Teacher of the Year | Truckee Hometown SEARS, Sierra Sun/North Lake Tahoe Bonanza select 10th finalist | SierraSun.com

Teacher of the Year | Truckee Hometown SEARS, Sierra Sun/North Lake Tahoe Bonanza select 10th finalist

Celebrating the final TOY nominee are (adults) from left: Rita Whitaker-Haun, Teacher of the Year finalist, Incline Elementary School; Michael Gelbman, publisher Sierra Sun/North Tahoe Bonanza; Richard Mares, site administrator, Incline Elementary School; Katrina Midgley, director of graduate admission and recruiting, Sierra Nevada College and Charlie Riley, owner, Truckee Hometown SEARS.
Courtesy Layne Saidnawey, Incline Elementary School |

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Incline Elementary School Music teacher Rita Whitaker-Haun has been selected as the 10th Teacher of the Year finalist.

Haun was recognized for her dedication to the Incline Elementary music program. Site Administrator Richard Mares commends Haun for creating a world-class music program at Incline Elementary.

“Her nomination for teacher of the year is most fitting and I am not a bit surprised that she is a finalist,” said Mares. “Her innate ability to create a learning environment that nurtures a child’s interest and love for music is what makes her special.”

“Rita Haun is an inspiring teacher,” wrote one nominator. “She is extremely passionate about her students, music and education.”

“Our performances are a perfect way to unite staff and the whole school community.”
Rita Whiteaker-Haun

On May 21 program sponsors Charlie Riley, owner of Truckee Hometown SEARS; Michael Gelbman, publisher of the Sierra Sun/North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Katrina Midgley, director of graduate admission and recruiting, Sierra Nevada College, presented Haun with a finalist award certificate and gifts from program sponsors.


“This year we have been excited to recognize teachers representing multiple schools, grades and subject areas,” said Riley. “We are pleased to spotlight a teacher who provides students with an enriching arts education and instills in them a passion for music.”

Rita Whitaker-Haun, whose parents were both teachers, knew at age 16 she wanted to be a music teacher and a cellist.

After attending Eastern Kentucky University, Haun immediately began teaching music. She taught orchestra grades third to 12th in Louisville public schools and at Kentucky Country Day School before moving to Tahoe in 1985.

Since then she has taught general music and orchestra grades preschool-12, for Washoe County Public Schools, Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District and various charter schools. She also has taught private music lessons for violin, viola and cello, and started her own business teaching music and movement to children ages birth through 5 and their families.

Haun currently teaches music to students kindergarten through fifth grade at Incline Elementary. In addition to teaching students how to sing and play various instruments, Haun organizes classroom and school wide performances, and collaborates with other teachers to address their curriculum goals using music.


“Rita should also be recognized for collaborative efforts with classroom teachers and aligning her music program with the content being taught in the classroom,” said Mares.

Haun enjoys the opportunity to tie her lessons in with academic curriculum. She combines movement, lyrics and instruments to reinforce concepts taught in subject areas.

Haun values these opportunities she has working at Incline Elementary.

“They appreciate me,” said Haun. “I am allowed to do what I am inspired to create.”

In addition to cross-curriculum lessons, Haun uses her creativity to produce classroom, grade level and school-wide performances. She has brought the school together singing to celebrate holidays, staff retirements and mastered curriculum.

“Our performances are a perfect way to unite staff and the whole school community,” said Haun. “They are a vehicle to unite the community in a fun way.”

While Haun appreciates the opportunities Incline provides her to create, the school community is in turn thankful for Haun’s creations.

“Rita gets ideas in the middle of the night of what to do with her students, then a month or two later there is a whole assembly that stemmed off of that one simple thought,” wrote one nominator.

“Outside of the music room, Ms. Haun is an active member on the leadership team and social committee,” said Mares. “She spends countless hours assisting and creating special events for staff members and school sponsored events, she is an asset to IES.”

Haun also appreciates the strong school and community leadership needed to continually secure funding for music education. With their support, Incline can continue to benefit from Haun’s passion and creativity.

The Truckee Hometown SEARS-Sierra Sun/North Lake Tahoe Bonanza Teacher of the Year award is made possible by the following sponsors: Mountain Hardware & Sports, Tahoe Truckee Brokers, Tahoe Dave’s Skis and Boards, The Office BOSS, Sierra Nevada College, McDonald’s Truckee, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows Ski Resorts. Congratulations to all nominees, the Teacher of the Year will be announced this June.

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.