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Murray District Honors Outstanding Educators, Staff, Volunteer

Aug 03, 2016 08:58AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Seven Pinnacles winners were all smiles on March 24 when they were honored at Murray High School. Pictured are Maura Thatcher, Heather Wihongi, KymBerlyn Farrugia, Tracy Findlay, Mildred Horton, Teresa Bigelow and Judy Anderson. — Murray School District

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com


Murray, Utah - When Mildred Horton was asked to meet with Murray High Principal John Goldhardt this past spring on a Thursday morning. She said she’d have to set up another time.

 Unknown to her was that Murray Education Foundation had planned to surprise her as being selected as the outstanding volunteer for Murray School District. So the ceremony was put on hold and when later she walked into a conference room presumably to meet with the principal about her volunteer role with the Spartan Express, she was greeted by members of the Foundation, Murray School District Superintendent Steve Hirase, her family and others.

“I was absolutely surprised — I had no idea,” Horton said. “I’ve been really lucky to be involved in Murray School District and Murray City and have had the opportunity to volunteer to pay back to such a great community.”

This year, four teachers, two staff members as well as Horton made up the seven recipients of Murray School District’s 13th annual Pinnacle awards.

The recipients were honored on March 24 with a statuette, gift basket and $500 at Murray High School. Each recipient was highlighted in a video with student and principal comments. The Pinnacle Award winners are nominated by a peer, parent, community member or student.

This year’s recipients are Parkside Elementary’s Title 1 coordinator/teacher KymBerlyn Farrugia; Longview Elementary’s first-grade teacher Tracy Findlay; Hillcrest Junior School’s School Success teacher Maura Thatcher; Riverview Junior High English teacher Heather Wihongi; Murray High secretary Judy Anderson; McMillan Elementary secretary Teresa Bigelow; and Murray High volunteer Horton.

Farrugia, who attended Parkside while in fifth grade, has been with the district for 16 years. She said she knew she wanted to be a teacher from the first day of kindergarten, remembering Miss Kelly and her large silver clips she used to hold the paper onto the easel.

While working in Murray schools, she has taught second and third grade and was the perspectives teacher at Grant Elementary, served as the Title I coordinator at McMillan; was a district math specialist.

Findlay, who came to the district in August 1997, grew up close to an abandoned schoolhouse and played school where she was the teacher, learning from her father who served both as a teacher and a principal.

In Murray School District, she has taught first and second grades at Parkside, English-as-a-Second Language to adults, and served as a reading specialist at Longview Elementary, before jumping back to the first-grade classroom four years ago.

Thatcher, who also joined Murray in August 1997, recalled that her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Clark, inspired her to become a teacher and mentored her throughout her school years.

In addition to teaching at Hillcrest in Murray School District, she has taught at Riverview and worked in the district office as a special education behavior specialist.

Wihongi joined Hillcrest faculty in 2002, where she met her future husband, Scott Wihongi, a science teacher. Students were said to play matchmaking only to learn that the couple already had been dating.

After teaching English for seven years and being the student government adviser at Hillcrest, she transferred to Riverview where she has continued to teach English and journalism classes.

Anderson, who was asked to join the Murray High office staff in 1991 by former principal and former superintendent Richard Tranter, was elected second president of the Utah Association of Educational Office Professionals. She later was named the Office Professional of the Year in 2008.

Before moving to Salt Lake area, she worked at Jerome High School in Jerome, Idaho.

Bigelow, who was a volunteer at Grant Elementary when her boys attended the school, began working at the school when the former principal Dave Smith asked her to join the staff as a classroom aide in 1994. For the past nine years, she has been McMillan’s school secretary.

In addition to serving the schools in her official positions, Bigelow ahs served on numerous committees at Grant, Riverview and Murray High as well as the Murray City Personnel Advisory Board.

Horton, who served 11 years on the Murray Board of Education, has been an active Murray School District volunteer, first serving as a Parent-Teacher Association president at Riverview, then at Murray High. She also served as the region director of the Murray PTA Council and for the past 20 years, been in active with Murray High’s Renaissance Committee where she oversees concessions for football and basketball games.

 In addition to serving Murray School District, she has been active in the community, serving on several committees, including the Arts Advisory Board and currently is president of the Friends of the Murray Library. She has volunteered with the Parks and Recreation Board and has helped with art exhibits, Murray City Museum and cemetery tours.

 “I consider myself recycled as I’ve had eight grandchildren attend Murray High and I’ve been part of their school years there and I have two to go. What has been really great about the award is that it has given me a chance to use certificates in the gift basket and thank the managers for their participation in supporting the education system. It’s been great to tell them thanks,” Horton said. 

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