Graebner Elementary School teacher Gerardo Villegas Juarez wins $5,000 for himself and $5,000 for his school. Credit: Courtesy / Zoom

One of Texas’ biggest award ceremonies for educators went virtual Tuesday night, complete with special appearances from actors Matthew McConaughey and Eva Longoria, and former San Antonio Spurs player Matt Bonner. Despite a few technical difficulties, eight educators were elated upon learning they won H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards.

Graebner Elementary School teacher Gerardo Villegas Juarez was the only San Antonio educator to win one of the individual prizes. After being told he would win $5,000 for himself and $5,000 for his school in the San Antonio Independent School District, Juarez said he didn’t have a speech prepared. The fifth grade teacher won in the Rising Star category, designated for teachers who have taught 10 years or fewer in the classroom.

“When I was thinking about what were my chances of being chosen for something like this, it didn’t really seem like my chances were any more special,” Juarez said. “I’ve only been teaching for four years and I am already sold on this whole system and the importance of what this is.”

Boerne Independent School District was named the best small school district, winning a $50,000 prize. After being told his district was named best in the state, Superintendent Thomas Price said he was amazed at the work of his staff in recent months.

“They’ve pulled together, they made sure, working with our community, working with our school board, that our students are safe but education is continuing, and that’s what we expect here in Boerne,” Price said.

The H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards were founded in 2002 and honor outstanding educators and schools. More than 1,500 individuals applied for the awards, HEB officials said Tuesday night.

Eight educators from the San Antonio area were nominated, including Juarez and:

  • Priscilla Prather from Folks Middle School in Northside ISD
  • Carl Dickerson from Sky Harbour Elementary in Southwest ISD
  • B. Patrice Bartlett from Alamo Heights High School in Alamo Heights ISD
  • Raquel Cataldo from Helotes Elementary in Northside ISD
  • Dottie Griffith from Harris Middle School in North East ISD
  • De’Ann Upright from McAndrew Elementary in Northside ISD
  • Jerry Woods from Clark High School in Northside ISD

Last year, two San Antonio teachers, Andrea Greimel from San Antonio ISD and Jodi Ramos from Northside ISD, won and received $25,000 individual prizes and $25,000 grants for their campuses.

H-E-B officials also announced Dallas ISD won the best large school district prize, and the board of Mission Consolidated Independent School District was named the state’s best school board.

With the awards announced online this year because of the new coronavirus, 2020 finalists will be invited to attend and be recognized at the 2021 ceremony.

This year’s ceremony took place during National Teacher Appreciation Week, and Teachers Can, a new initiative designed to recognize the contributions of educators, planned a slate of events to celebrate. All the events included can be found here.

Outside of the statewide events, local teacher appreciation celebrations took place to recognize the work of San Antonio teachers, with restaurants bestowing free meals on teachers at Boone Elementary and school staff at Will Rogers Academy arranging a local parade.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.