More than $500,000 will be awarded to select Texas school districts, campuses, administrators and teachers, and early childhood education providers through H-E-B‘s annual Excellence in Education Awards.

And now, the finalists know who they are for the 2013 edition of the state’s most unique public education awards. (H-E-B is a sponsor of the Rivard Report.)

This year, Southwest Independent School District (SWISD) is a finalist for a $100,000 award, and the Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children is in the running for $25,000. The nominations come with $5,000 cash grants.

Since the award program’s inception in 2002, the San Antonio-based grocery chain and its partner, the Texas Association of School Administrators, has awarded nearly $6 million to various exemplary educational institutions and individuals in education.


Nominations were made over the past several months by H-E-B employees, customers and community members. A panel of judges then selected the finalists from written applications. The category judges, all professional educators, will announce the winners at a May 3 awards dinner. Former superintendents, educational board members, professors and institutional leaders will be looking at schools for overall efficiencies and special programs that help students succeed and continue on to higher education.

Four other finalists are in the large-district category with the Southwest ISD.(see list of finalists below).

“Judges are looking at the district(s) as a whole,” said  Jill Reynolds, H-E-B public affairs manager. “They look at what they’re doing to keep kids in school, raise test scores and make them college-ready. Basically, what are the districts doing that positively impacts all of the kids in that district?”


“Southwest (ISD) had an outstanding application,” said Nancy Oelklaus, a veteran educator who has been a large-district category judge since the beginning of the award program. “There’s lots of evidence of really outstanding leadership, meaningful community involvement, (and) we see evidence that the district is looking very carefully at its programs and the professional level that it provides for its teachers. They’re really spending some time on basing their academic programs on what will be good and lasting for their students.”

Oelklaus and other panelists will be taking on-site tours and attending informational meetings at Southwest ISD through the end of February to see what specific programs and policies are working before moving on to other large-district finalists.

“Right now we’re just going from what we see on the pages (of the applications),” she said, “The next step is actually going there.”

Director of Development Connie Munn at the Sunshine Cottage, one of five finalists for the early childhood provider award, said the school is honored and excited to be selected. Sunshine Cottage provides Pre-K to fifth-grade education for students with hearing impairments, as well as students with typical/normal hearing. The school also has an early intervention, off-campus program that works with babies and toddlers born with hearing impairments.

Watch a mini-biography about the school, “Sunshine Legacy,” here:

YouTube video

“We’re a ‘listening and spoken-language’ school,” Munn said, “We provide a very unique educational environment, very hands-on, small class sizes … We basically do everything we can to make sure each child is a success, and that includes working with the parents.”

The school does not teach sign language. Instead, students with hearing impairments receive cochlear implants or a hearing-aid device. This allows students to easily transition into environments for individuals with normal hearing abilities, Munn said. “They’re able to participate in college, have technical careers and basically choose their future … When they do leave Sunshine Cottage, they have very minimal special-education needs.”

If the school does receive the generous award, Munn said, the money would go “directly for early childhood education, it would allow us to add additional enrichment activities like field trips. Another one of our priorities is finding new ways to teach mathematics – word problems can be difficult for children with hearing impairment.”

The 2013 Early Childhood Award finalists:

  • Del Valle Independent School District —  Del Valle
  • Keeble EC/PK & Head Start Center (Aldine ISD)— Houston
  • Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District — Pharr
  • Brownsville Independent School District — Brownsville
  • Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children — San Antonio

The 2013 Large-District Category Finalists:

  • Round Rock Independent School District —  Round Rock
  • McAllen Independent School District  — McAllen
  • Humble Independent School District — Humble
  • Lewisville Independent School District — Lewisville
  • Southwest Independent School District — San Antonio

2012 Award Winners:

Rising star category

This award recognizes teachers with less than 10 years of experience. The two winning teachers each received a $5,000 check for themselves and a $5,000 grant for their schools.

Elementary category
Dr. Lesley-Ann Balido-Dean
Woodridge Elementary
San Antonio

Secondary category
Michael Hardy
IDEA Frontier College Prep

Leadership category

This award honors teachers with 10 to 20 years in the classroom. The two winning teachers each received a $10,000 check for themselves and a $10,000 grant for their school.

Elementary category
Frances Gonzales-Garcia
Sam Houston Elementary
Corpus Christi

Secondary category
Emily Swoboda
Communications Arts High School
San Antonio

Lifetime Achievement category

This award salutes teachers with more than 20 years of experience. The two winning teachers each receive $25,000 in cash for themselves and a $25,000 grant for their school.

Elementary category
Elaine Leibick
Highland Park Elementary

Secondary category
Beverly Smith
Lovejoy High School

Elementary School Principal category

Dr. Barlett, the winner in this category, received $10,000 in cash for herself and a $25,000 grant for her school.

Dr. Catherine Bartlett
Hamilton Elementary

Secondary School Principal category

Guerra, the winner in this category, received $10,000 in cash for himself and a $25,000 grant for his school.

Ramiro Guerra
Edinburg North High School

Small School District category

As the winning small school district, Lytle Independent School District received a $50,000 cash prize.

Lytle ISD, Lytle
Superintendent: Michelle Carroll Smith

Large School District category

As the winning large school district, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District received a $100,000 cash prize.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Houston
Superintendent: Dr. Mark Henry

Early Childhood Award

AVANCE – San Antonio, the winning facility, received $5,000 to apply towards the enhancement of existing Kinder Readiness activities or creating new programs for the target population. They also won a $25,000 grant.

Director/Principal: Rebecca Cervantez

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...