Payson educator honored as county’s Teacher of the Year

Payson High School math teacher Halli Kinnick has won recognition as the Gila County Teacher of the Year as a result of her “absolute dedication to each student,” community involvement and school leadership, said outgoing PHS Principal Anna Van Zile at a presentation before the school board. She noted that while the district has embraced a consultant’s training program designed to “capture kids’ hearts” this year — Kinnick already serves as a role model and master teacher.

“There are few on campus more positive than Ms. Kinnick,” said Van Zile. “The idea of capturing kids’ hearts was coined for her. She does it every single day with every single student. Halli realized many years ago that every student can learn.”

In announcing Kinnick’s selection, Gila County School Superintendent Linda O’Dell said “this year’s competition was very close. We streamlined the application process and were very pleased with the narrative responses of all our applicants.”

The current buzzword in education reform involves “differentiated” lessons, based on student abilities and learning styles. But trying to find a way to dovetail lesson plans for a range of student backgrounds and styles in a single classroom has proved difficult for many teachers.

But as a “master teacher” Kinnick has developed techniques to tailoring lessons to individual students. “She is able to teach the gifted, the high achievers, the average and the struggling students,” said Van Zile.

A teacher here since 1996, Kinnick has not only developed math and science curriculum at the high school, but also worked with other programs including “Character Counts!” and the culinary arts program.

Kinnick won the recognition from among teachers nominated throughout Gila County. She will go on now to compete as both Arizona Teacher of the Year and Rural Arizona Teacher of the Year, both tough, statewide matchups involving hundreds of districts.

Last year, Marlene Armstrong, who teachers an innovative engineering class at the high school, won honors as both Gila County Teacher of the Year and Rural Arizona Teacher of the Year.

Armstrong rose with the rest of the teachers and administrators in the audience on Monday to give Kinnick a standing ovation — while she collected a hug from school board president Barbara Underwood.

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