WEBER COUNTY — Four teachers and one classified employee in Weber School District got a surprise visit Wednesday morning.
A parade of district staff, all in their own vehicles, arrived at the employees’ homes (and in one case, a school) to let them know they were winners of the district’s annual Teacher of the Year and Classified Employee of the Year awards.
Rather than approaching the winners’ homes, parade participants stayed out by the curb, all standing 6 feet apart, according to Lane Findlay, spokesperson for the district. That distance didn’t keep them from making noise, however, since many came equipped with air horns.
Connie Malan was one of the honorees visited by the parade. She is the district’s classified employee of the year and has been working in different positions at Roy High School for 25 years — her entire career. She said she was honored by the visit from her district colleagues.
“It was enough to bring me to tears to have them all there,” Malan said. “Some of them were people that have moved on to other positions that I haven’t seen in quite a few years, and I was just very honored to have that many people show up and take the time out of their busy days and schedules ... to all come.”
In her current role, Malan coordinates ACT exams for the school as well Aspire+ assessments for 10th graders. The Aspire+ assessments combine questions from the Utah Core curriculum with ACT questions, providing students with projected scores for the ACT, she said. She also supports the school’s use of Chromebooks and coordinates transportation. Through these varied roles, her work touches every student at Roy High School.
In a letter to the district about Malan, the Roy High administration said she had secured two free ACT exams for the school’s junior class by signing the school up to participate in a trial of ACT’s online testing.
Another staff member at Roy High, Aaron Yates, was a recipient of one of the First-Year Teacher of the Year awards. He teaches introductory and advanced automotive courses at the school for grades 10 through 12.
Yates said he appreciates that the district recognized first-year teachers.
“I didn’t realize how many people were going to be there,” Yates said about the parade. “It was awesome seeing them all there cheering and doing the air horns. It was impressive.”
In a letter nominating Yates for the award, Matt Williams, principal of Roy High School, said that Yates has revived a struggling program, which had been staffed by a long-term substitute. Yates also intensively cleaned and organized a cluttered and packed tool room, Williams said.
In addition to Yates, two other first-year teachers were honored with awards: Brittney Weston, a first-grade teacher at Midland Elementary in Roy, and Karli Plant, a special education teacher at Bates Elementary in North Ogden.
Alan Rhees, a veteran teacher who has taught in Weber School District for 34 years, won the district’s Teacher of the Year award. Rhees currently teaches sixth grade at Lomond View Elementary in Pleasant View.
Technology has changed drastically over the course of Rhees’ career, but he has remained on the cutting edge, said Justin Skeen, principal of Lomond View, in a letter nominating Rhees for the award.
Rhees secured a grant to fund five 3D printers at the school, which have served students of all ages there, Skeen said. Rhees is also the school’s educational technology coach, a district mentor and the school’s webmaster, among other responsibilities.
In the school’s transition to online learning, Rhees spent weekends and evenings preparing his own course material so he could be available to help other teachers during the week, Skeen said.
Skeen describes Rhees as “a master teacher” and “a great man who would do anything for anyone.”
As the winner of the district’s Teacher of the Year award, Rhees will advance to the be considered for Utah Teacher of the Year.
In a typical year, the district usually does surprise visits to classrooms to let teachers know they’ve won. District staff have referred to it as “prize patrol,” since it’s modeled after the surprise visits done by Publishers Clearing House, Findlay said.
Due to school closures, visits to schools weren’t possible this year, so the district came up with a different plan in an effort to honor them, Findlay said.
Winning teachers are also usually invited to a banquet and a school board meeting, but these recognition events were also not possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Findlay said. However, the honorees’ names will be announced at the district’s board meeting Wednesday evening, and the district hopes to honor them at a meeting in person in September if conditions allow, Findlay said.