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Murray School District Gives Honors

Mar 13, 2015 12:47PM ● Published by Julie Slama

“She’s always helping, stepping up to do what is needed, fun to be around, and wanting to make a positive impact with the students,” Riverview Principal Jim Bouwman said to describe parent volunteer Janet Thackeray.

Those words also could describe other Murray Education Foundation Pinnacle recipients, who were named Feb. 12.

Principal Bouwman went on to name countless activities which Thackeray helped run as co-Parent-Teacher-Student Association co-president the past two years and then, after stepping down from that position, became a service project coordinator this year.

“I just started by dipping in my toes and pretty soon I get involved in everything, but I like to because it’s fun and I’m helping everyone,” Thackeray said. “I get involved in the classrooms and help the teachers and staff and I’ve ended up meeting PTA people who I really cherish. But I was absolutely floored by this award. It’s amazing to be in the company of those who deserve this big honor.”
Horizon Elementary teacher Karen Peterson and her fourth-grade students celebrate after learning Peterson was one of the 12th annual Pinnacle Award recipients. Photo courtesy of D Wright

The Murray Education Foundation’s 12th annual Pinnacle awards honor excellence in educational service in the Murray School District. Five educators, one classified employee and two volunteers will be honored guests at the yearly Pinnacle awards gala, Thursday, March 12. Each will be presented $500, a statuette and a gift basket. Community, business and education leaders will gather at this special event to recognize their efforts at Murray High School. 

This year’s recipients include: 

• Liberty Elementary library aide of 20 years 
—Leslie Campbell

• Murray High chemistry teacher of 20 years 

—Ian MacDonald 

• Horizon Elementary 4th-grade dual immersion teacher of 13 years
— Karen Peterson 

• Parkside Elementary speech language pathologist of 13 years
— Joelle Rasmussen 

• Grant Elementary 4th-grade teacher of 28 years 
—Jeanne Simpson 

• Liberty Elementary 4th-grade teacher of 23 years 
—Toni Wilkins 

• Volunteers —Janet Thackeray and Laurel Fetzer

Liberty’s Wilkins said she was definitely surprised when she walked back into her classroom after talking to a parent with the principal about a student’s needs to discover her family, Murray Education Foundation members and Supt. Steve Hirase in her classroom.

“The kids were yelling ‘surprise’ and I was thinking, ‘What are you doing? Get back in your seats,’ and then I realized something more was going on,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe it.”

Grant’s Jeanne Simpson said her principal pulled her out of her classroom while teaching.

“I thought I was in trouble,” she said. “We talked for a few minutes in his office and I returned to my class to find quite a big crowd in my classroom. I was so surprised when I finally realized what was happening. It was so overwhelming and certainly something I never expected to happen to me.”

Murray High Parent-Teacher Association President Laurel Fetzer, who also volunteers at Parkside, was selected last year as volunteer of the year, but was out-of-town during the recognition. She said the award made her realize the countless hours she has spent organizing field days, fun runs, helping in classes, organizing Junior Achievement and Book in a Bag, and hosting fundraisers and movie nights has made it worthwhile.


The Laura Baker Grant

“It made me cry,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’ve done something worthy and it’s just a nice thing to say, ‘thanks and good job.’”   

At the Pinnacle awards, the third annual Laura Baker Professional Learning Grant recipients will be honored. This year’s recipients are Shawn Johnson, Horizon Elementary’s school psychologist who has worked in Murray School District for 18 years, and Heather Wihongi, Riverview Junior High’s English teacher who has worked 13 years in Murray School District.

The Laura Baker Grant is awarded yearly to two teachers in the Murray District seeking to make professional learning a priority in their careers. The Murray District Teaching and Learning team selects two applicant proposals who are focused on strengthening instructional strategies and having a positive impact on student learning.

Wihongi will attend a summer conference, “Common Ground, Global Reach, Teaching English and English Education for Global Literacies,” which will be held July 6-9 at Fordham University in New York.

Johnson attended the National Association of School Psychologists Conference Feb. 16-20 in Orlando, where he received updated training on helping grieving children, treatments for school anxiety, cognitive neuropsychology, responses to intervention, auditory processing disorders and other conditions he plans to share with other district teachers, counselors, special education colleagues, social workers and psychologists.

“I’m very grateful that I received one of the Laura Baker Professional Learning Grants this year,” Johnson said. “I have had the chance over the 18 years of working in Murray to sit through many school board meetings watching and listening to Laura Baker, and know how dedicated she was to the students of Murray.  It was an honor to receive a grant dedicated to her memory.”


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