HOUSTON – Life and work as a public school teacher in Texas is not an easy calling, yet we rarely celebrate great teachers and the enormous impact they have on students and community. For 13 years now, H-E-B has been working hard to change that with its annual Excellence in Education Awards. High profile media recognition and millions of dollars in cash awards have been handed out to high-performing public school educators in Texas since 2002.
The H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards is now one of the nation’s biggest recognition programs for public educators and has become the Texas standard for showcasing outstanding teachers, administrators, schools, and districts. And this year, for the first time, a high-performing public school board was recognized.
Temple ISD was the winner of the first-ever school board award and the $25,000 cash gift.
The impact of these awards was unmistakable Saturday night as the 2014 edition of the Excellence in Education Awards elevated the state’s best and brightest educators into celebrated heroes. H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt was on hand to congratulate winners and to underscore the San Antonio grocery company’s commitment to improving public education outcomes in the state.
There among the winners receiving Butt’s congratulations was a young Warren High School history teacher Mary Lagleder, praised for her creative and innovative approaches to engaging students.
Like all the educators honored and granted cash awards Saturday night, Lagleder was deeply moved. Educators do not enter the profession expecting to receive accolades, much less cash bonuses, for their commitment and work. For at least one night, that changed. As a winner of one of the Rising Star awards, Langleder received $5,000 and an equal sum was awarded to Warren in her name.
“This is incredibly beneficial for putting a spotlight on public schools and what’s going right in public schools,” Lagleder said, accepting her award. “You often see in news reports all the terrible things that are happening within our public schools. It’s so nice to see a spotlight put on the great things happening in public education and what it is doing for our young people.”
Lagleder was just one of many award recipients on hand at Houston’s Royal Sonesta Hotel, where the dinner awards were held this year. H-E-B awarded $430,000 in cash awards and grants to Texas teachers, principals, and school districts in this year’s competition.
Click here to see all the winners.
Legendary broadcast journalist and now-retired NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw delivered the keynote address to a room full of educators, Houston officials and community leaders, and H-E-B employees.
Since stepping down from daily news anchoring duties, Brokaw, a published author and historian, has become well known for his documentation of the World War II generation and his attention to big social challenges and the people working to meet them.
“This is the calling of our generation – to improve education, especially across economic and racial lines,” Brokaw told the audience.
The ceremony honored and awarded eight Texas educators, two school districts, one early childhood agency and a public school board for excellence in education.
The awards were given to both elementary and secondary educators in four different categories: Rising Star, Leadership, Lifetime Achievement, and Principle. There also was an award for Best Small School District, Best Large School District, and Best School Board.
H-E-B organizes and funds the annual awards, but it relies on education professionals to select the winners. A panel of judges included former winners, school administrators, and university and community leaders. Each of the 58 finalists selected from the pool of nominees was interviewed in an effort to identify the region’s most innovative teachers, administrators, schools and districts. And now, school boards.
“I came in with a passion for history, and in five years my passion has expanded to getting students not only engaged in my classroom but engaged in their community, nation, state and world around them,” Lagleder said. “I want my students, Mr. Brokaw, to be the ones with the next big idea.”
The grand prize of $100,000 went to the large school district of Edinburg CISD in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the country’s most poverty-stricken regions. More than 85 percent of Edinburg’s students are “economically disadvantaged,” yet 90 percent of the district’s students are accepted for college admission. Edinburg CISD Superintendent Dr. Rene Gutierrez told the audience that the recognition and the money will make a real difference.
“I want to thank H-E-B, for this award and recognition,” Gutierrez said. “For us, $100,000 means so much more than the recognition, because we are a very poor school district and $100,000 is going to make a lot of economically disadvantaged kids be very successful.”
A number of San Antonio educators were on hand as finalists in various categories at the black-tie event. All of the finalists and the schools or districts received recognition and cash awards previously, as well as invitations to Saturday’s awards dinner, lending an air of excitement and anticipation to the evening as anxious nominees awaited announcement of the winners. All the winners received their awards and checks from Butt personally.
The awards were greatly appreciated by all recipients. Some were speechless, some made jokes, many cried, but everyone thanked their family and fellow teachers who helped them get to this place in their career.
According to Hillcrest Elementary Teacher Nicholas Solis, it was a great honor for a sometimes thankless job.
“It’s a hard job, it’s a pretty thankless job except for this,” Solis said. “And this doesn’t happen that often. We don’t go into education going, ‘I can’t wait get our yearly bonus or award.’ And when something goes wrong we get blamed, but when something goes right, well that’s your job, it’s supposed to go right. It’s a noble profession. We are creating a new future for ourselves and our kids. That’s just a fantastic thing.”
H-E-B launched the Excellence in Education Awards program in cooperation with the Texas Association of School Administrators in 2002. This year, the program has awarded more than $800,000 to both the winners of the Excellence in Education Awards and the finalists. Each finalist educator, and their school, received a cash prize of $1,000 to $2,500, depending on category. Three separate panels selected up to 18 school districts, public school boards and early childhood facilities as finalists, awarding $2,500 to $5,000 in cash prizes to each.
“I believe in education because education believed in me.” A&M Consolidated High School teacher Bart Taylor said (see top photo). “When I came to Texas in ’94 and started at Texas A&M University – um, I failed out. It’s a hard story to tell the kids. But education believed in me still, and gave me a phenomenal opportunity to become an educator and make a difference in the lives of my kids.
“With that scar over my head, It’s hard to tell the kids that ‘I want to be your hero and be the one to inspire you.’ But what I’ve told them is, ‘It’s your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude’, (crowd cheers) because look at me now.”
The full list of winners is below:
For the Rising Star Award:
Celena Miller — Cesar Chavez Elementary, Pharr, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD
Mary Lagleder — Earl Warren High School, San Antonio, Northside ISD
The Rising Star Category recognizes teachers with less than 10 years of experience. Winners received a $5,000 check for themselves and a $5,000 grant for their school.
For the Leadership Award:
Nicholas Solis — Hillcrest Elementary, Austin, Del Valle ISD
Bart Taylor — A&M Consolidated High School, College Station, College Station ISD
The Leadership Category honors teachers with 10 to 20 years in the classroom. Winners received a $10,000 check for themselves and a $10,000 grant for their school.
For the Lifetime Achievement Award:
Connie Bagley — Crockett Elementary, San Marcos, San Marcos CISD
Rosbel Peña — Alton Memorial Jr. High School, Alton, Mission CISD
The Lifetime Achievement Category salutes teachers with more than 20 years of experience. Winners received $25,000 in cash for themselves and a $25,000 grant for their school.
For the School Principal Award:
Gladys Graves — Chilton Elementary, Chilton, Chilton ISD
Dr. Jason Johnston — Maurine Cain Middle School, Rockwall, Rockwall ISD
Winning principals received $10,000 in cash for themselves and a $25,000 grant for each of their schools.
For the Best Early Childhood Program Award and $25,000
ChildCareGroup — Dallas, TX: Victoria Mannes, President
For Best School Board and $25,000
Temple ISD — Temple, TX: Steve Wright, Board President
For Best Small School District and $50,000
KIPP Houston, Houston, TX: Sehba Ali, Superintendent
For Best Large School District and $100,000
Edinburg CISD, Edinburg, TX: Rene Gutierrez, Superintendent
*Featured/top image: Leadership Secondary category winner Bart Taylor of A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, Texas reacts to winning at the HEB Excellence in Education Awards at the Grand Sonesta Hotel in Houston, Texas Saturday May 3, 2014. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.