Library Media Specialist Katie Michna (right) receives the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Deneese Jones
Katie Michna (right), library media specialist in Fort Sam Houston ISD,receives the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Deneese Jones. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Teachers from Fort Sam Houston and San Antonio independent school districts won the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Teaching, San Antonio’s top education award, Friday night.

Katie Michna, a library media specialist in Fort Sam Houston ISD, and Andrea Greimel, a bilingual prekindergarten teacher in San Antonio ISD, were selected out of 19 finalists for the award. This announcement marks the second year in a row an SAISD teacher has won the prize.

“We are accomplished educators – we have the knowledge, skills, expertise, and most importantly the experience to dictate how best to serve our students and how our education system should operate,” 2018 National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning said in a speech before the announcement. “That means as teachers, as experts, we must take our seats at the head of the table.”

Michna has worked in Fort Sam since 2007 as a pre-AP English and journalism teacher and transitioned this past year to her role as the library media specialist. Previously, she worked in Judson ISD and at schools in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. In her current role, Michna offers daily activities like Makerspace Monday, TedTalk Tuesday, Wonder Wednesday, Throwback Thursday, and Freedom to Read Friday.

When English teachers saw that students were not selecting books for reading outside of school, Michna designed a “Book Tasting” in the library to expose students to a variety of genres.

“The result was over 100 books checked out that day as students found books that piqued their particular interests,” Michna wrote in her Trinity application.

The Fort Sam librarian has also orchestrated a “Blind Date with a Book” wherein students blindly selected books to take out on a “date.” They were given minimal information  – just a genre, level of reading, and a teaser line. Students began recommending their books to others, Michna said.

Michna has a calling to “work with the children of the military” and “empower students and families to get lost in the world of books and the power of words,” said Norvella Carter, Trinity’s interim Education Department chair.

The other winner, Greimel, hails from SAISD. She was nominated for Texas Teacher of the Year last year and has been nominated for an H-E-B Excellence in Education award this year.

Andrea Greimel receives the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Teaching
Andrea Greimel reacts as her Trinity Prize for Excellence in Teaching is announced. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Since 1988, Greimel has taught bilingual prekindergarten classes in San Antonio, first working in Edgewood ISD, and then transitioning to SAISD in the early 2000s. Greimel has taught at Carvajal Early Childhood Education Center for the past decade.

In Greimel’s class, students not only learn basic skills related to classroom and home life, but they also learn about family, culture, and traditions.

Greimel believes these lessons help engage families in the learning process – by getting parents and guardians to tell stories as part of this unit, they become more invested in their students’ education, she said. The SAISD teacher makes this a priority by visiting students’ homes twice a year and inviting parents to participate in community literacy events.

“I’m very different in so many ways from all my students and yet my students and their families have accepted me over the last 30 years and I’m very thankful to them for the privilege of serving them,” Greimel said on Friday.

The Trinity Prize is San Antonio’s oldest teaching award. It launched in 1982 to recognize outstanding public school teachers. Winners receive a crystal apple, cash award, and proclamation from the City of San Antonio.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.