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Spanish Fork teacher, soldier, takes seat on Utah State Board of Education

By Braley Dodson daily Herald - | Jan 27, 2017
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Maple Mountain High School teacher Scott Neilson lectures to his students about the drafting of the Constitution in his class Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, at Maple Mountain High School. On top of his busy work schedule as a teacher, Neilson is also an intelligence officer in the National Guard as well as an officiator during wrestling matches. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Maple Mountain High School teacher Scott Neilson lectures to his students about the drafting of the Constitution in his class Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, at Maple Mountain High School. On top of his busy work schedule as a teacher, Neilson is also an intelligence officer in the National Guard as well as an officiator during wrestling matches. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Maple Mountain High School teacher Scott Neilson lectures to his students about the drafting of the Constitution in his class Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, at Maple Mountain High School. On top of his busy work schedule as a teacher, Neilson is also an intelligence officer in the National Guard as well as an officiator during wrestling matches. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Maple Mountain High School teacher Scott Neilson lectures to his students about the drafting of the Constitution in his class Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, at Maple Mountain High School. On top of his busy work schedule as a teacher, Neilson is also an intelligence officer in the National Guard as well as an officiator during wrestling matches. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Maple Mountain High School teacher Scott Neilson lectures to his students about the drafting of the Constitution in his class Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, at Maple Mountain High School. On top of his busy work schedule as a teacher, Neilson is also an intelligence officer in the National Guard as well as an officiator during wrestling matches. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

Scott Neilson spent only $250 on his campaign for the Utah State Board of Education, which included hiring a student to make his website. Running against incumbent Stan Lockhart, husband of the late Becky Lockhart, the first female speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, Neilson, a teacher at Maple Mountain High School in Spanish Fork, was a relative unknown.

“Nobody expected me to win,” Neilson said. “I don’t know how many people see me up there and tell me, ‘You were the dark horse of the dark horses.'”

But Neilson, who got his name out on social media and met with teachers and parents, won. He’s spent about a month on the board and has received about 10 phone calls or emails a day from voters. His seat represents the state’s 13th District, which covers Provo, Springville, Mapleton and Spanish Fork.

His spot on the state board and role as a history and government teacher aren’t the only hats he wears. Neilson, a father of four who lives in Spanish Fork, is also an intelligence officer for the Utah National Guard and officiates wrestling.

Neilson had eyes on joining the Marines when 9/11 happened and his now-wife, who he married the next year, didn’t want him to enlist at the time. After being inspired by a professor while in college, he decided he wanted to teach government and history at the high school level.

He’s previously taught at Lehi High School in Alpine School District. A few years later, he joined the National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012.

“My experience in the Utah National Guard has done nothing but make me a better person, a better leader and a better listener,” Neilson said.

He returned to the United States and went back into the classroom.

“Education seemed to always call me back,” Neilson said. “It was where I felt I could make the most difference for good.”

He left Alpine School District to teach in Spanish Fork to be closer to home and cut down on his long commutes. While he’s in the classroom now, he hasn’t ruled out pursuing an administrative position in the future.

David Knudson, assistant principal at Maple Mountain High School, said Neilson is liked by his students.

“They enjoy the way he teaches,” Knudson said. “When I go in, they are having good discussions.”

During his campaign, Neilson voiced support for increased local control, opposition to Common Core and said he is cautious about federal funds.

“I am very sympathetic towards parents who have felt like the school system is not hearing them,” he said. “I am very, very aware of that.”

He encourages people to come into schools to see firsthand what’s happening in classrooms. He’s also anxious to start solving problems.

“I want to know what’s on people’s minds,” Neilson said. “I want to know what parents are thinking, teachers, school administrators, coaches.”

And while he tells them that one man on the state school board doesn’t make or control every decision, his students aren’t shy with expressing their opinions to him about snow days, wearing hats in school or eating lunch in the classroom.

Spanish Fork teacher, soldier, takes seat on Utah State Board of Education

By Braley Dodson daily Herald - | Jan 27, 2017
1 / 5

Maple Mountain High School teacher Scott Neilson lectures to his students about the drafting of the Constitution in his class Monday at Maple Mountain High School.

2 / 5

Maple Mountain High School teacher Scott Neilson lectures to his students about the drafting of the Constitution in his class Monday at Maple Mountain High School.

3 / 5

Maple Mountain High School teacher Scott Neilson lectures to his students about the drafting of the Constitution in his class Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, at Maple Mountain High School. On top of his busy work schedule as a teacher, Neilson is also an intelligence officer in the National Guard as well as an officiator during wrestling matches. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

4 / 5

Maple Mountain High School teacher Scott Neilson lectures to his students about the drafting of the Constitution in his class Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, at Maple Mountain High School. On top of his busy work schedule as a teacher, Neilson is also an intelligence officer in the National Guard as well as an officiator during wrestling matches. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

5 / 5

Maple Mountain High School teacher Scott Neilson lectures to his students about the drafting of the Constitution in his class Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, at Maple Mountain High School. On top of his busy work schedule as a teacher, Neilson is also an intelligence officer in the National Guard as well as an officiator during wrestling matches. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

Scott Neilson spent only $250 on his campaign for the Utah State Board of Education, which included hiring a student to make his website. Running against incumbent Stan Lockhart, husband of the late Becky Lockhart, the first female speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, Neilson, a teacher at Maple Mountain High School in Spanish Fork, was a relative unknown.

“Nobody expected me to win,” Neilson said. “I don’t know how many people see me up there and tell me, ‘You were the dark horse of the dark horses.'”

But Neilson, who got his name out on social media and met with teachers and parents, won. He’s spent about a month on the board and has received about 10 phone calls or emails a day from voters. His seat represents the state’s 13th District, which covers Provo, Springville, Mapleton and Spanish Fork.

His spot on the state board and role as a history and government teacher aren’t the only hats he wears. Neilson, a father of four who lives in Spanish Fork, is also an intelligence officer for the Utah National Guard and officiates wrestling.

Neilson had eyes on joining the Marines when 9/11 happened and his now-wife, who he married the next year, didn’t want him to enlist at the time. After being inspired by a professor while in college, he decided he wanted to teach government and history at the high school level.

He’s previously taught at Lehi High School in Alpine School District. A few years later, he joined the National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012.

“My experience in the Utah National Guard has done nothing but make me a better person, a better leader and a better listener,” Neilson said.

He returned to the United States and went back into the classroom.

“Education seemed to always call me back,” Neilson said. “It was where I felt I could make the most difference for good.”

He left Alpine School District to teach in Spanish Fork to be closer to home and cut down on his long commutes. While he’s in the classroom now, he hasn’t ruled out pursuing an administrative position in the future.

David Knudson, assistant principal at Maple Mountain High School, said Neilson is liked by his students.

“They enjoy the way he teaches,” Knudson said. “When I go in, they are having good discussions.”

During his campaign, Neilson voiced support for increased local control, opposition to Common Core and said he is cautious about federal funds.

“I am very sympathetic towards parents who have felt like the school system is not hearing them,” he said. “I am very, very aware of that.”

He encourages people to come into schools to see firsthand what’s happening in classrooms. He’s also anxious to start solving problems.

“I want to know what’s on people’s minds,” Neilson said. “I want to know what parents are thinking, teachers, school administrators, coaches.”

And while he tells them that one man on the state school board doesn’t make or control every decision, his students aren’t shy with expressing their opinions to him about snow days, wearing hats in school or eating lunch in the classroom.

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