The HSG/NNSTOY Utah Teacher Fellows Program launched in 2017 in partnership with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), an organization of teacher leaders that seeks to transform the teaching profession by advancing the conditions, capacity, and culture necessary to support great teaching and learning for all students. Six UT State Teachers of the Year are serving in mentoring roles for the first-year Fellows, and Director Tabitha Pacheco was a 2015-2017 National Teacher Fellow with Hope Street Group before taking leadership of this program. NNSTOY Director of Professional Learning Peggy Stewart is leading this work for NNSTOY.
The UT Teacher Fellows — experienced professionals with three to 28 years in classrooms — will engage their educator peers and submit teacher-led solutions to the State Board of Education to inform policy and practice.
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Utah State Teacher Fellows
Benjamin worked for a decade in the corporate world before finding his true purpose in the world of education. He is driven by the desire to see his students achieve success in their academic lives. Since coming to the world of education Benjamin has worked in rural school districts and focused on collaboration with other educators to bring the best practices to all students. He has shown leadership by serving on committees to create new teacher evaluations and curriculum implementation and has served as a union representative and delegate. Benjamin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the New York Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Science in History Education from Utah Valley University.
Melody Apezteguia is beginning her 25th year as a professional educator. Her experiences have included working as mathematics teacher, department chair, curriculum team leader, hybrid roles as a teacher and teacher leader and as a full time PLC Coordinator. Melody loves teenagers and wants to ensure high levels of learning for all students. This motivation developed into a passion for teacher development and learning; student learning improves as teachers improve. She feels the best teacher learning happens when teachers work in collaborative teams and this has been the focus of her work as a PLC Coordinator. Melody was awarded the George Shell Award for excellence in teaching secondary mathematics. She is the 2016 Utah Teacher of the Year. Melody has a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics Education and a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership Foundations from Brigham Young University and a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Prairie View A&M University.
Marrianne Asay has the heart of a teacher and loves being in the classroom. She is a 5th grade teacher at Highland Elementary School in the Alpine School District and has been teaching for four years. She was awarded the Spirit of Alpine award in 2015 in recognition of her contributions to the school district. She recently received her technology endorsement and enjoys helping others on her team integrate technology into their classrooms. She is the Collaborative Team Lead for her grade level. She received an associates degree in Early Childhood Education from BYU-Hawaii and her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Brigham Young University.
Bridgette completed her Master’s program in instructional design in 2015 with a dual Bachelor’s degree in Elementary and Special Education. She has finished her first year as a special education teacher with the added responsibility of special education director in the charter school in Salt Lake district. Her extensive background in the National PTA has provided her with the experience needed to accomplish many interesting advocacy endeavors. She served as the Chairperson for Utah PTA Emerging Minority Leadership as well as Utah PTA Region Director. Bridgette is an executive committee member of the University of Utah Parent Association where she continues to advocate for families.
Gay has spent the majority of her 25-year career in education as a kindergarten teacher. She currently teaches kindergarten in Alpine School District. Her passion for early childhood education drives her work both in and out of the classroom. She’s the current president of the Utah State Teachers of the Year chapter. She serves on advisory boards at Utah Valley University and the University of Phoenix. Gay was the 2011 Utah Teacher of the Year. She was also awarded the 2012 NEA Teaching in Excellence Award and the NEA Global Fellowship Award to China. She was recently an honoree in education for the Utah Women’s Walk. She enjoys spending her days teaching kindergarteners to be readers, writers and mathematicians!
For the past 23 years, Kristin van Brunt has been an English Language Arts teacher for the Davis County School District and she currently teaches sophomore honors English at Viewmont High School. She has extensive experience working not only with secondary students, but also with ELA teachers. Kristin has facilitated professional learning throughout the state and she and a team of educators also planned, organized and facilitated literacy professional development for all secondary educators in the district. Additionally, she presented with colleagues about content area literacy at a conference for the National Council of Teachers of English and co-authored The Game Plan: A Multi-Year Blueprint to Create a School Culture of Literacy and Data Analysis. Kristin graduated with a bachelor of arts in English and Psychology from Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon and received her teaching credentials through the University of Utah.
Jacquelyn spent the first seven years of her teaching career in the Chicago Public Schools. In 2012, she moved to Utah and has been with the Alpine School District since then. She achieved National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist. In December of 2011, Jacquelyn spoke at the White House with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the Department of Education. She has taught first grade for 11 years and spent one year as a Lead Teacher working with teachers and students in pre-k through third grade. Jacquelyn was the Cedar Ridge Teacher of the Year for the 2014-2015 school year.
Amberlee has spent the last eight years of her 12 year career at Mountain Heights Academy. Her passion for individualized instruction coupled with the use of technology and teacher created content has propelled the work she does both in and out of the classroom. As a licensed clinical mental health counselor, Amberlee advocates for the focus on the well being of the whole student. She’s a member of the American Psychological Association and the Council for Exceptional Children. Amberlee was awarded 1A State Drama teacher of the year in 2005 and Mountain Heights Academy Teacher of the Year in 2014. Amberlee earned a Bachelor’s in Secondary Education and Special Education from Southern Utah University and a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling with certification in Play Therapy from Capella University.
Megan Watson Fairbourn just completed her 15th year teaching, 11 of those years working in the Davis School District. For the past 13 years, she taught either seventh or eighth grade math in the junior high setting. In 2017, Megan will start a new endeavor teaching Secondary II Math at Northridge High School in Layton, Utah. In 2004, she was voted Teacher of the Year by her peers and received the same award in 2015. Megan has served as the chairperson for Joint Staff Support Committee for two years and was the Math liaison for Local Case Management Team for three years. Recently, Megan participated on the Utah State Secondary Math Leadership Team, helping to create an online class for teachers in Utah to take if they wish to create Professional Learning Communities. She also has taught two district Professional Development classes on how to develop Professional Learning Communities. Megan coached the girls’ basketball teams for four years, was the Danceline coach and sponsor one year, cheerleading coach and sponsor one year and yearbook sponsor one year. She helped pilot a math software program for the STEM Action Center in the Governor’s Office, which included presenting the results of the pilot program to the State Legislature. Megan earned a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education from Brigham Young University and a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Western Governor’s University. She has a Level 2 Math Endorsement and an English as a Second Language Endorsement and is working towards her Level 3 Math Endorsement.
Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh was a special education/elementary educator in Salt Lake City for 32 years. In 2010, she was elected, in a statewide vote, as the President of the Utah Education Association and served in this position for a total of six years. She has more than 38 years of experience in public education. A National Board Certified Teacher, Sharon is the current vice-chair of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Board of Directors. She was the 2009 Utah Teacher of the Year and is a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) and the Utah State Teachers of the Year (UTSTOY) chapter. She was a recipient of the 2009 California Casualty Academic Award for Teaching Excellence and the 2009 Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, as well as the National Education Foundation’s top honor in 2010, the $25,000 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence. Sharon is also a NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow, formerly visiting Peru and Finland and continuing the learning journey with a visit to China this year. She is currently the Chair of the National Education Association Foundation’s Board of Directors. Sharon has served on the Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching, The Council of Accreditation of Teacher Preparation Programs, the Teacher Residency Task Force, the Teacher Accountability Task Force and the Governor’s Education Excellence Commission. Sharon received her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education/Elementary Education from Loretto Heights College in Denver, Colorado and her Master’s Degree in Education/National Board Certified Teacher Leadership from National University in La Jolla, California.
Deborah has spent her eight year career in Granite School District (Salt Lake County), spending time in the Young Parent Program for teen mothers, Kennedy Junior High and Hunter High School, where she serves as Department Chair. She currently teaches Honors Geography, AP European History and U.S. History. Her education includes a Social Science Composite undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and a Masters of Arts in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Phoenix. Deborah achieved National Board Certification in 2015, is a member of the Utah Council for the Social Studies and mentors new teachers.
Mohsen Ghaffari was born and raised in Iran. He came to the United States at age 19 after graduating from high school, pursuing his dream of becoming a teacher (instilled in him by his mother). He has been teaching for the past 19 years, 16 of them at North Star Elementary in Salt Lake School District. A tireless advocate of his profession, students and their parents, Mohsen is the 2015 Utah Teacher of the Year. He is also a recipient and one of the five finalists for The National Education Foundation’s 2016 Horace Mann Excellence for Teaching Award. He received his masters of education from the University of Utah, a National Board Certified Teacher in 2010 and currently is pursuing his Ph.D. program in Educational Leadership and Policy at Walden University. He traveled to Peru in June 2016 to carry the message of Utah Public Education to a global audience and brought back a broader global knowledge to Utah’s Public Education system.
Kelly has been a classroom teacher in the elementary grades for 20 years. Her first 14 were spent in various positions in Texas. The remaining years have been in Utah teaching in the Jordan and Canyons School Districts. She is certified in her district as an ELL instructor and enjoys challenging her students both academically and as future leaders. She graduated with a B.S. in Education from Texas State University and has an M.Ed. from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.
David has spent the past nine years at Freedom Elementary in Alpine School District. At Freedom he has served on their technology committee and has also helped with student council for the past three years. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Utah Valley University and also has an endorsement in STEM. Along with STEM activities, he uses the flipped classroom model for math. His videos have helped students understand concepts not only locally, but have been viewed all over the world. From 2015-2017 David served as an elected board member for the Utah Coalition for Educational Technology where he also was nominated for Outstanding Young Educator in 2013 and 2015. David has a big presence online where he loves to participate in and help moderate Twitter chats. He was the 2015-2016 #utedchat participant of the year and is listed as one of 100 Utah Educators to Follow on Twitter.
Michele has been a teacher for five years at both the junior high and high school level teaching mathematics in Granite School District. Her belief that education is the bridge to opportunity for her students is why she is a passionate advocate of high quality public education both in and out of the classroom. She is a board member of the Utah Education Association and a member of the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics. Michele was awarded Granite District’s Outstanding Educator award in 2016. Michele earned a Bachelor’s in Mathematics and Master’s in Mathematics Education from the University of Utah.
Deborah has 15 years experience in the science classroom and currently teaches high school science in a rural setting at South Sevier High School in the Sevier School District. She also serves as a district technology coach for secondary teachers. Her dedication and enthusiasm to provide quality and engaging education to all students fuels her motivation to improve the public education classroom. In 2009, Debbie was awarded both the National Association of Geoscience Teachers Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Award for the state of Utah and southwest section of the United States as well as the Utah Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award. Most recently Deborah was selected as an Education Advisor, for the K-12 STEM education project, Bringing the Universe to America’s Classrooms, a WGBH initiative in collaboration with NASA. Debbie earned a Bachelor of Science in Geology from Utah State University and a Master of Science in Geoscience from Mississippi State University.
Steve has spent the last three years at Spectrum Academy in Pleasant Grove, a charter school focuses on the success of students with autism. His instructional foundations are built on the mantra “Struggling in math is required to learn.” He has served as the D.A.D.S State President for UDSF and served on the leadership team for Spectrum Academy. In 2009, Steven was awarded Union Middle School Teacher of the Year. He graduated from UVU in 2009 with a B.S. in Mathematics.
Brian E. Preece is a 28-year teaching veteran starting his career at West High School in Salt Lake City and relocating to Provo High School. He has taught a wide array of subjects in Social Studies including AP US Government and Politics, US Government and Citizenship, US History, Modern World History, IB 20th Century Topics, IB Geography, Utah Studies, South Asia Studies, Western Europe Studies and American (Current) Events. He served as the head wrestling coach at Provo High School from 1994 to 2006 and was named the Utah Coach of the Year in 2006 by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. He also has served as an assistant baseball, football and golf coach at Provo High School and assisted with football and wrestling at West High School. Brian has been involved with the Geography Olympiad and History Fair and he collaborated with colleagues to start a program at Provo High School that used authentic assessment, field experiences and serviced-based learning. An alumnus of both Brigham Young University and Southern Utah University, Brian has been married to his wife Heidi for 20 years and they have two children together: Lizzy (age 17) and Zach (age 15).
Allison Riddle has been an elementary educator for 29 years. She is currently the Elementary Mentor Supervisor for Davis District. Allison is the 2014 Utah Teacher of the Year and a member of Governor Herbert’s Education Excellence Commission. As an NEA Foundation Global Fellow, Allison studied schools in rural Peru and will continue her fellowship in South Africa next June. Allison currently represents Utah as a Lowell Milken Fellow studying project-based learning. Allison is a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). She has been a consultant for Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks since 2005. Allison is currently studying Teacher Leadership with Weber University, her alma mater.
Machelle has been teaching 21 years, all of which have been at Rosamond Elementary in Jordan District. She is passionate about social responsibility and this directs her work in and out of the classroom. She is an advocate for students. She believes in learning about and attempting application of current classroom research. Machelle enjoys travel associated with learning and educational purpose. A graduate of Westminster College, Machelle holds a Masters degree in Reading from Grand Canyon University with certificates in ESL and mathematics from the University of Utah and Southern Utah University, respectively.
Wendy Rush graduated in 2006 from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Mild/Moderate disabilities. She then taught resource classes at Mapleton Elementary School from 2006-2007. From 2006-2012 she was a mentor teacher and Supervisor with the BYU summer Practicum. She taught High School Resource English classes at Utah Virtual Academy from 2012-2016 and is currently the Special Education Instructional Facilitator for Utah Virtual Academy.
Leigh VandenAkker has spent the last 10 years of her 25 years of teaching at East High School, where she teachers the program she wrote and developed, Techniques for Tough Times: an elective course specifically teaching communication, self-advocacy, resilience, teamwork, leadership and conflict resolution. Her passion is teaching social and emotional learning skills (SEL) to students as well as teachers. She has an extensive background in program development. Her most recent work includes co-developing Tessera Teacher Playbook, developed by Pro-Exam in partnership with ACT, which includes first-hand advice for what really works when teaching social and emotional skills in the classroom. Leigh is Utah’s 2012 Teacher of The Year. She is also a 2015 recipient of the Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education and the 2016 recipient of the Utah Council on Conflict Resolution Peacekeeper Award, presented annually to an outstanding member of the community who has a superior commitment to the process of peace and to conflict resolution. Leigh holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah and an M.Ed. from Utah State University. In addition, she holds a post-graduate certification in mediation and conflict resolution from the University of Utah. You can find out more about Leigh by watching her TEDxBYU talk.
Bridget has taught at Deerfield in Alpine School District for five years. She has taught 1st grade for one year, STARS summer school for four years and just finished her 4th year teaching 2nd grade. Helping students improve their confidence as a learner and develop a love learning is Bridget’s favorite part of her job as a teacher. Bridget received teacher of the year for the year 2016-2017. She also received the PTA teacher of the year award in 2015-2016. She earned her Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Endorsement from Southern Utah University.
Denise has taught preschool special education and 1st through 3rd grades for the past 22 years. She has spent the last nine years in Davis District and currently teaches at Valley View Elementary. She’s a member of the Executive Board of Davis Education Association, Chairperson of DEA’s Teaching and Learning Committee, a member of UEA’s ESSA Implementation & BPR & R Committees and a former participant in NEA’s Teacher Leadership Initiative. Denise earned a Bachelor’s in Pre-School Education and Family Life Services from Northern Michigan University and a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from The University of St. Thomas.
Amy began her teaching career at Foothills Elementary in Herriman. She taught first grade for eight years. Her sixth year of teaching, she was invited by her principal to help open a Chinese Dual Language Immersion program and teach the first grade English Language Arts side. After three years in this role, she moved on to be a Mentor Specialist for her district. An Early Childhood Generalist National Board Certified Teacher, Amy is an active member of the Utah National Board Coalition, having helped run their Hill Day and building NBCT capacity in Utah. She is an NEA Teacher Leadership Initiative Participant and the UNBC VP of Advocacy and Policy. She earned her BS in Elementary Education with BYU-Idaho, a Master of Education with Southern Utah University, a Reading Endorsement with BYU and an Administrative Supervisory License with Utah State University.
Lynette Yorgason is a teacher at Itineris Early College High School in West Jordan, Utah. Lynette teaches World History, English as a Second Language and Computer Science. She received her undergraduate degree in History Teaching from BYU-Provo and a Masters of Arts in English Language Learning from Western Governor’s University.
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Follow us on Twitter at @HSG_UT, using #hsgedchat and #uted. To connect directly with our Utah Teacher Fellows, please contact Tabitha Pacheco, Utah Teacher Fellows Program Director: email@example.com.