Two decades later, bond between Park City High School educators continues to evolve
‘She’s going to take the program I started here to a whole other level than I could have ever imagined’
September 5, 2017
Charlie Matthews knew immediately that Kathleen Waller had a rare aptitude for physics. He just had no idea she'd one day replace him.
Sitting together during Waller's prep period in her classroom at Park City High School, they reminisced. It started in the 1996-97 school year, when Waller became the first Advanced Placement physics student in the school's history.
Matthews, early in his tenure as a science teacher at PCHS, didn't have enough students interested in physics for an entire AP course. Instead, he helped Waller work through a college-level physics text book while she served as his teaching assistant.
"I'd taken his regular class the year before and I loved it," she said. "I wanted so bad to take AP physics, but there wasn't a class."
Waller's passion and talent for physics was clear. With the help of Matthews' guidance, she studied the subject at the University of Utah and ultimately became a professional physicist, operating telescopes in southern Arizona.
But the course of her career changed six years ago when a physics teacher position opened at Park City High School. Waller, who wanted to combine her physics background with an interest in teaching that had developed as a part-time ski instructor, applied for the job. Matthews lobbied hard for her because he saw the need for someone who could eventually take over the AP physics program, which had since flourished following her graduation.
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"Kathleen was a very natural choice for that," he said. "The other applicants were just not up to that level at all."
Matthews' mentorship resumed when Waller joined the PCHS staff. She spent spare periods observing his class, soaking it in and learning how he commanded a classroom. Before long, she found her footing in the profession and quickly transitioned to teaching a handful of AP courses.
When Matthews took on a new role as the district's STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) coordinator two years ago, Waller was a natural fit to replace him. Nearly two decades after their friendship formed, the circle was complete and it didn't take long for her to put her own mark on the physics program. In one class last year, her students bested the highest average AP test score Matthews' classes had ever achieved.
He is quick to admit that seeing her success makes him proud.
"It's so neat, knowing Kathleen from the time she was a young teenager to see her now, fully evolved into a wonderful teacher," he said. "She's going to take the program I started here to a whole other level than I could have ever imagined. And that's an honor."
For her part, Waller simply hopes to live up to Matthews' example. She wants to make a lasting impression on the students who come through her classroom door each day.
"I see myself doing this for the rest of my life," she said. "And I love having that daily reward, every single class period, when you see a student or multiple students that are getting it. The joy you can see on their faces is so rewarding."