“Let us remember,” said Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, “one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.” On a daily basis, the lives of Canyons District students are impacted by our corps of caring and more-than-capable teachers. From algebra to the art of motorcycle maintenance, Canyons teachers lead the kind of lessons that will build up and strengthen the next generation of global leaders, innovators, and artists. Now more than ever, the influence of a great teacher is proving to be vital in the growth of children and communities. While COVID-19 wellness regulations have relaxed, schools still remain actively engaged in addressing the academic and behavioral issues that emerged in the aftermath of the pandemic. But despite the challenges, our teachers meet students where they are, lifting them to excellence and inspiring to reach for the best parts of themselves through education. Following a 14-year tradition, CSD is honoring teachers from across the District for their commitment to ensuring students graduate college- and career-ready. Forty-seven teachers from Canyons District schools and programs have been selected as their schools’ Teacher of the Year for 2023. Each was nominated by peers, parents, and students for the honor, for which they received donated gifts and prizes from the Canyons Education Foundation. From this field, Canyons will select one teacher who will be honored as the overall Teacher of the Year. The honor will be announced at a special event, hosted by the Canyons Board of Education, on Tuesday, April 25 at Hillcrest High School, 7350 S. 900 East. A reception will begin at 6:15 p.m. The announcement ceremony, during which every honored teacher will receive a crystal award from the Board of Education, starts at 7 p.m. A top teacher from every level — elementary, middle and high school — will be announced, and the overall first-place pick will receive a $1,000 check from CSD’s Foundation. The winner also will represent Canyons in the state Teacher of the Year contest. The teachers also will receive tickets to a May 31 Real Salt Lake game. On that night, which is Canyons District Night with Real Salt Lake, all school-based Teacher of the Year will be honored on the field during halftime. The CSD community is invited to the free event on Tuesday, April 25 at Hillcrest High to celebrate the positive impacts our teachers make in the world.
Draper Park Middle
Indian Hills Middle
Mount Jordan Middle
Corner Canyon High
Diamond Ridge High
Along with being an excellent teacher, Jesse Flink cares for his students, encourages and inspires, creates important relationships, and carves out time for them. He is completely dedicated to the success of his students, and it shows. “His interest in the kids as humans makes them know that they are seen, heard, and appreciated,” one admirer wrote in a nomination. “We love Flink!” The upbeat teacher believes in his students. He has fun with them, even taking time to play games and talk with them at lunchtime. “My daughter has a renewed inspiration to learn and try hard because he inspires and pushes his students,” one parent said. “He is fun, caring, and an amazing teacher. We feel so lucky our daughter has him!”
After being instrumental in launching the Spanish-English Dual-Language Immersion program at Altara Elementary four years ago, Samantha Bilbow conquered an even bigger challenge. When her partner-teacher got stuck in Peru due to COVID-19, Bilbow handled both the English and Spanish sides of her first-grade classes. Bilbow managed the huge job “with grace,” Altara Principal Nicole Svee Magann said. Bilbow is lauded by parents for her positive and regular communication. Colleagues consider her a “master teacher.” She also oversees the school’s website, makes sure the Kittyhawks are in compliance with state School Community Council guidelines, and assists Altara’s social committee. Bilbow, Svee Magann added, “is always looking for a way to make the school a more positive place for the staff.”
Tamara Coombs’ first-grade classroom has a warm, safe culture with high standards of learning tailored to students’ needs. She sparks a passion for reading, even above their grade level. “Mrs. Coombs had such a positive influence on my daughter and helped her develop her love of reading,” a parent said. She is a loyal friend, a respected colleague, cares about each of the staff, and cheers everyone on. “When she is asked to take on additional tasks, she does it with a smile and determination to succeed,” a co-worker said. “If she ever has a bad day, no one would ever know.” Principal Eric Gardner is inspired when watching her classroom through a shared window. “It truly has been a window to watch an artist create a learning masterpiece.”
For 19 years, Kathy Smith has arrived at Brookwood Elementary every day with a determination to make a difference in the lives of her fourth-grade students. With Smith’s guidance, Principal Corrie Barrett says the fourth-grade team finds areas for improvement and ways to better reach all students. Smith, known for being patient, kind, and respectful, also is committed to bolstering the entire school community. She’s served on the School Community Council, Building Leadership Team, District Report Card Committee, and the PTA Board. One parent credited Smith for taking their two children where they were and challenging them in different ways to rise higher. “She gave them great options for increasing their academic capabilities. She is a terrific teacher!”
Gretchen Givone, a French dual-language immersion teacher, has high expectations for herself and her students. “Her exceptional work ethic and attention to detail is an example to her students and to us all,” Principal Jeff Nalwalker said. She goes the extra mile to translate and prepare materials, and freely shares the thoughtful, creative, and engaging products of her hard work with DLI teachers around Utah. Colleagues say her students know she loves them and wants them to thrive — and they love her. When Givone returned from a recent extended medical leave, shouts of joy were heard throughout the building upon when students saw her. “Mme. Givone is not just an exemplary and outstanding French teacher,” Nalwalker said. “She is a master teacher worthy of high accolades in any circle of educators.”
For the past three years, Becky has been spreading what Principal Kierstin Draper describes as “full-day kinder magic” at Canyon View. “She is full of sparkle!” the administrator said. “Not only does she look like a Disney princess; we believe she is one by heart as well. Her smile wins over students as she works hard to help her students reach their potential as scholars and citizens as well.” Parents laud Carpenter’s welcoming classroom atmosphere, her fun routines, engaging lessons, and creative projects. “She IS joy!” one grateful parent said. The positive and patient Carpenter cultivates confidence with her communication and responsiveness with parents, who know their children are being cared for academically and socially. As another admirer said, “Ms. Carpenter is an amazing kindergarten teacher!”
Madison Cushing is a terrific teacher who cares deeply about her students. She shows support in many ways, including by taking the time to help struggling kids one by one. “She is constantly building relationships with students and thinking of new ways to support her students,” a co-worker said. She collaborates well with colleagues, who certainly agree with the congratulatory message on the school’s Facebook page, which declared, “We think you’re amazing. Thanks for all you do to support our students, families, and school. Copperview Cougars are lucky to have you, we’ll wear Maddie Cushing T-shirts any day of the week!”
Amanda Dee has a wonderful talent of being able to teach effectively while also making learning a fun experience. Her energy makes kids feel enthusiastic about learning. “My son struggles enjoying school and has done amazing in Mrs. Dee’s class,” a grateful parent said. “She understands his needs and what he needs to succeed.” She excels at meeting kids where they are at. Dee challenges kids who are excelling and provides extra help to those in need. She’s also a great teammate. As a colleague shared, “Amanda always has a positive attitude. She’s a caring teacher, leader, and co-worker.” Parents describe her as being “so fantastic” and “amazing!” with their children. One parent echoed the feelings of many by proclaiming, “We love Mrs. Dee!”
Yao Yuanbin was described as “the perfect candidate” to be honored as his school’s Teacher of the Year. Not only is Yao an excellent teacher who strives to help students grow and learn, but he’s also enrolled in two educational programs to improve his practice and gain leadership skills. He builds positive and respectful relationships with his students and uses explicit instruction to ensure that each one understands concepts to mastery. His inclusive classroom fosters learning and fun, and students love being there. It’s no wonder why Yao is one of the most-loved faculty members at Draper.
There’s a ripple effect when it comes to Rachel Teasley’s positive impact, bright ideas, ambition, and thoughtfulness. The spreadsheet she designed to monitor her students’ typical growth in reading and math has been adopted by the entire school. She created East Midvale’s Science Committee. She’s also the lead teacher for second grade and is involved with piloting and providing feedback in other areas. She also excels at building relationships, meeting with each student weekly to track progress, and helps children from a wide variety of backgrounds succeed at learning and life. “Rachel is incredibly passionate and thoughtful with her students and co-workers,” a colleague said. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving.”
The shadow of a great teacher has a long reach, and that is readily apparent in the 2023 Teacher of the Year nominations submitted for the Mustangs’ award winner. “Courtney Martin was honestly one of the best teachers I have ever had,” said one former student who passed through Courtney’s classroom. “Even though it was almost a decade ago, I really do believe she has had a great impact on my life.” Martin’s classroom is considered a safe space for all. Through her diligence and compassion, Martin sets her students up for success in a positive environment that’s suited for learning.
It seems fitting that Sarah Turner, who teaches kiddos in their first year of schooling, is Glacier Hills’ first-ever Teacher of the Year. Multiple parents turned in nominations for Turner, who communicates clearly and often with her kindergarteners’ families. “Ms. Turner has been the best kindergarten teacher we could possibly imagine for our child,” one parent said. “She is warm, accepting, and incredibly kind. She encourages our child to work hard. She’s built him up and has made the most fantastic introduction to school.” She’s also been credited with being well prepared, having a sweet soul, using a caring approach and being attentive. As another parent put it, “Ms. Turner has shown time and again how she loves each of the kids in her classroom.”
When people call someone a great collaborator, extraordinary, and a fantastic kindergarten teacher — not to forget kind and caring — you know they’re doing a lot of things right. That’s Brittany Fenton for you. Her passion for teaching radiates amongst her students and the school community. One parent said she’ll “always be grateful” for how Fenton inspires a love for learning within her child. The growth-friendly environment she’s created helps students get off to a wonderful start to their educational journey. “It has been amazing to see my children thriving in their first year of school,” another parent said. “The love and care that she provides sets them for a life of success.”
The moment you enter Ciera Davis’ classroom you can see the evidence of her excellence. Called a “queen of engagement” by her principal, Davis uses whole-brain teaching techniques to actively engage her students throughout the lesson. She uses intentional instruction, teaches and reinforces routines and procedures, and requires students to immerse themselves into the learning process. Davis develops meaningful relationships with the members of her community, especially her students. She knows each and every child, their interests, their struggles, and the students know she is there to help them grow. Colleagues also enjoy being with Davis, who has an infectious personality, a warm and welcoming persona, and a fun sense of humor.
Colleagues marvel at what Maleia Boyd has accomplished this school year while helping her special education kids despite a heavy workload. Principal Lori Reynolds heaps praise upon Boyd for doing a job that could easily be divided between 2-3 more people. “You would have never known all the stress and pressure she was under because she is passionate and kind and dedicated to you students,” Reynolds said while awarding Reynolds this honor. “You are what makes her go, go, go. We love her so much!” Other co-workers laud Boyd’s professionalism, grace, and investment in seeing kids succeed, grow and gain confidence. A colleague put it this way: “She is an advocate that all students can learn and deserve a quality education.”
Third-grade teacher Jennifer Stark received multiple nominations in this year’s selection process, including this one from a student: “She is really nice and good at making learning fun and easy to remember.” Stark positively contributes to the school’s culture, helping promote success and respect. With an admirable and tireless work ethic, she endeavors to provide everything her students need to thrive in her classroom and in life. A member of the Midvalley staff lauded Stark’s dedication in her nomination form: “Her efforts to support her students, their families, and her colleagues have led to her being a cherished and respected educator and co-worker.”
With 35 students in her class, Heather Pearce is busier than a flower shop on Valentine’s Day. There’s certainly always a lot of love in Mrs. Pearce’s class. She is welcoming and encouraging, empathetic, an amazing communicator, one who deeply cares for each of her many students and their futures, and, simply, “incredible!” As one admirer put it, “She really has a teacher’s heart.” Students thrive in her creative, fun and safe learning environment. The structure she uses helps students achieve the school’s highest-growth scores. Colleagues laud her for being a dedicated and expert teacher who fearlessly tackles obstacles. One new teacher appreciates her support and added, “She is such a pleasure to have as a coworker.”
Sacha Despain’s leadership sparkles when she tackles challenges. Her ability to support and create a strong culture of acceptance and a community is unique. She inspires students and colleagues alike. Despain tries to help the multi-language students new to Oakdale feel welcome and succeed in learning. Her students love her. Parents consider her classroom to be a safe space. She cares deeply. “Mrs. Despain shows up for these kids!” a grateful parent said. “She keeps in contact with them even after they have moved on. After my son passed away, she came to his funeral and brought gifts to our home for my other son, who was in her class. She lets him know he is worth it!” It’s no wonder why the Oakdale community feels fortunate to have Despain in their family.
Sarah Anderson excels with dealing with student behaviors and displays outstanding leadership. “She’s a great part of our team,” Principal Justin Jeffery said. Anderson is known for being one of Park Lane’s most dedicated individuals. Parents appreciate that she facilitates growth in their children in multiple subjects and laud the “amazing job” she does in assisting students to reach their highest potential. She helps students understand the importance of focusing on school work and on relationships with peers, emphasizing how they can affect positive change through kindness and teamwork. “She really cares about each and every student, and it shows,” a colleague said. “She deserves the Teacher of the Year award for 2023!”
Angie Stewart is the kind of teacher who remains in the hearts of students — and their families — long after the children leave her class. “Ms. Stewart absolutely loves her students. I am so grateful we have her as a teacher a second time,” says one Peruvian Park parents. “My kids love her. They learn so much from her.” Students, parents, and colleagues recognize that Angie is a very special person and teacher. “She brings joy and positivity to all settings,” Principal Leslie Jewkes said. One parent marveled at how “very in tune” she is with her students’ needs. Another added, “She truly cares for her students.”
Sandra Jones works diligently to educate her students and keep them excited about coming to her class. She thinks outside the box, goes the extra mile to provide services and support they need, and collaborates with classroom teachers and staff to advocate for her students. She helps all kids in the school and willingly shares ideas and strategies whether they are her students or not. As a special education teacher, she values each student for their unique perspectives, and shares love and kindness. “Mrs. Jones has been a key part of the success of my student who has struggled with school since kindergarten,” one parent said. “She creates the most loving, supportive, and creative learning environment and really advocates for her students and their success!”
Colleen Lecker’s dedication to her students is apparent every time she walks into Ridgecrest Elementary. Colleagues say she works hard to create a joyful learning experience for her students, but also asks them to stretch for deeper, better learning. Those are among the reasons students thrive in her classroom. “Colleen cares about the success of her students and builds positive relationships,” a colleague said. “She takes on new challenges eagerly and is always willing to help a colleague in need. She is positive, encouraging, and a great example of perseverance.” Principal Sara Allen says Ridgecrest families are fortunate to have Mrs. Lecker at the school. “We couldn’t be prouder to have her represent our school.”