her staff ensure these students are learning English language skills so they can be productive in academics and in life skills. 

“For some students, they can’t read signs, so we’re teaching them crosswalk and safety signs. When they don’t speak English, they can get frustrated and overwhelmed. It’s fatiguing just trying to learn and it takes a toll. We’re here to help them and meet with their families, their teachers, their principals, trying to help them become proficient English language learners,” she said. 

While Westerfield appreciates the recognition, she also compliments those who she works with.

“It’s a reflection of the people who I work with — the faculty, the staff, our team, the district office. When we put in hard work, we can step back and realize the difference it’s making in these kids’ lives. I just go day-to-day and don’t always think about how special it is. It’s great to see our efforts being recognized,” she said.

Beesley, who has worked for Murray District since August 2013 and now will be considered for the state teacher of the year title, said her goal is to help students be the best they can be.

It was her first year teaching third grade after instructing first, second and fourth grades.

“I really like the third-grade math,” she said. “It just clicked with me when I taught it. I love to see them understand it and work out the problems. The reading curriculum has interesting stories and we often play Stump Your Neighbor by students turning to their classmate and test them. It brings in their reading, understanding and listening skills.”

She uses Nearpod to customize her lesson plans to fit her students’ needs; Kahoot! a quiz-game platform to get student engaged in learning; and piloted Zearn Math, which is cited to improve math-learning mindsets for more academic success. Her success with the program pilot for her grade led her to attend a training in late July so she can help others learn about the program this coming school year.

“I love working with students and for Murray District. I work with a fabulous team and appreciate this greatly,” she said. “After working with some students who faced difficulties this past year, I feel this was my best year ever. When the students say, ‘You are the best’ and parents thank me for what I do, it helps me realize I have the best job ever.”