Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, the winning early childhood facility, received a $25,000 grant in 2013. Courtesy photo.
Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, the winning early childhood facility, received a $25,000 grant in 2013. Courtesy photo.
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Since 2002, being a public school educator in Texas has carried a unique premium for the best in class. Each year, H-E-B solicits nominations and sends out judges to select teachers, principals, school, districts and now school boards that exemplify excellence in education.

No one answered the call to become a public school teacher because they thought some day their best work might be recognized by the state’s dominant grocery store company, but in a world where both recognition and compensation are in short supply, the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards have become a much-anticipated national model program.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, the winning early childhood facility, received a $25,000 grant in 2013. Courtesy photo.
Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, the winning early childhood facility, received a $25,000 grant in 2013. Courtesy photo.

More than $800,000 will be given away by the time the annual celebration comes to a close, which this year will happen on Saturday, May 3 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Houston at a dinner banquet that will be marked by many moving human interest stories and more than few tears of joy.

Since the program was started in 2002, I’ve attended a couple of the annual Excellence in Education Awards ceremonies here and in Austin (the event moves among Texas cities), and the joy and satisfaction evident among the educators only underscores how little positive acclaim they receive amid the constant public drumbeat that their work is never good enough.

Public school educators, particularly those who work in the large inner cities and those who work in small communities without a strong economic base, often take the hit for all the societal ills that contribute to children failing or performing poorly in school. That’s not to say we shouldn’t set high expectation for our schools, but it’s true that many problems not of the system’s own making are laid daily at the doorsteps of our public schools.

H-E-B's leadership category honors teachers with 10 to 20 years in the classroom. The two winning teachers, including 2013 recipient Charlotte Dolat, each received a $10,000 check for themselves and a $10,000 grant for their school. Courtesy photo.
H-E-B’s leadership category honors teachers with 10 to 20 years in the classroom. The two winning teachers, including 2013 recipient Charlotte Dolat, each received a $10,000 check for themselves and a $10,000 grant for their school. Courtesy photo.

At least for a season, all that is washed away as word spreads of the selection of some of the finalists. In fact, there are cash awards even for finalists. H-E-B named seven school districts, five early childhood facilities and five public school boards that have been selected as finalists for this year’s awards.

A number of categories have been added to the annual event since its inception, and this year H-E-B has announced a new award for a public school board whose leadership merits recognition.

Locally, the high-performing Alamo Heights Independent School District and East Central Independent School District are finalists for the district award. San Antonio’s two top-performing large districts, Northside and Northeast, are nominated in the best school board category. None of the Early Childhood finalists come from San Antonio.

H-E-B will distribute more than $80,000 to the 17 named finalists who will go on to compete for the statewide title and even larger cash awards. Each regional finalist in the large district, early childhood and school board categories will receive $5,000; the two finalists in the small district category will receive $2,500, according to a company press release.

To determine overall statewide winners, a panel of judges visits each district, early childhood facility and school board, tours campuses and talks with administration, staff and parents.

Winners of the H-E-B Excellence in Education grants share and emotional hug during the award ceremony last night in Austin, May 3, 2013. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.
Winners of the H-E-B Excellence in Education grants share and emotional hug during the award ceremony in Austin, May 3, 2013. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.

The winning large district will receive $100,000.The the winning small district will receive $50,000. The winning public school board (if selected) and early childhood facility will each receive $25,000.

Finalists for the individual awards come later. A total of 40 teacher and principal finalists will be announced in late February and March during a series of surprise visits to schools and classrooms across Texas.

Here is the list of finalists and more background on the awards programs announced by H-E-B on Monday:

 LARGE SCHOOL DISTRICTS 

  • Dripping Springs ISD — Dripping Springs, Texas
  • Edinburg CISD — Edinburg, Texas
  • Alamo Heights ISD — San Antonio, Texas
  • East Central ISD — San Antonio, Texas
  • Clear Creek ISD — League City, Texas

 SMALL SCHOOL DISTRICTS 

  • KIPP Houston —  Houston
  • Brownwood Independent School District — Brownwood

 EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION FACILITIES

  • Del Valle ISD Child Development Center— Del Valle, Texas
  • Mainspring Schools — Austin, Texas
  • Ridgemont Early Childhood Center — Houston, Texas
  • Language Development Center — Eagle Pass, Texas
  • ChildCareGroup Bock Early Childhood Center — Dallas, Texas

PUBLIC SCHOOL BOARDS

  • Temple ISD— Temple, Texas
  • Edinburg CISD — Edinburg, Texas
  • Aldine ISD — Houston, Texas
  • Northside ISD — San Antonio, Texas
  • North East ISD — San Antonio, Texas

 About the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards:

H-E-B launched the Excellence in Education Awards program in cooperation with the Texas Association of School Administrators in 2002 as a positive way to support public education in Texas. It has become the largest monetary program for educators in the state, spotlighting best practices and celebrating the passion and creativity of Texas educators.

H-E-B asks customers, Partners (employees) and community members to nominate teachers, principals, districts, early childhood facilities and school boards in Texas. Each nominee is sent an invitation to complete an application online and is asked about their professional experiences, educational philosophies and achievements both in and out of the classroom.

A team of judges reviews the applications, narrowing the field to semi-finalists. From that pool, five regional judging panels comprised of former winners, administrators, and university and community leaders select 40 teacher and principal finalists. Finalists and their schools receive a cash prize of $1,000 to $2,500, depending on category.

Three separate panels select up to 18 school districts, public school boards and early childhood facilities as finalists, awarding $2,500 to $5,000 in cash prizes. Site visits are conducted to determine winners.

Teacher and principal finalists are invited to Houston May 2-3 to compete on a statewide level for larger cash prizes totaling more than $400,000. A statewide panel of judges conducts a personal interview with each finalist to select winners.

Eight winners — two principals and six teachers — will be announced along with two school districts, one large and one small, a public school board (if selected) and an early childhood facility, at a celebratory dinner on May 3.

Each winning principal—one elementary school and one high school—will each receive $10,000 in cash for themselves and a $25,000 grant for their schools. The winning large school district will receive a $100,000 cash prize and the winning small school district will receive $50,000. The winning early childhood facility will receive $25,000 and a school board (if selected) will be awarded with $25,000.

The six winning teachers will include one elementary and one secondary teacher in each of three categories:

Rising Star Award — Honors exceptionally promising teachers with less than 10 years of experience. Winners will each receive a $5,000 check for themselves and a $5,000 grant for their schools.

Leadership Award — Honors teachers with 10 to 20 years in the classroom. Winners will each receive a $10,000 check for themselves and a $10,000 grant for their schools.

Lifetime Achievement Award — Salutes teachers with more than 20 years of experience. Winners will each receive $25,000 in cash for themselves and a $25,000 grant for their schools.

About H-E-B

H-E-B, with sales of more than $20 billion, operates more than 350 stores in Texas and Mexico. Known for its innovation and community service, H-E-B celebrated its 105th anniversary in 2010. Recognized for its fresh food, quality products, convenient services, and a commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainability, H-E-B strives to provide the best customer experience at everyday low prices. Based in San Antonio, H-E-B employs more than 80,000 Partners and serves millions of customers in more than 150 communities. For more information, visit www.heb.com.

Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.