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Holladay Journal

The best of the best:’ Holladay teachers surprised with Excel awards

Mar 27, 2019 02:01PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Churchill Jr. High teacher Michelle Chester was surprised in front of the whole school on March 7 when she was presented with an Excel award. (Photo courtesy Brooke Porter/Granite Education Foundation)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

For 30 years, educators in Granite School District have been surprised with the annual Excel award. This year, the 10 recipients included two teachers from Holladay schools: Michelle Chester from Churchill Jr. High and Molly Dingley from Evergreen Jr. High. 

“Molly is amazing. I am super excited for her to be an award winner. She teaches our Spanish I, II and III and dual immersion classes, which account for about half of the student body,” said Evergreen principal Wes Cutler. 

The Excel awards are given by the Granite Education Foundation. They begin in the fall with a nomination process. Once an educator is nominated, they are asked to fill out an application. From there, a rubric is put in place to ensure fairness.

“This year we had about 2,500 nominations. Of those, about 500 teachers completed the application. From that, we meet as a committee, discuss all the nominees, do class visits and eventually get it down to 10 winners,” said Brent Severe, CEO of the Granite Education Foundation. 

Winning educators are given a specially commissioned statuette, recognized at a dinner and receive a $1,000 cash award. The foundation relies on the several businesses who sponsor the awards each year. “We always surprise the winners. For many educators, they are in tears. They tell us that this is the pinnacle of their teaching career,” said Severe. 

Dingley was sitting at her desk during her prep period when she was surprised. “They sent some kids to my room to distract me. Then I saw (Granite School District) Superintendent Martin Bates at my door, and he said, ‘Do you know why I am here?’ Everyone was so complimentary. I felt very honored,” said Dingley. 

Dingley said she’s happy to have been hired at Evergreen four years ago and is looking forward to furthering her career there. “I love junior high students in general — they are funny, quirky, inquisitive. You can be goofy with them, and they make you laugh!” Dingley said. 

Spanish teacher Molly Dingley of Evergreen Jr. High was emotional when she received her Excel award on March 7. (Photo courtesy Brooke Porter/Granite Education Foundation)


Cutler also called Dingley “a team player, literally. A couple years ago we needed someone with a PE endorsement. So she took the classes needed and got the endorsement. Her greatest strength is how she uses different instruction methods to engage each student,” Cutler said. 

Churchill Jr. High English 8 and Utah Studies teacher Michelle Chester was at a school assembly the morning of the surprise. “When they asked me to come to the stage, I was so shocked it took a student next to me to say, ‘Go up to the stage!’ for me to move,” Chester said. 

She was so surprised she didn’t even notice that her parents, grandparents and other family and friends were there to cheer her on until they came up on stage, too. 

Chester also loves her students. “I wake up every day excited to go to school and teach because of the amazing students that I get to teach. There isn't a day that goes by that one of my students doesn’t make me laugh or teach me something new,” Chester said. 

She got great support from her coworkers and administrators. “I have the best coworkers and administrators. Many of my coworkers expressed that they were so glad that I won the award,” said Chester. 

Churchill’s principal Josh LeRoy agreed. “Michelle does everything for our school. We’d really be hurting without her. She’s great with the students. She has high standards and she doesn’t alter those. The students respond and work hard in her class,” LeRoy said. 

Both Chester and Dingley are new teacher mentors at their schools, which means they help newly hired teachers settle into the profession. Both have several endorsements and are able to contribute to the school by teaching several essential classes. 

Chester said, “All in all, this was an amazing experience and I am so overwhelmed by the love and support I have felt from my students, coworkers and administration. I feel so blessed to be at Churchill and to have amazing students, coworkers and administrators.”

“This is a case where the best of the best rise to the top,” said Severe. “These teachers work with a challenging demographic. For them to be able to move the needle on academic performance speaks to them as an educator. The love and compassion they have for these kids really stands out.” 

Anyone from the community can nominate a Granite School District educator for the award. The process starts in October. Businesses or individuals who want to sponsor an award can reach out to the Granite Education Foundation  at or call 385-646-5437.