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Murray Journal

Murray educators celebrated at 20th-annual Pinnacle award ceremony

Mar 30, 2023 04:12PM ● By Julie Slama

Murray High school teacher and student government adviser Jessica Garrett pulls up the post made by a student government officer when she received her Pinnacle Award. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Murray High school teacher and student government adviser Jessica Garrett was teaching her students about the Great Depression in their U.S. history class when she saw her principal along with district personnel by her classroom doorway. 

“They had a big thing of flowers and I’m thinking they’re dropping something off for a student because I get a lot of district people come to me for student government,” she said. “Then, I looked behind them and in one glance, I see (Murray School District Superintendent) Jenn Covington, (Assistant Superintendent) Scott Wihongi—and my brother. Then it hits me: ‘this is big, and it’s for me.’ Then I see my husband, my nephews, my parents and my kids and I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t speak; I was a hot mess. I was really trying not to lose it in front of my students, but I immediately started crying because I was so overwhelmed and so touched.”

A student government junior class officer in class pulled out his phone and recorded the moment, posting it using her nickname, “‘Top G’ wins awards” in a group chat so students would know as soon as they checked their phones. She said she learned many students nominated her for the District’s top award, the Pinnacle.

Garrett, who is in her ninth year teaching at Murray High, was honored along with school volunteer Natalie Dansie. Around the District, others also were surprised, including Annette Tomlinson, who has been teaching kindergarten at Longview since 1997; and Heather Nicholas, who currently is Parkside Elementary’s principal since 2020 and previously was Horizon’s principal from 2001 to 2020. Joining them is Lindsay Preece, who has been a student advocate at Grant Elementary since 2014, and Susan Wright, who taught at Grant Elementary, been a school instructional coach at Viewmont Elementary and then, the district instructional coach. She has served the district since 2006.

Covington is indebted to the group’s devotion to educating students.

“We are grateful for the dedication and hard work of our 2023 Pinnacle recipients and recognize them for their outstanding contributions to our education community,” she said. “They have inspired countless students and helped shape their future profoundly. We appreciate their unwavering commitment to excellence in education in Murray City School District.”

The group was honored March 16 at a dinner at Murray High, where they received a statuette, $1,000 and a gift basket that included Hale Theatre season tickets. The evening’s Mardi Gras theme featured southern cuisine and music by the high school jazz band.

“It’s our 20th year honoring educators and it’s awesome to see how the Pinnacles to come to this point,” said Jeanne Habel, Murray Education Foundation executive director. “When they say, ‘it takes a village,’ there’s nothing truer. Everyone contributes to commend these honorees. For me, it’s fun to read all the amazing things these teachers and others have done to help our students and for the committee, to our community, to come together to show their appreciation of their dedication.”

Garrett planned to keep the Pinnacle statuette on her classroom desk.

“The award was a reminder of why I teach,” she said. “I know a lot of the people who received this in the past, and I’ve looked up to them. My first reaction is I want to rise up and work harder to feel worthy of being included in their ranks. I’m grateful for my loved ones, my colleagues, my administrators at the school and in the District to be there with my students at the same time in my room in that moment—just bringing all those worlds together was really special.”