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Murray School District honors outstanding faculty, staff, volunteer

Mar 31, 2017 08:55AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Superintendent Steve Hirase, second from left and seen here with his family, will receive a Pinnacle Award on March 23. (Murray School District)

By Julie Slama   |  julie@mycityjournals.com

When Becca Westenskow learned from her son’s principal at McMillan Elementary that he was receiving an award that day and that she should be there, her first thought was, “But I’ve already made a commitment to Grant (Elementary) to help with their spelling bee.”

That’s typical of Westenskow, who as a Parent-Teacher Association volunteer first introduced to the spelling bee to McMillan and now as the district spelling bee coordinator, helps each school with its annual spelling bee.

“I got to McMillan and expected him to get a reading award at the school’s monthly assembly, but instead it was announced that they were presenting a special award to a volunteer,” she said. “When the PTA president called me up as the outstanding volunteer, I thought ‘oh my goodness’ and I could see on the side of the stage that everyone was there.”

By everyone, she meant her husband and parents, as well as Murray School District Superintendent Steve Hirase and the Pinnacle Award committee who presented her with flowers and an invitation to Murray Education Foundation’s 14th-annual Pinnacle awards ceremony at Murray High School. The outstanding teachers and classified employee also received surprise visits by the committee.

“I love Murray schools and want the students to have every opportunity,” said the two-time McMillan PTA president and president-elect at Hillcrest Junior High. “I want to encourage academic achievement and the arts. My passion is for students to discover self-worth through achievement and provide them moments they’ll never forget.”

Westenskow has done that through introducing the school choirs at both Parkside and McMillan elementaries as well as the science fair at McMillan. She has helped in the classroom and with Reflections entries. She introduced and coordinated the Veterans’ Day program at McMillan the past three years. She also plans McMillan’s yearly writing contest and is the school’s dance coordinator for Murray School District centennial dance festival.

“What I do isn’t just for my own kids. It’s for the district,” she said.

That attitude and commitment will be applauded March 23 at the Pinnacle awards. The Pinnacles were established to honor excellence in educational service in the Murray School District. Community, business and education leaders will gather at this special event to recognize their efforts at Murray High School.

The superintendent, five educators, one classified employee and volunteer will be honored guests where they will be presented $500, a statuette and a gift basket.

The recipients include Liberty Elementary first-grade teacher Stephanie Benware; Riverview Junior High social worker Christin Jacketta; Riverview Junior High career technology education industrial arts teacher John Johnston; Longview Elementary teacher Shauntel Page; Murray High School theatre director and communications teacher Will Saxton; District buildings and grounds coordinator Rod Pace; Murray School District Superintendent Steve Hirase, who has given 38 years to education; and volunteer Westenskow.

Riverview Junior High Principal Jim Bouman said he was pleased with the two chosen from his school.

“Christin is an advocate for kids and has a certain way of connecting with them that allows students to trust her,” he said. “I can always count on her judgment and help with students. John makes shop class a cool class. He looks for projects that excites kids—projects outside the box and always something new. He’s very accommodating with students, teachers and administration, which makes him popular with all of us,” he said.

The ceremony will be hosted by former Board of Education member Mildred Horton, who, herself, received a Pinnacle last year. Each award winner will be introduced by a student presenter. Westenskow chose her son, Timothy, a student at McMillan Elementary. A video of each award winner also will be shown.

The evening will include a meal prepared and served by Murray High School students, under the direction of chef Jeff Gratton, and entertainment from students in the high school music department. This year, there will be performers from the musical cast of “Joseph and the Amazing Technical Dreamcoat” as well as a string quartet. Flowers at the ceremony will be arranged by the high school interior design class. 

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