Utah Teacher of the Year (UTOY)


Every year, across the state of Utah, local education districts celebrate public education and the vital role of excellent teachers by selecting and honoring their district teacher of the year. Each of these district teachers of the year are then considered for selection as a finalist for the Utah Teacher of the Year (UTOY) program. Five finalists are selected and interviewed in the summer by a volunteer selection committee.

In the fall, a gala banquet is held to celebrate all nominees, and to announce the second runner-up, the first runner-up, and the UTOY.

While the UTOY program does select one winner each year, the vision of the program extends beyond the annual award. The UTOY program works to expand and promote the role of teacher leaders in Utah, supporting retention efforts at the Utah State Board of Education (USBE). The UTOY program celebrates the importance of teacher excellence. We are grateful for the work of districts across the state of Utah who identify and honor their teachers, helping tell the positive story of K-12 public education in Utah.

Thank you for your participation in the program, a fantastic way to celebrate excellence, teacher leadership, and the vital role teachers play in the lives of Utah students.

UToy Stories

Utah Teacher of the Year 2023 Magazine

2024 Utah Teacher of the Year Nominations

Nominations Must be Submitted by School Districts and Public Charter Schools Directly.

  • Each Utah school district and public charter school is encouraged to submit a nomination for UTOY. Please contact Brenda McMurtrey at brenda.mcmurtrey@schools.utah.gov for information on how to submit your nomination.
  • Only one nomination is allowed per school district and public charter school, so please coordinate your nomination before submission.
  • Once we have received your nomination, we will contact your nominee via e-mail and invite them to apply.

Utah’s Teacher of the Year should be an active classroom teacher who:

  • Is an expert in their field who guides students of all backgrounds and abilities to achieve excellence.
  • Collaborates with colleagues, students, and families to create a school culture of respect and success.
  • Deliberately connects the classroom and key stakeholders to foster a strong community at large.
  • Demonstrates leadership and innovation in and outside of the classroom walls that embodies lifelong learning.
  • Expresses themselves in an engaging and articulate way.

An active classroom teacher is one who is planning to continue teacher (example: not retiring or moving into an administrative position in the next year) and who has an active classroom teaching assignment.

Important Dates

April 24, 2023
USBE will begin accepting nominations.

June 1, 2023
Nomination Deadline.

June 2, 2023
USBE will e-mail an invitation to apply, along with the link to the application, to all nominees.

June 30, 2023
Application Deadline (by invitation only).


Carly Maloney

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson named Carly Maloney, a concurrent enrollment English, advanced placement psychology, student government, and English language development teacher at Viewmont High School in the Davis School District, as 2024 Utah Teacher of the Year.

Maloney, of Bountiful, was presented with a check for $10,000 and will compete with her fellow state teachers of the year in a national competition. She will participate in a number of state and national leadership opportunities.

Midvale Middle School (Canyons School District) eighth grade mathematics teacher Maxwell Eddington and Mountainside Elementary (Cache School District) kindergarten teacher Stephanie Parish were named runners up and each received $4,000.

A committee consisting of representatives from parent and teacher advocacy organizations, charter schools, the Utah State Board of Education, and the 2023 Utah Teacher of the Year selected Maloney for the honor from local teachers of the year across the State of Utah.

“Carly is one of the hardest working and most inspiring teachers I have worked with in my 22-year career,” wrote Viewmont Principal Travis Lund. “One of Carly’s most remarkable qualities is her ability to handle a multitude of responsibilities in a highly effective manner.”

“Mrs. Maloney is not only an incredible teacher in the classroom, but is a notable example of kindness and friendship,” wrote one of Maloney’s former students, a recent graduate of Viewmont High School. “She takes time to get to know each student and goes out of her way to make sure we each feel loved and cared for.” Maloney succeeds 2023 Utah Teacher of the Year Chad Warnick, an agriculture, biology, leadership, and communications teacher at the Delta Technical Center in the Millard School District.


Chad Warnick

Chad Warnick earned a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Education from Utah State University, minoring in Horticulture and Animal Science. He then continued his education, receiving a Master’s degree in Agricultural Systems Technology from Utah State University. Chad teaches high school agriculture courses including animal and veterinary science, plant science, biology, leadership, and floriculture at the Delta Technical Center in Millard School District.

Chad believes in the statement of “Doing to Learn.” He has used this mantra to build a school livestock facility that gives students hands-on experience in raising cattle, pigs, and goats. Warnick also utilizes two greenhouses to engage students in learning science and plant production in a practical setting. He is a pioneer in proficiency based learning at the secondary level and has served as a leader on the state and national level by providing training and professional learning to other teachers.

Warnick loves his students and his work. He believes that every student has worth and can learn. He believes in teaching skills like public speaking, leadership, work ethic, confidence, grit, and service to prepare students for success beyond the classroom. His wife, Traci, is also a teacher and Chad shares the honor of Utah Teacher of the Year with his father, Waldo Warnick, who earned this distinction in 1991.

Alysssa Ewell, a former student of Warnick’s, said of him, “I have never met a teacher with the passion, enthusiasm, and ability to change lives that I experienced firsthand as a student of Mr. Warnick’s. I have never seen a teacher more willing to give themselves over to their students and serve them selflessly in and out of the classroom. Mr. Warnick exemplifies what those in the teaching profession should aspire to be; a teacher and mentor who develops students into leaders, doers, and successful adults.”


Mark Daniels

Mark Daniels graduated from Weber State University with a Bachelor of Science with a composite major of communications and theatre arts. Daniels also earned a master’s degree from Central Washington University in Educational Theatre Production.

During his 25 years of teaching, Daniels has loved watching the magic of theatre happen, the creativity and the imagination of his students flourish, the jitters of opening night, and the smiles of accomplishment. He loves the fact that his students are not only creating memories for a lifetime, but building self-confidence through performing.

Daniels has received the Sterling Teacher Award from the Utah Advisory Council of Theatre Teachers, the Utah High School Activities Association Distinguished Service Award, and the Weber State University Arts and Humanities AHA! Alumni Award.

In his spare time, Daniels still loves performing and over the years he has been seen on many stages throughout the state as an actor. Some of his favorite roles include: Frankie in Forever Plaid at the Grand Theatre, Elliot Garfield Grant in The Goodbye Girl at Hale Centre Theatre, the Mysterious Old Man in Into the Woods at Ogden Musical Theatre, and at Beverly’s Terrace Plaza Playhouse in Ogden, Daniels has been seen as Ebenezer Scrooge in Scrooge, A Christmas Carol for the last three years.


John Arthur

John Arthur teaches 6th grade at Meadowlark Elementary, a Title I school in Salt Lake City, Utah. His students have gained national recognition as advocates for children and immigrants thanks to the music videos they create together and share on their YouTube channel, 9thEvermore. Arthur allows his students to take the lead in their work, coaching them as they craft their content and providing a platform for their work.

After receiving a Bachelor of Art in English from the University of Utah, Arthur discovered his love for working with kids while substitute teaching in elementary classrooms. Inspired by the students he met, he earned a Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Education from Westminster College. He is now a National Board Certified Teacher entering his 8th year in the classroom. Arthur holds endorsements in K-6 Special Education (mild/moderate disabilities) and English as a Second Language to ensure that he meets the needs of every student he teaches. He has presented at conferences and spoken on panels for organizations including the National Association for Multicultural Education and the Utah Education Association, and delivered the keynote address at the Leadership and Inquiry for Turnaround Conference at the University of Utah. A fierce believer that educational equity is both necessary and attainable, Arthur serves on the Advisory Committee on Equity of Educational Services for Students for the Utah State Board of Education. He also works with preservice teachers as an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education at Westminster College.

Award Presentation

Utah Teacher of the Year for 2021 John Arthur

Nominees and Finalists

2021 Utah Teacher of the Year Nominees | 2021 Utah Teacher of the Year Finalists


Lauren Merkley

As a product of a sprawling, diverse Chicago public school, Lauren Merkley knew early on that she wanted to teach high school English. However, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Merkley stumbled into an unexpected career: fundraising. Over nearly a decade, she worked on behalf of a theatre in Washington, DC; Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; and Mount Sinai Health System in New York City to alchemize donors’ passion into dollars supporting the pressing needs of art, education, and global health.

Thanks to a move from New York City to Salt Lake City, Merkley returned to her long-held dream of teaching. She jumped at the chance to work at Cottonwood High School in Murray, Utah, where she has the joy of teaching juniors in English 11 and AP English Language and Composition. With students hailing from Afghanistan to Eritrea, Merkley has embraced the challenges of helping extraordinarily diverse students find and hone their own voice through critical thinking, close reading, and civil discourse.

Together and separately, education and philanthropy manifest Merkley’s highest aim: to love (philos) mankind (anthros). In the classroom, her love takes the form of engaging instruction in literature and rhetoric that hones and honors each student’s story, helping them wield their own voice as a tool among peers and mankind.

Flickr     YouTube


Kellie May

Be the teacher who believes in the kids who don't yet believe in themselves." Kellie May is one such teacher. It is easy for her to believe in her students because as their teacher she has been given the ability to see the future in them. Kellie feels fortunate to be fueled by the student potential that fills her classroom every day.

One of the most rewarding aspects of Kellie's career has been her involvement with Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a college preparation program for underrepresented students. In her opinion, being an AVID elective teacher and site-coordinator is a dream job because it involves supporting first-generation high school and college graduates. What could be better than to have two former students currently earning graduate degrees in education?

Kellie loves teaching and works to spread that passion along to others. She actively mentors new and provisional teachers, hosts practicum students and student teachers, and is also an instructor for an introduction to teaching course at the local university. Kellie wants others to know that though teaching can be challenging, it can also be the most rewarding profession.

Kellie is a life-long learner who has dedicated her life to public education. She had no idea 23 years ago how much her students would impact and enrich her life. Kellie is certain her students are and will always be her greatest teachers.



Aaryn Birchell

Draped on the wall in lace and burlap a sign in Mrs. Aaryn Birchell's classroom asks, "Does your Grit have Gratitude?" Modeling this mindset with eager eyes, endless energy and a "You-can-do-it!" attitude, she champions and celebrates students.

Aaryn honed her teaching skills after earning her degree by volunteering at the Utah State University Writing Center and working as a substitute teacher for twelve years. When a part-time position teaching advanced sophomore English classes opened at her alma mater, Uintah High, she jumped at the chance to teach emerging adults the beauty of life through world literature.

Now teaching full time, she has additional responsibility and joy teaching AP Literature.

In school, Aaryn advocates by listening to overwhelmed teens and arranging over eighteen service projects for Honor Society; by coordinating a scholarship writing workshop and teaching ACT prep classes; by decorating for Prom late into the night and co-writing the annual Senior Poem.

In her community, she serves as a board member of the Uintah Literacy Commission and as director of the Vernal Storytelling Festival, constantly looking for opportunities to connect a well-lived life to literacy.

In her professional affiliations, her service on the local and state Education Agencies demonstrates the grit needed to advocate for the teaching profession.

In her home, she shares her deep gratitude for the joy that teaching brings with her four kids, often nestling them under a tree in the Uintah Basin she calls home.

Gala Banquet Highlights

Flickr     YouTube


Valerie Gates

Valerie Gates has been a teacher at West High School for the past 13 years, teaching English to non-English speaking refugees and immigrants. She is an advocate, taxi driver, social worker, protector, fundraiser, facilitator, mentor and confidant for the refugees and immigrants who make up her classes.

Valerie was raised in Canada, learning both English and French. An interest in language brought her to study at Penn State, where she earned a Masters in Bilingual Educator. Twenty years ago she settled in Salt Lake City with her husband, Rick.


Melody Apezteguia

Ms. Apezteguia has been teaching for over 20 years, 6 of those years at American Fork High School in Alpine School District. Melody did not set out to become a teacher, she started with studies in business and quickly decided it was the wrong career for her. As she was thinking of degrees, she remembered many of the positives in her life to that point. She started helping others with mathematics in middle school. It was rewarding to see the "light" of understanding come on when she helped someone understand a difficult concept. She decided this was a career she would enjoy and make a difference in the lives of children. So her teaching career began.

She believes that for students to truly learn, they have to feel that the teacher cares about their success. Her students know she cares and one example comes in a thank you note from one of her students at the end of the year saying, "Thank you for caring about me and each of your students individually." Along with caring, she makes it a point to have great communication with her students and high expectations for their learning.

Her beliefs about teaching are infused in all that she does. She sums it up with this, "I love my students; just being around them makes me happy. I am excited to share the fun and joy I find in mathematics with them. I am happy, energetic, and encouraging in my teaching. My door is always open to anyone with a question. I love my profession! I found a career I not only enjoy but love, I am able to contribute to society, and I absolutely make a difference in the lives of my students."


Mohsen Ghaffari

Mr. Ghaffari has been in education for over 18 years, 15 of those years at North Star. He has a great presence not only with his students but with the entire staff and community. He says as an educator, he is responsible to his students as well as their parents and his colleagues. All of his work is based on brain research and psychology of learning. He shares his findings and information with his colleagues through collaboration meetings, school-wide bulletin boards and lesson plans. He believes if they are all educated educators, their students will benefit the most.

Mohsen was born and raised in Iran to a set of parents with a combined five years of schooling. In his home country he did not have the freedom to choose his career. When he took the entrance exam in order to be able to continue his education, his test scores and the educational system in Iran were determining his career to become an agricultural engineer. He had other dreams, so he left Iran and never looked back. He wanted to be an educator and that is just what he did.

Mohsen became Nationally Board Certified in 2010. In 2014, he won the Exemplary Teacher Award and the Highly Qualified Teacher Award in Math. In 2013 he won the Highly Qualified Teacher Award in Math, Language Arts, and Science.


Allison Riddle

Allison Riddle teaches 5th grade at Foxboro Elementary School in Davis School District. She has been in education for 25 years with four of those at Foxboro. Allison was inspired to be a teacher when she attended Bountiful High School by now Davis District Superintendent Bryan Bowles who was a teacher at the time. Allison says, "he instilled in me confidence and a real love for presenting to groups." While still at Bountiful High, she met another favorite teacher, Kim Burningham, now a State Board Member, when she took his speech and debate class. She tells of how they encouraged her to investigate a career where she could help others with her talents in presentations, and that eventually guided her toward teaching. Allison says, "I love what I do each day! Watching my students progressing and sharing their successes and challenges with their parents is deeply rewarding." In addition to teaching her 5th grade students, Allison is also a mentor to provisional teachers as well as a consultant for a small math company.

Additional Information
North Salt Lake Educator to Receive National Recognition with the 2015 California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence from The National Education Association (NEA) Foundation


Sara Hacken

Sara Hacken teaches US History and Language Arts at Lakeridge Jr. High in Alpine School District. She has been in education for 27 years and 14 of those at Lakeridge Jr. High. She has a belief that ALL children are entitled to an appropriate public education, including the right to a year's academic growth in school. This applies not just to her children or students, but ALL children. She believes that learning should be interesting, active, and relevant. She structures each unit she writes so that at some point each student will be engaged where they have strengths. A parent who had five of her children in Mrs. Hacken's class in a span of 13 years writes, "Mrs. Sara Hacken is the teacher our children will remember. She is the one we all talk about. My husband, also an educator, said recently that Mrs. Hacken understands that her role is so much more than merely disseminating information—it is treating students with respect; recognizing individual strengths and weaknesses; engaging her students in life; holding them to high standards of honesty, creativity, preparation, and loyalty; and love."


Leigh VandenAkker

Leigh VandenAkker teaches Techniques for Tough Times at East High School in the Salt Lake City School District. She has been in education for 20 Years, 3 of those years have been at East High School. Her sister provided her with the motto in which she teachers her students, "You have the strength to face and accomplish hard things." Her greatest accomplishments in teaching, she says, come when a student with no prospect for the future realizes his abilities and finds the courage and strength to overcome his challenges. To see the value of education become a priority in the life of a student is a dream come true for a teacher. In her application she describes her philosophy of teaching, "Our role as educators must reflect that we truly value each individual student for their uniqueness and sincerely believe they can be successful. Every student who walks through my door deserves to be respected and treated as my most valuable customer. It is an honor to be their teacher. As an educator, I firmly believe it is my job to motivate the desires of my students into a productive course of action that will successfully guide them into the future. I must provide an environment where my students feel safe to make a mistake, feel comfortable to question and debate, and have the desire to find success. I want my students to feel valued and find the courage to achieve not only as a student, but more important, as a conscientious member of their community."

Additional Information
2011 Utah PTA Golden Apple Award

Education for an Empowered Life

East High Teacher Leigh VandenAkker a Crucial Assistant for Leopard Football Team
Deseret News

First 2015 Huntsman Education Award Winner Surprised at Salt Lake City's East High
Salt Lake Tribune


Gay Beck

Gay Beck is a Kindergarten teacher at Highland Elementary School in the Alpine School District. She has taught for 16 years and 9 of those years were spent at Highland. Gay loves to see the faces of her students light up when they come into her room, this is what she has to say about her students: "I love it when I see a student read a sentence for the first time and they smile up at me saying, "I can read!" It is rewarding to see a small group of students working with blocks and the intricate patterns they create. It is also fun to run into a student in the community. The reward of seeing their enthusiasm as they recognize me outside of school is precious to me. When they realize that I do not live at Highland Elementary, it surprises and delights them! There is great joy in watching the progress of a five-year-old mind-from learning the abc's to reading, from counting to five, to adding and subtracting by the end of the year. I find it rewarding going to my classroom, each day, to meet the challenges of eager and diverse learners. It is gratifying that I can make the school environment enriching and one of the best parts of a student's day. It is such a reward to see children improve their behavior and to learn to self- manage. Seeing children learn to improve their work habits and take pride in a quality finished product is satisfying. I love seeing learners who find a niche they become passionate about. It is also wonderful to see students learn to appreciate each other and work together. Watching the development of young children learning appropriate social skills is truly amazing. I also feel very fortunate to have developed many meaningful relationships with students and their families. However, the biggest reward is the intrinsic value of knowing I made a difference in a child's life."

Rhonda Bromley, an administrator at the Alpine School District, and who has also had two of her 6 children in Gay's class writes, "Gay is one of the most positive and loving teachers that I have ever met. As an administrator as well as a mother, I have worked with my share of teachers. Gay is genuinely concerned about every one of her students, current as well as former. I remember an experience with my daughter when she wasn't feeling well one night. We talked about the fact that she might not be able to go to school the next morning if she wasn't feeling better. My daughter was so sad at the thoughts of missing school, but she was very worried about Mrs. Beck. When I asked her why she was worried for her teacher, she told me that if she misses school the next day, Mrs. Beck would be so sad not to have her there. As a mother, I loved hearing the confidence that my five year old had in knowing that her teacher cared for her so much."

Additional Information
Gay Beck was featured in the March/April issue of Utah Valley Magazine, Fab 50 Section: Page 58.


Mary Jane Morris

Photo: President Obama and Mary Jane Morris

Ms. Morris is a 7th and 8th grade reading teacher and the AVID site coordinator at Northwest Middle School in the Salt Lake City School District. She has been a teacher for 33 years, the last 14 at Northwest Middle, a school whose population is two-thirds Hispanic and 95 percent free and reduced-price lunch eligible.

For those of you not familiar with AVID, it is the acronym for Advancement via Individual Determination. It is a college-readiness program aimed at increasing the number of students who are college-ready upon graduation.

"Few people can measure up to Mary Jane," wrote her former principal, Rosemary Baron. "As a principal who had the fortune of working with her, I would only hope that all teachers in our public education profession had her love for teaching and learning, determination to help students succeed and desire to learn new ways of helping students in their achievement."

One of her former students, Jose Hernandez, took the time to write to Ms. Morris when he graduated from West High School in 2007. Who wouldn't want to receive a note like this? "Words could not express my gratitude," he wrote. "You have given me the strength and determination to keep on going in my education. … You gave me the key to open the door of knowledge; you gave me the spark that started the flame of education. Thank you for articulating my think, never giving up on me and, most importantly, always believing in me."


Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, (middle) with Superintendent Patti Harrington and State Board Chair Richard Sadler.

"Sharon is not only a remarkable teacher ", said the Salt Lake City District Superintendent, McKell Withers, "she is a leader, mentor, and advocate for others. She is a dedicated and thoughtful public school educator that will work hard to assist all students and to advocate for public schools in all settings."

Sharon's desire to become a teacher has been nurtured and influenced by the teachings of many extraordinary people along the way and the dreams and goals she had as a child. These lessons came from her parents and teachers who always expected the best from her, her colleagues whose continual collaboration and example make her want to be a better teacher and her students who bring their unbridled enthusiasm for learning, a keen sense of community and family, a true example of what it means to love one another, and boundless energy to her classroom.

During a holiday break, a student mentioned to his mother, "Mom, do you remember when we went on a long trip last year and I missed our house?", "Yes", the mother said, "you said I was homesick. Well, I am wondering, is it possible to be schoolsick?" Initially, the mother was dismayed that her young son, who two nights previous slept fitfully in anticipation of Christmas morning, was already bored with his new toys and ready to return to school, but as the conversation continued, the young boy shared, "I'm happy because of the holidays but I really miss my classroom and I really miss Mrs. Gallagher."

Sharon speaks about an inspiring student diagnosed with a learning disability, and who struggled with reading, he came running up to her on the last day of school, and said, "Thank you for making me feel smart!" Sharon says it is the culmination of thousands of small moments, which have positively impacted a child's life that are her greatest contributions and accomplishments.

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh with President ObamaDuring a holiday break, a student mentioned to his mother, "Mom, do you remember when we went on a long trip last year and I missed our house?", "Yes", the mother said, "you said I was homesick. Well, I am wondering, is it possible to be schoolsick?" Initially, the mother was dismayed that her young son, who two nights previous slept fitfully in anticipation of Christmas morning, was already bored with his new toys and ready to return to school, but as the conversation continued, the young boy shared, "I'm happy because of the holidays but I really miss my classroom and I really miss Mrs. Gallagher."

Sharon speaks about an inspiring student diagnosed with a learning disability, and who struggled with reading, he came running up to her on the last day of school, and said, "Thank you for making me feel smart!" Sharon says it is the culmination of thousands of small moments, which have positively impacted a child's life that are her greatest contributions and accomplishments.

All the 2009 State Teachers of the Year with President and First Lady Obama at the Rose Garden where each teacher was honored individually by the President. Sharon is on the first row, 3rd from the left!

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh
2009 Utah Teacher of the Year
Second Grade Teacher
Dilworth Elementary
Salt Lake School District
Phone: (801) 481-4806 | E-mail


Melissa Bott

McPolin Elementary Teacher Wins $25,000 Utah Milken Family Foundation Educator Award.

Park City, Utah—Milken Family Foundation Executive Vice-President for Milken Educator Awards, Richard Sandler, today presented McPolin Elementary School Reading Specialist Melissa Bott with a Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award, a prize that comes with a $25,000 check. Bott was one of only 80 teachers across the country to win the award and the only Utah teacher to win this year.

The Milken Family Foundation Educator Awards have been presented annually since 1987. Bott is the 26th Utah teacher to win the award since the state joined the program in 1997. Bott, 34, of Park City, will join the other 2008 award winners next spring where she will be given her check, which can be used for anything, by foundation representatives.

Teachers are chosen for exceptional educational talent, outstanding accomplishments and long-range potential and for an engaging and inspiring presence that motivates students.

Melissa Bott
Reading Specialist
McPolin Elementary
Park City School District
Phone: (435) 645-5600 | E-mail

UTOY Contact

Katie Dewey Hill
Phone: (801) 538-7766 | E-mail

Kami Dupree
Phone: (801) 538-7923 | E-mail

Brenda McMurtrey
Executive Secretary
Phone: (801) 538-7891 | E-mail