Stonewall Flanders Elementary School Principal Traci Smith is surprised as she becomes a finalist for the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards.
Students congratulate Stonewall Flanders Elementary School Principal Traci Smith as she becomes a finalist for the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

At the end of the school day on Tuesday, staff at Stonewall Flanders Elementary alerted Principal Traci Smith there was an emergency in the cafeteria. As Smith approached the doors, she saw children seated inside.

“I literally ran, and then when I got at the entrance I saw kids in here,” Smith said. “Oh my god, my mind is reeling, [thinking] ‘What could be wrong that there is kids in there?’”

Shrieks of “Surprise!” greeted Smith as she rushed through the cafeteria doors. She quickly became emotional.

Students, staff, and H-E-B representatives greeted the principal with news that she had been selected as a finalist in the 2019 H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards.

Smith was joined by seven other San Antonio-area principal and teacher finalists who will be notified this week. On Monday, a delegation of H-E-B representatives carrying gifts of balloons, flowers, and cookies visited Advanced Learning Academy, Alamo Heights High School, and Longfellow Middle School to deliver the news. On Tuesday, the group visited Stevenson Middle School before making their way to Stonewall Flanders.

Local finalists include:

  • Principal Kathy Bieser, Advanced Learning Academy, San Antonio ISD
  • Teacher Erika Guerrero, Alamo Heights High School, Alamo Heights ISD
  • Teacher Anna Olguin, Longfellow Middle School, San Antonio ISD
  • Teacher Jodi Ramos, Stevenson Middle School, Northside ISD
  • Principal Traci Smith, Stonewall Flanders Elementary, Harlandale ISD
  • Teacher Andrea Greimel, Carvajal Early Childhood Education Center, San Antonio ISD
  • Teacher Rebekah Ozuna, Knox Early Childhood Education Center, San Antonio ISD
  • Teacher Lauren Bain, Carl Schurz Elementary, New Braunfels ISD

Relatively new to Stonewall Flanders Elementary, Smith began leading the Harlandale ISD campus of more than 700 students in the 2017-18 school year after serving as principal at SAISD’s Stewart Elementary. Smith was charged with turning around Stonewall Flanders, which was rated by the state as a failing school in 2016 and 2017.

Almost all of Stonewall Flanders’ students are economically disadvantaged and about a quarter are English-language learners.

At a board meeting in January 2018, Smith told the Harlandale board of trustees that she wanted to study student data to better meet the needs of students. In the ensuing school year, under an altered state accountability system, Stonewall Flanders scored a “met standard” grade that equates to a high C on a letter scale.

Harlandale Superintendent Rey Madrigal told the Rivard Report that Smith has been a “true mentor” and “asset” to the district in her time there.

“She has been an exceptional instructional leader to our district,” Madrigal said. “The staff here has embraced her leadership style. The community has also embraced it. A parent one time in my superintendent advisory told me she loves how Dr. Smith is always here to welcome kids to the front door.”

Judges will consider Smith and the other San Antonio-area finalists for the top prize in their respective categories, which will be announced at a May 5 awards ceremony in Austin.

Stonewall Flanders Elementary School Principal Traci Smith is surprised as she becomes a finalist for the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards.
Stonewall Flanders Elementary School Principal Traci Smith is a finalist for the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

H-E-B launched the Excellence in Education Awards program in 2002 with the Texas Association of School Administrators. Anyone in the community can nominate a teacher or principal. Once a nomination is submitted, the person nominated is invited to submit an online application.

Judges review applications and winnow the list of nominees to a smaller group of 40 finalists. Each finalist participates in interviews with a panel of judges, who determine the overall winners.

At the May ceremony, two principals and six teachers from across the state will be honored. The winning principals, one from an elementary and one from a high school, will receive $10,000 in cash as a personal prize and $25,000 for their schools.

Depending on the years a teacher has spent in the classroom, he or she could receive a prize of $5,000 to $25,000 if named the winner.

The awards also recognize outstanding school districts, early childhood education facilities, and school boards. No San Antonio-area districts, centers, or boards were among the finalists for these prizes announced in January.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.