Eight Austin-area educators are finalists in the 2017 H-E-B Excellence in Education awards. H-E-B is doling out nearly $100,000 in awards to 40 finalists across the state. The winners, including teachers in three categories — Rising Star, for those with less than 10 years of experience; Leadership, for those with 10 to 20 years; and Lifetime Achievement, for those with 20 or more years of experience — will be announced in May.
The six teachers and two principals hail from three Central Texas school districts and one charter school, with four of them working in Round Rock schools.
They were surprised at their schools with balloons and checks — $1,000 for teachers and $2,500 for principals — as well as equal amounts for their campuses:
Jeni Bristol, principal of Hillcrest Elementary in the Del Valle district, has served as a principal for more than seven years and in her current position for more than 3 years.
“In just 3.5 years, she has been able to motivate and empower a discouraged staff, build a team that joins her in service, draw in parents and community members as active planning participants, and implement positive behavior programs for students that have completely changed and enhanced the culture of the campus,” said Superintendent Kelly Crook.
Docia Craft, a physical and health teacher at Murchison Elementary in the Pflugerville district, has taught for 24 years — 17 of those at the elementary campus.
“I am an educator because I was fortunate to have experienced the positive effects a distinguished physical education teacher can have on learners,” Craft said. “Knowing that doing what I love and loving what I do has a direct impact on the health and well-being of my students, families, staff and community continues to fuel my personal sense of accomplishment.”
Emily Jensen, a math teacher at McNeil High School in the Round Rock district, has taught for 18 years, including 11 at McNeil.
“Many students see her as a counselor more than a teacher,” said Principal Courtney Acosta. “She has worked through personal, family and school problems and serves as a safe space for our kids to get advice from an adult they trust.”
Denise Johnson, a interventionist teacher providing dyslexia services at Blackland Prairie Elementary in the Round Rock district, has taught for 20 years — 10 of those at her current campus.
“I was once your struggling reader and I know the shame and ridicule that comes along with that battle,” Johnson said. “I am so thankful for the opportunity I was given to work in interventions and help struggling students all day…I would be lost without my students. This is my life and I feel I am making a difference in someone’s life.”
Sarah Rabe, a math teacher at Pflugerville Elementary in the Pflugerville district, has been spent all five of her years as a teacher at the school.
“Growing up, schools were environments full of love, support, compassion, patient guidance and learning experience that I still think of and marvel at,” Rabe said. “My childhood was wonderful because of the community I had to rely upon. I knew a career in public service would be a meaningful and fulfilling cause. I wanted to be what my teachers and schools had been for me.”
Mark Rogers, a teacher at Meridian School, a charter in Round Rock, has taught for seven years, including six of those at Meridian.
“Mark Rogers is a consistent force of innovation on our faculty and is one of our most popular teachers due to his unswerving commitment to student learning,” said Principal Charles Ryder. “Mr. Rogers is always looking for real world applications to bring math teaching home (and)… is also seeking new hooks to interest students.”
Kari Teague, a science teacher at McNeil High School in the Round Rock district, has been and educator for 29 years, 17 of those years serving at McNeil.
“If anyone embodies the traits of a student-centered teacher, it is her,” Acosta said. “I don’t believe that ‘teaching’ is the right word for what she does in the classroom. She leads. And through her example of leading students, they become leaders.”
Kirk Wrinkle, principal of Pflugerville High School in the Pflugerville district, has been in education for 36 years, with 12 of those years spent at the high school and nine in his current position.
“Kirk has provided a very positive, student-focused environment,” said Susanna Russell, assistant superintendent of secondary schools. “He has been especially instrumental in successfully implementing the district’s vision for developing leadership capacity in others. Several of our current secondary principals and district leaders in Pflugerville ISD got their start as teachers and assistant principals under Kirk’s leadership.”