Bob Hope Elementary teacher Angela Pichardo is one of seven San Antonio-area finalists for the statewide H-E-B Excellence in Education awards. Credit: Photo Courtesy of H-E-B

Surprised by school district staff and the H-E-B mascot with a $1,000 check, balloons, flowers, and cookies, Angela Pichardo learned Thursday she was a finalist in the H-E-B Excellence in Education awards.

Pichardo, a STEM teacher at Bob Hope Elementary on the Southwest side, is one of seven San Antonio-area educators who will be in the running for a statewide award that comes with a cash prize and grant money for their schools. The winners in several categories from among 40 finalists is scheduled to be announced May 6.

Other finalists from the San Antonio area include Bonnie Anderson from Coronado Village Elementary in Judson Independent School District, Stephanie Ratliff from Douglass Elementary in San Antonio ISD, Denisse Hernandez from McAuliffe Middle School in Southwest ISD, Veronica Guerrero from Hirsch Elementary in SAISD, Jacob Garcia from McCollum High School in Harlandale ISD, and Noah Recker from La Vernia High in La Vernia ISD.

The H-E-B Excellence in Education program awarded finalist teachers a $1,000 personal check and $1,000 for their campus; principals received a $1,000 personal check and $2,500 for their campus.

Guerrero, who teaches kindergarten at Hirsch, said she was overwhelmed and excited to receive recognition for the work she and her fellow teachers have been doing at her Eastside campus, where 96 percent of the student body is economically disadvantaged and 65 percent are below grade level in at least one academic subject.

The day Guerrero was surprised in the classroom was a busy one – she had just spent several hours in a meeting with her special education students, and then took the rest of her students to the playground when one suffered a cut and had to go to the hospital for stitches.

Ten minutes later, Guerrero walked inside to see SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez and a crowd of people with balloons.

“Kindergarteners can get a little rambunctious,” she said. “There were 12 individuals that walked in with the award. … My kids were very excited.”

Guerrero said she doesn’t know how she will spend the $1,000, but the campus plans to spend its award buying technology that will help students become better readers.

Ratliff, the principal of Douglass Elementary School on the near Eastside, said the award came after her boss made a puzzling request, asking her to schedule an all-school STEM assembly.

“I did think it was kind of odd to do a full STEM assembly,” Ratliff said. “I kind of thought maybe something was up, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and then when I saw the balloons, I knew.”

When she asked her students what they should do with the finalist prize money, a few suggested putting more vegetables in the garden. Others suggested expanding the little libraries throughout the neighborhood surrounding Douglass.

Ratliff said she and her staff already are looking forward to finding out who will win the overall prizes.

A statewide panel of judges will interview the 40 finalists and determine eight overall winners. Two principals, one from an elementary school and the other from high school, will receive $10,000 for themselves and a $25,000 grant for their schools.

“So we kind of already have a plan, even for the $25,000,” Ratliff told the Rivard Report. “We are very positive about things, and we don’t like to think negatively.”

Six teachers will win in three different categories: the rising star award for teachers with less than a decade of experience, the leadership award for educators with between 10 and 20 years of teaching experience, and the lifetime achievement award for teachers who have spent more than two decades in the classroom.

The cash prizes for teachers range from $5,000 to $25,000, depending on the category, with the teachers’ schools receiving an equal grant.

Last year, two San Antonio teachers won the final prize: one at Schertz Elementary School and the other at Bradley Middle School in North East ISD. Part of the prize includes a grant for the winning teacher’s school.

In San Antonio, Schertz-Cibiolo-Universal City ISD and Southwest ISD also have been nominated as finalists for district-wide awards. SCUCISD is being honored in the large school district category, and SWISD for its school board. The winning large school district will receive $100,000 and the winning school board will receive up to $25,000.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.