Humboldt Education Foundation Selects K-6 and 7-12 Teachers of the Year: Vikki Prunotto and Carson Burchill Honored

Humboldt Education Foundation’s K-6 Teacher of the Year was feted Thursday, April 18, by a student who declared her beloved sixth-grade Humboldt Elementary science teacher is a quirky, compassionate who loves her students and is able to “put stuff in her brain she otherwise would never have known.”

“She is kind of like Mexican candy, a little weird at first, but then you begin to love it,” declared student Lillian Leopard of K-6 Teacher of the Year winner Vikki Prunotto to loud applause from 140 Humboldt Unified School District faculty, staff, students and community members who attended the eighth HEF annual Teacher of the Year banquet at the Warehouse Event Center in Prescott Valley.

The HEF K-6 and 7-12 Teacher of the Year are selected through their student essays. The foundation presented all nominees with a plaque and $100; the winners also received an additional $250 each.

Eleven teachers were nominated for the honors representing nine schools; with K-8 Liberty Traditional able to nominate for both categories and Bradshaw Mountain High School able to nominate given it is the largest school in the district.

Before she was announced as the winner, Prunotto said, “I already won.”

To have a student speak out loud how she as a teacher has made a forever impact in her life is a priceless gift, she said.

“You can’t top this right here,” she said, echoing the same when she was officially proclaimed the K-6 foundation’s 2024 Teacher of the Year recipient.

In like fashion, the selected 7-12 winner, Bradshaw Mountain Middle School life skills teacher Carson Burchill was hailed by both student Sydney Hanson and Principal Samantha Opperman for a special brand of instruction that is not rooted in formal pedagogy but in an intuitive understanding of what teens need to know to be successful humans and how to infuse them with the confidence to stretch so as to become their best selves.

Burchill is relatively new to the profession, coming to education from the construction industry. Yet, Sydney and Opperman both concurred he has always been a natural born teacher with an uncanny ability to connect with students, be they at-risk teenagers or adults.

Before he was hired as a teacher at the middle school, Opperman said she was a student in one of his firearms training classes and made a significant “impact on my (life) journey.”

“He is Mr. Positivity even when there is a full moon on a Thursday,” Opperman declared of the teacher who is raising small children on a farm and has become a “pillar” of this middle school family.

“He’s not just nice; he cares about you,” Sydney said of how he encourages students to keep up their grades and stay physically healthy.

Sydney said Burchill strengthened her as a student simply “because he believes in me.”

“He changes lives for the better,” Sydney said.

The theme of the evening was the true meaning of education: academically challenging lessons taught by teachers willing to take the time to respect, encourage and engage their students so that they could learn not just a subject but how to think, solve problems and embrace learning as a lifelong pursuit.

Students talked about teachers putting smiles on their faces, offering encouragement hugs or high fives, and a patience that enables students to make mistakes, try again and glean knowledge at their own pace.

All of the nominated teachers said this night was the “cherry on top” of a career that comes with a fair share of chaos and challenges but also affords the chance to gain priceless rewards – the praise of students who felt seen, heard and valuable for their talents, personalities and ability to progress as capable, explorers of whatever knowledge there is to be found in their classrooms and beyond.

HUSD Executive Director of Operations Brett Dahl, the event’s master of ceremonies, opened the evening with a single premise: “Teachers make the difference.” As the night went on, and student after student shared their love for their teachers, Dahl and others were teary-eyed.

“I’m laughing, I’m crying,” Dahl said. “This is just the best evening.”

Liberty Traditional Principal Danette Derickson echoed her “love” for this event because it’s a chance to hear children tell how teachers impact their ability to learn by building respectful, trusting relationships that encourage them to challenge themselves because it’s a safe space to do so.

She said this event is a “testament to the teacher we have … what a great gift.”

In her remarks, district Superintendent Christine Griffin reminded all those in the room that “teaching is a calling unlike any other.”

In her first year of teaching some two decades ago, Griffin said she found each day “brought new lessons, not just in curriculum but also in empathy, patience and understanding.”

“From the chaos of managing a classroom to the heartbreak of witnessing a student’s struggles, every moment taught me something invaluable,” said Griffin, who earned her doctorate in educational leadership while she was principal at Granville before her promotion to district administration in 2021. She is in her first year as the district’s top educational leader. “I learned that teaching goes beyond textbooks and lessons plans; it’s about nurturing the whole child, addressing their needs, and fostering a love for learning.”

She reminded the entire room of educators that what they do matters.

“As educators, we wear many hats – mentor, cheerleader, and sometimes even a shoulder to cry on,” Griffin said. “We show up daily for our students, for their dreams, their aspirations, and their future.”

“Cheers to shaping the future, one student at a time,” Griffin said as her final toast to folks she declared are this community’s “unsung heroes,” “change agents” and “hope for a brighter tomorrow.”

At the close of a night of tasty food, warm fellowship, plenty of laughs, hugs, and a few Dahl-delivered “Dad” jokes – Where did the polar bear bury his money? In the snow bank – HEF President Aimee Fleming repeated heartfelt thanks to all who contributes to the education of the community’s children.

She closed with an “author unknown” quote:

“Children learn more from who you are than what you teach.”

Reach Nanci Hutson by email at [email protected] or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2041.

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