Skip to main content

Murray Journal

Murray School District Honors Teacher, Employee of Year

Aug 10, 2015 09:37AM ● By Bryan Scott

Murray School District’s

By Julie Slama

Director Rob Wilson put down his baton as Murray School District Superintendent Steve Hirase, Vice Principal Dolph Church and others walked into his classroom.

“I stopped, thinking, ‘It has to be important because I usually don’t see these people in my classroom,’” Wilson said.

It was. Twenty-year teaching veteran Wilson was named Murray School District Teacher of the Year for 2014-15. Longview Elementary administrative secretary Sharon Gillen was also named Classified Employee of the Year.

“I was super surprised, just shocked,” Wilson said. 

Wilson and Gillen each received a plaque, $500 and a trip provided by the Murray Education Foundation. Wilson plans to go to Hawaii and Gillen is going to Disneyland.

Wilson, who was nominated for this award before, has expanded the instrumental program at the high school so that it now offers concert band, jazz band, percussion, orchestra, beginning and intermediate guitar and music theory. The program involves about 130 students, several who take more than one class from Wilson.

“He is the epitome of teachers,” Principal John Goldhardt said. “His students do so well and fully respect him. He is a great role model, a caring, trustworthy person who teaches more than music to his students to help them succeed. He’s really a positive influence in their lives. They rally around him and would do anything for him.”

That has been put to the test and shown true time and time again, Goldhardt said.

In August 2009, Wilson was diagnosed with leukemia. His vision was illuminated, his hands and feet were numb and he lacked energy. After a transfusion, the then 37-year-old Wilson began chemotherapy treatments every three days for his 34-day hospital stay.

During that time period, students and colleagues videotaped concerts, made him cards, a memory book and origami “get well” cranes, and allowed him to Skype into the classrooms to answer questions and help out their long-term substitute.

On Dec. 17, 2009, Wilson received a bone marrow transplant from his brother and returned to school one year later. However, his acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that starts inside bone marrow that helps form blood cells, relapsed, and after two transplants and what he calls a “mini-transplant,” Wilson is on a trial course, learning to live with constant pain.

“It’s hard to walk, hurts to lift the baton to direct, but I want to be here at school,” he said. “I live about five minutes from Park City High School and was offered a position there in the past, which I’ve turned down. Murray is a great community and the school is great to work at and I’ve appreciated the students’ and parents’ support in letting me know what is going on when I’ve missed class in the past. I’ve taught through five principals who have been supportive of the fine arts, and all I want is to keep doing what I love doing.” 

Wilson, who previously received the Murray Education Foundation’s Pinnacle Award, doesn’t like to focus on himself and instead turned to students June 1 to inspire them to practice and perform in other groups beyond high school.

“Music, this class, should give you an enjoyment and a break from all the AP (Advanced Placement), number-crunching, high-reading classes you’ve all been taking,” he said to his concert band students. “Music is important to keep going in your life. Practice this summer, find a community group, or for those graduating, a college or university will have groups even if you’re not a music major. Music requires discipline. You need to listen, read, watch and play at the same time. It’s a more cognitive and physical class than any other class here, but it is something that should bring joy to your life and to those around you.”

Sophomore Samantha Harrison plays flute in the concert band.

“He has definitely made me a better player. I learned flute at Hillcrest (Junior High) and had a tough time hitting the high notes. He is a great teacher and gave us new songs that challenged us all to become better musicians,” she said.

Parent Maria Findlay has had children who have been and are currently being taught by Wilson.

“He’s inspired so many kids to keep going with their music,” she said. “His love of playing is addictive so kids want to play. He recognizes that students are busy, so he works with them to set up times after school for them to practice and has them learn about music options by attending other concerts so they know what they can do after high school.” 

Findlay’s younger son, Clark, just finished his sophomore year studying violin under Wilson. 

“Because of Mr. Wilson, Clark now has a goal to play in the Utah Symphony. Mr. Wilson is an all-around excellent music teacher who cares about his students. We’re so grateful for him,” she said.

Gillen has worked as secretary at Longview for the past 10 years, after she served as lunch clerk at the school the year before.

“I really like the kids here,” she said. “It’s such a fun environment and the kids are so cute when they told me, ‘Congratulations, Mrs. Gillen’ or ‘Thanks for all you do.’ My favorites were when one student handed me a half-eaten box of Fruit Loops and another gave me a homemade chocolate chip cookie because you know those students did this without any parent involvement, just straight from their hearts. Those were just as good as any other award.”

Gillen, along with Wilson, was honored at the May 14 Board of Education meeting and said that she heard what her principal, Chad Sanders, and teachers said about her.

“It made me so happy that I just smiled,” she said.

Longview teacher Tina Nilsson said that Gillen is “the glue that keeps us together.”

“She really is the mother who is nurturing to us teachers and to the students, handing out Band-Aids, listening to woes, staying late if parents don’t show up on time, reimbursing teachers efficiently, always nice to everyone, decorates the staff room for every holiday and no matter what the stress level is, she’s always there, helping out,” Nilsson said. “And when she can, she’ll be in watching and supporting every grade program and cheering on our students.”

Parent-Teacher Association president Jen Madsen agrees.

“We just come right in and she is already helping out the PTA, whether it’s making labels, sorting packets, collecting money for yearbook, making copies. She never complains, never takes a day off, she’s just wanting to help in every way,” she said.

Former Parent-Teacher Association president Jeannette Bowen said she is the role model for multi-tasking.

“She has a pleasant, helpful attitude and can be assisting six people at once when she’s under high stress and we’d never know,” she said. “She’s very professional and personable and we’re so lucky we can work with her.”

Before the announcement of Teacher and Employee of the Year, Wilson and Gillen, along with nine other teacher nominees, were honored at a luncheon at Brio Tuscan Grill.