May 14, 2021 - SPECIAL EDITION - 2021 Teacher of the Year Celebration
ELEMENTARY TEACHER OF THE YEAR
MARILYN BROOKS EXCELLENCE IN ELEMENTARY TEACHING AWARD WINNERS
Courtney Craven, Dooley Elementary
Dooley Elementary School – PE Teacher
Teaching PhilosophyAs Roy T. Bennett stated, “It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow and transform.” This school year has challenged me to refine my philosophy of teaching, and it can be summarized in one word – growth. It has helped me solidify my overall belief about teaching and learning in that it is all anchored in growth, not only in academics, but also in the development of social and emotional skills achieved through teaching and learning. It has challenged me to create equitable experiences for my School@Home learners in all facets of the school day from PE to Kindness Club to Student Council. I’m constantly assessing ways to support my students emotionally, as well as tying in core content with physical education activities. This and discovering ways to connect our community to our school are at the core of how I seek ways to change, grow and transform, ultimately becoming a better teacher.The coronavirus pandemic has forced me into an education experiment – to demand growth in my teaching. It has challenged me to create engaging lessons and activities for my remote students while still building a sense of community. Each week, I am excited to create and record lessons and activities for my remote learners. I have embraced the opportunity to utilize my 6-year-old son to demonstrate games, lessons and activities using household items with the consideration of what items my students may or may not have in their homes. Along with having pre-recorded lessons provided for my remote learners, I also use Zoom to live stream classes ensuring that my students feel engaged and connected to our program and to school. My growth in teaching is also evidenced by being Dooley’s Student Council and Kindness Club Sponsor. I have had to reconfigure and reinvent the entire organization and activities of these clubs due to the circumstances of this school year. It was imperative for me to still make these extracurricular opportunities available to our students. Because of that, I sought creative ways to make our students continue to feel a sense of community and belonging. This educational experiment has made me acknowledge and be proud of my own desire to be a lifelong learner.With growth in my teaching, comes growth in my students’ learning. Learning begins with a positive foundation to their social and emotional health. I want to give our children opportunities to grow and learn outside of what is learned inside a textbook. To make them challenge themselves to strive to be a better person. To build confidence that they never knew existed. I want my students to live out the saying, “The sky is your limit.” I have taught my students that it is ok to make mistakes, and nobody is perfect. It is ok to get upset sometimes, and you have a choice to decide how you are going to handle the trials and tribulations in your life. I have a motto in my gym, “Positive Vibes Only.” I want my learning environment to be a positive and uplifting one. Where students feel comfortable and accepted. I believe in creating lessons that involve cross curricular activities in my physical education class. I find creative ways to reinforce the core material while keeping true to the goal of teaching the skills and concepts of physical education.Growth in teaching and learning cannot be achieved without attention to growing and building a strong community. Our school theme this year is “Stronger Together,” and it is important to me that our community exemplifies the highest model. The love and sense of community that I once felt as a former Dooley student is something I strive to create for my colleagues, students and families. I pour my heart and soul into everything that I do for my school because I want my students to have the same great experience at Dooley that I once had. Traditions that still take place on campus such as our annual pumpkin decorating contest, Student Council elections, canned food drive, and field day are all examples of activities I organize that live up to our mission statement that our Plano ISD learning community will educate, inspire & empower every student to activate their unique potential in a dynamic world.I believe in the importance of building a sense of community and involvement on campus and feel rewarded when I see our community come together. I take pride in my lessons that I design based on students’ interests, and it in turn becomes other’s interest. As a physical education teacher, I am blessed to have the opportunity to watch my students grow and learn year-to-year and build meaningful relationships with them as well as their families. James Cash Penney once said, “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.” I strongly believe that I have been chosen to represent Dooley as our Teacher of the Year because of all the things I do beyond PE and the growth mindset that I live by. I am committed to excellence, dedicated to caring and powered by learning. I am Plano ISD Proud.
Principal's RecommendationDear Plano ISD Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:I have had the honored privilege of learning and collaborating with Coach Courtney Craven since August 2016. In getting to know the strengths of each member of my school family, Coach Craven’s top five talents of positivity, developer, harmony, consistency, and woo clearly delineate her from many. It is no surprise that through the campus nomination process she was rightfully chosen by Dooley colleagues to represent the high caliber of dedicated educators from our campus.With fifteen years of teaching experience, five of them here at Dooley, Coach Craven dedicates herself to ensure that each student rises to her high expectations and maximizes their growth not just physically, but also academically, socially and emotionally. Coach Craven serves the Dooley community beyond her role as PE teacher and specials team leader. She is also Dooley’s Student Council sponsor; Kindness Club sponsor; Giving Tree coordinator; coordinator of all the special weeks on campus such as Red Ribbon Week and College/Career/Military Awareness Week; Student Citizenship Assemblies coordinator; Field Day coordinator; and so much more! There is not one single event on campus that Coach Craven has not placed her creative mind to designing or her physical energy to making a reality. When things seem impossible, like Spring of 2020 when we embarked on remote learning for all Plano ISD students, Coach Craven was able to inspire Dooley parents to create a neighborhood Field Day. The Field Day allowed Dooley families to travel to and from various homes in the community for students to participate in obstacle courses. These field day events incorporated all the restrictions of social distancing and safety for students, which involved no hands touching equipment and mask wearing! We were able to connect through the Dooley PTA Facebook page to view the evidence of students and families enjoying a new version of Field Day. Similarly, she engineered how to conduct a virtual Student Council election. Her method was shared at the Fall Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA) Leaders R Us conference for other sponsors. Coach Craven has guided our Student Council in planning notable events equitable even for our School@Home learners. You can bet that Coach Craven can make the seemingly impossible, possible.In her gymnasium, she is more than a PE teacher. She reaches out to grade levels, requesting their Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) of the week so she can incorporate them into the physical activities where students can practice and apply their content knowledge with kinesthetic movement. She also tends to students’ social emotional needs by dedicating a corner of her gym as the “Conflict Corner” where students practice how to manage their emotions to resolve peer issues. I am so amazed at how Coach Craven finds the time, and is exhaustive of effort, to continuously learn and to advocate for our students and our profession as educators. Not only is she an integral member of Dooley’s Leadership Design Team, she is also the District’s PE cluster lead where she is able to impart her knowledge and skills to inspire, collaborate and teach other educators in our district.In addition to the tremendous amount of dedication towards Dooley students, teachers and our community, Coach Craven skillfully balances the responsibilities to care for her family, our community and herself. This includes the adept support of two young boys, especially during a Fall football season while her husband is the head coach at a high school. She is an active member of her church where she has crusaded to organize “Soles for Souls” where shoe donations are given to students in need of a new pair for school. She wakes each morning by 4 a.m. to participate in Camp Gladiator, recognizing that self-care is important, too!As part of the campus election process for Teacher of the Year, I have collected comments from Dooley colleagues that share the following:“She spends an enormous amount of time creating ways to push not only our students but also our staff to be the best we can be. Her heart of compassion and love for all those around her is admirable. She continues her education by constantly evolving and growing, and that directly helps her students. Courtney has gone above and beyond to make sure our students have a sense of community and involvement. She works tirelessly on and off the clock to improve the lives of others. She has been innovative with her lessons and integrated technology so well. In addition to all of her school responsibilities, she serves the community by providing quality shoes for students to wear during their PE classes. She continually gives back and spends a lot of extra time on things that some of us aren't even aware of. She continually reminds me that we are teaching the whole child.”All of the above comments speak truth to how Coach Craven is an inspiring educator who is able to motivate students, teachers and the community to perform their best. What also makes Coach Craven unique is that she attended Dooley for all of her years as an elementary student in Plano and exemplifies #DooleyDragonsForevermore as a legitimate credence. Dooley is so very proud to have Coach Courtney Craven represent the high quality of educators devoted to the children in our learning community. She is well-loved by parents, students and colleagues and is an integral, respected role model in our Dooley family. She is an upstanding individual and educator! It is no wonder that she is our Teacher of the Year.Sincerely,
Principal, Dooley Elementary School
Raquel Dixon, Sigler Elementary School
Sigler Elementary School – Fourth-Grade Teacher
In my 25 years of teaching, I have not faced a school year like 2020. I did not realize the challenges I would face and the growth my students and I would show when I became a remote learning teacher. I am a different teacher than I was a year ago...an improved version of the former me. I am a teacher that creates a classroom learning community, even in the most challenging times. In my classroom learning community, we value relationships, growth, perseverance, social emotional wellbeing and teamwork.
One of the most powerful components of my classroom community is relationship building. In remote learning, relationship building is challenging. To help my remote students and I feel connected, I hold meetings at the beginning and end of every day. In our morning meetings, we share about ourselves. In the end-of-day meetings, we share proud classroom moments. Both my remote students and I love the chance to share our interests and successes more personally. In fact, this year relationship building looks vastly different with home visits to drop off supplies and prizes, conversations via Go Guardian, and Google Meets into living rooms, kitchens and even cars on cross-country road trips. In these times of social distance, relationship building is essential to my learning community.
Both growth and perseverance are valued components of my classroom. Almost half of my students this year are facing the challenges of dyslexia. Because of this, I decided to share my own challenges with dyslexia with them. My own learning story started with my mom helping me persevere through the challenges of learning to read...reading together every single night when I was young. In my classroom, my learning story is entwined with my students’ learning stories. By sharing my vulnerabilities, my students feel safe to make mistakes as learners, and we become a community of learners. We face challenges like remote learning or dyslexia head on, not as weaknesses but as opportunities to prevail. In my classroom, I help students change their self-narrative from “I can’t” to “I will with practice,” no matter the learning challenges they face.
Another valued component in my learning community is social emotional wellbeing. It is incredibly challenging to learn when you feel scared, mad or sad. One way I develop social emotional wellbeing is by over-incentivizing the Six Pillars of Character, a component of my school’s self-manager program. Even though I spin the prize wheel for my remote students, they still love spinning the classroom prize wheel for their positive behavior. Now, my students use a digital “calm down area” in my remote classroom and are trained to recognize when they need to utilize that resource. This training helps empower my students to manage, maintain and advocate for social emotional wellbeing.
Lastly, one of the most important components of my classroom learning community is teamwork. I am a proud member of my classroom team, my grade-level team, my remote-learning cohort, my CTT team, and my Sigler team. These teams have been my lifeline during remote learning. For example, my remote learning cohort stayed late helping me organize student supplies for pickup. Also, my grade level team has made changes to lesson plans to support remote learners. Further, Title 1 specialists have stepped up to provide my remote class with teacher support, so that I could create an A/B schedule for my remote students. Together with my teams, we are a powerful learning community.
In conclusion, my teaching philosophy is to create a classroom learning community that stands up to the most challenging of times. In this community, we value relationships, growth, perseverance, social emotional wellbeing, and teamwork. Alone, I am a teacher. With the sum of these learning components, I am Sigler’s 2021 Teacher of the Year.
To the Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:
Raquel Dixon believes that a teacher’s foremost responsibility is to advocate fiercely for students. But for Mrs. Dixon, this belief is more than just rhetoric. It is the sum of many individual actions she takes every day to ensure that each of her student's academic, social and emotional needs are met.
Mrs. Dixon recognizes that each child enters her class with a unique set of gifts, fears and possibilities. She patiently constructs authentic relationships with each of her students built on a foundation of acceptance that establishes trust between teacher and student. By nurturing love, acceptance and trust with her students, Mrs. Dixon inspires and empowers them to overcome the many obstacles she knows they will face. Her unending supply of patience encourages them to approach her with questions and to receive answers without fear, anxiety or shame. When Sigler students reflect on their accomplishments in Plano ISD, they will remember Mrs. Dixon specifically, because she is not just accessible to them – she is approachable to them as well.
In Mrs. Dixon’s class of diverse learners, which includes ten children identified with dyslexia, students are held to a high standard of excellence. Each child is expected to perform to the best of his or her ability. Mrs. Dixon’s use of positive reinforcement and her unshakable belief in her students helps nurture their confidence in themselves. She showers her students with positivity by recognizing appropriate behavior, spinning a prize wheel, having a daily Most Valuable Pupil, and affirming students’ positive choices to the class. Mrs. Dixon helps students find their voices and advocate for themselves by modeling these desired behaviors in impromptu class meetings and by consistently celebrating student accomplishments. What seems instinctive is, in fact, carefully planned and monitored to ensure that external rewards develop internal motivation.
Even before remote learning was commonplace, Mrs. Dixon’s influence extended far beyond her classroom’s walls. For example, she brings an artistic perspective to team planning and constantly seeks innovative ways to present the curriculum, which improves learning for all fourth-grade students. Moreover, she mentors and collaborates with colleagues to build a strong community to meet the needs of Sigler students and families. Through her partnership with parents and families, she shares their joys, successes and challenges, working tirelessly to support them. Her students continue to grow and engage enthusiastically in remote learning because of her constant communication with parents and due to the after-hours time she dedicates to maintaining these vital relationships.
If Mrs. Dixon’s impact on students could be distilled into a single anecdote, it would be this one. Recently, when parents were given the opportunity to change their children’s instructional environments, one family elected to have all but one of their children return to campus for face-to-face learning. They explained, “We love Mrs. Dixon so much, we don’t want to leave her.” The family chose to keep their fourth-grade student in Mrs. Dixon’s remote classroom because they knew that the relationship she had fostered with their child was too valuable to interrupt. This demonstrates why it is an honor to recommend Raquel Dixon for Plano ISD Teacher of the Year.
Principal, Sigler Elementary School
Laura Morales, Barron Elementary School
Barron Elementary School – Bilingual Teacher
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" – Nelson MandelaThis quote resonates with my beliefs about teaching, especially during these past years, months, days. During summer break, before the school year started, I had lots of questions and concerns in mind, but the one that kept me thinking the most was: “how am I going to keep my students and community safe during this challenging school year?” I have to admit that at first it was a challenging question to answer, but everything about this school year was predicted to be challenging. Well, the answer was pretty simple: “Laura, just keep being the passionate, fun, caring and supportive person you have been for your kids and community.” I believe that as an educator I have the responsibility to provide the tools needed for individuals to gain the personal beliefs that are demonstrated in my personal teaching style.I think one of the things that makes me an outstanding teacher is my passion and ability to modify my teaching style in order to adapt to the changing needs and demands of the community and my students. I believe in developing a relationship with my kids by listening and knowing their interests, concerns and experiences. By having this knowledge, I can tailor my teaching for different learning styles, interests and necessities. Another important integrative part of building that relationship and knowledge of each individual is listening and supporting their caregivers. Establishing that communication is key in supporting this learning process and social emotional aspect. Once my students feel safe, they are ready to inquire, be curious about the world and take risks when something challenging shows up. I want my kids to feel loved, safe and empowered to seek opportunities to grow as independent learners in this dynamic world. I also find myself constantly reevaluating my teaching methods to ensure I am giving students my best!The most rewarding thing about teaching is learning so many amazing things from my students. They teach me about resiliency, taking risks, having fun and to have a good laugh even when times are not easy. When you allow them to ask questions and show their learning in a variety of ways, it is rewarding to see them taking control of their learning and making connections to the world around them.Just as my school’s mission and vision states, I will stay committed to keep inspiring a community of passionate and innovative learners, no matter the circumstances or challenges.
Principal's RecommendationTo the Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:Laura Morales is an exceptional educator. Plano ISD and Barron Elementary reaps the benefits of her dedication, expertise, creativity, passion, compassion, sense of humor and empathy. Her belief that every child brings a different set of skills to the table allows her to connect with each student and family she works with in her role as teacher. It is my privilege and pleasure to recommend her for Plano ISD Teacher of the Year.I have been Mrs. Morales’ principal for four (4) years, and I have watched her exude a passion for learning that infects everyone that visits her room. Her enthusiasm for this profession radiates and cannot be hidden from her students. It is this enthusiasm for learning and their growth that makes Mrs. Morales an exceptional teacher. She is a team player and works hard for all those in our building. She views each child as a scholar and searches for the one thing that will spark their inner drive to set them on their own path to success.She takes the time to establish a sense of community in her classroom. Her students have ownership of their class, their learning and the learning of their classmates. She establishes routines and expectations that set high standards, but also allows for self-direction and success.She impresses me with her desire to improve her craft as a teacher and seeks out professional learning. She will consistently bring back that learning to her classroom to improve the instructional programming for all of her students. She is one to share her learning and help those around her improve as instructional leaders in their own classrooms. Mrs. Morales is sought out by her peers for guidance and suggestions. She is a mentor to many staff in our building. She has grown into a leadership role at Barron with dignity and grace. She practices servant leadership on a daily basis. She is a quiet force of passion driven by a strong belief that every student will be successful in her classroom and in life.Mrs. Morales understands the importance of high expectations for student success and achievement, but she sets these expectations with layers of support. She empowers her students to guide their learning, and she will redirect and assist as needed. She wants each student to take the lead. She believes it will set them up for future successes. You cannot walk into her room without hearing her laughter or the laughter of others. She has created a family and her family is leading the way at Barron.Barron’s mission is to build a strong community that supports independent learners and leaders. In my opinion, Mrs. Morales demonstrates this mission daily and is an excellent candidate for Plano ISD Teacher of the Year. I am honored to be her principal and to have her, as Barron’s 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year.Sincerely,Tricia LancasterPrincipal, Barron Elementary School
Lisa Speckman, Wyatt Elementary School
Wyatt Elementary School – Third-Grade Teacher
Go back, way back, to the little girl who had big dreams and walked barefoot in the summer sun, not having a worry in the world. This little girl was determined, confident and worked hard to turn a childhood dream into a reality of becoming a teacher. Thinking back to third grade at Jackson Elementary, in Mrs. Capstick’s class, I realized that a teacher can make a lasting impact on a child’s life. In my eyes, she was one of a kind! She challenged me academically, kept me on track, but most importantly, she made sure that every student in her classroom felt loved. This impacted me tremendously as a young child and still does to this day as an adult.
Fast forward many years, and here I am teaching in Plano ISD! I am that grown up little girl with a passion for molding young minds, but more importantly, the desire to make sure every student that enters my classroom knows they are truly loved. Relationships are the key to providing pathways in which children learn and how they move forward. I cherish my classroom community. My students inspire me, motivate me, and encourage me to challenge them. Just like I lead them to reach their goals, be it academic or personal, they push me to do the same. I am truly living my best life right now, professionally and personally. After 19 years, I’m still fierce, proud and absolutely love what I do!
My goal as a teacher is to make learning contagious, engage my learners and laugh every single day. Whatever it takes, I am always ready to help children reach their differentiated academic goals! My hope is to have my students wake up each morning with an eagerness and desire to come to school every day ready for any challenge that might come their way. I want my enthusiasm and passion to radiate throughout my lessons and bring joy and smiles to all of the faces that are embracing learning at the moment. I want each individual in my classroom to know and understand that they are capable and can do anything! They know that I believe in each of them! We celebrate accomplishments, triumphs and refocus when necessary. It is important to me that as a class, we support and lift each other up when necessary. I am a teacher that jumps on my stage and performs to my heart’s desire when imparting content in my classroom. I step out of my comfort zone and allow my students to come along for the ride. Whatever it takes, I am up for it, whether it be enrichment, intervention or complex thinking. I have confidence and a desire that inspires me to share new knowledge in a meaningful way. After all, children come to school to learn, and I want that experience to be not only exceptional, but memorable. Attitude is everything and instilling this mindset in my students has allowed for student growth and success, and has allowed me to grow as a professional.
My colleagues and administrators have always encouraged me to step out of the box throughout my teaching career. I have had the opportunity to lead campus and district inservices throughout my years in Plano ISD, along with leading my team towards excellence. As a team leader, I have increased my ability to develop strong communication skills and personal relationships. Connections I have made through various social media platforms, attending conferences, and visiting other classrooms have all allowed me to grow as an educator. Seeking out professional development where I can experience collaboration of like-minded educators has improved my teaching techniques and promoted student engagement. I am always eager to share my learning with my teammates and colleagues, so we can pass on our passion to our students.
Over this past year, I have learned to slow down, to understand that life is truly about the small things, and how important it is to take care of each other. It is not a classroom that makes a teacher, but relationships above all else, that are the core of teaching, as well as what is important in life. So thank you Mrs. Capstick for being that one teacher who made a difference in my life and helped me become the teacher I am today.
To the Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:
It is with great enthusiasm that I nominate Lisa Speckman to represent Wyatt Elementary as Teacher of the Year. Lisa exemplifies what today’s elementary teacher should be in that she is passionate, innovative, holds relationships with students as the key to success and demonstrates a deep love of learning. Not only does she model and live out these important values, but she encourages her students, friends, and colleagues to share these traits as well. In my six years as her principal, I have been fueled by her contagious enthusiasm!
I remember the day Lisa practically burst into my office to share her experience after having attended “Get Your Teach On.” She was on fire with enthusiasm as she shared the dynamic training she had just returned from – turns out she talked about a half a dozen Wyatt teachers, who previously, knew nothing about “Get Your Teach On,” to go along with her! She talked and talked, then ended with the real reason for her sudden drop-in. She said, “There’s a training for administrators and you just have to go!” She added, “It’s expensive, but I’m going to make sure you go!” Since her enthusiasm for all things teaching is the norm, I didn’t think this to be unusual. I mulled over all the reasons why I couldn’t go. It was September, and it seemed we had just gotten the school year rolling! It sounded great, but I didn’t really want to be away at that time. I can’t remember how I told Lisa “No.” but within a day of doing so, I got a call from our PTA President. She said, “Lisa Speckman asked if we could help send you and Michael to the Get Your Teach On Workshop for Administrators in Austin. We can pay for your travel and hotel if you want to go!!”... What? Well, I had run out of reasons. We went, and it WAS fantastic as she had assured me it would be!
Lisa is third grade team leader. Her values and passion towards education influence the entire grade level assuring that all students experience a positive, nurturing environment. She guides her team as they strive to create equity throughout the grade level and to meet the needs of every child. Lisa’s influence has created resilience among her team which ultimately impacts all of our students. As part of the campus leadership team, she has led other campus leaders to open their minds and embrace change when it has been necessary. She digs into her work with enthusiasm and makes herself available to others who need support. Lisa is an influencer on my campus because she models positivity, confidence and her love of learning. Lisa’s passion for learning is very evident! She has a mere 109.75 hours of professional development logged for this school year!
When I told Lisa that I needed her to be a virtual teacher for third grade, she was hesitant for about one minute. During that minute, she was trying to process how she could be the same Mrs. Speckman to a new group of students who would never enter her classroom. She thought of the relationships and community she wanted to build; she thought of resistant learners of the past that had become avid readers and mathematicians, even the most resistant learners had changed while in her classroom! She was an experienced and confident educator, yet felt unsure of how she could do this! How could she work her magic through a computer screen? How would she reinvent what she had been doing successfully? She processed all of those thoughts very quickly and responded exactly how I knew she would. She said, “Ok, whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it.” A colleague captured this quality in Lisa perfectly, when she said, “Lisa opens her mind to possibilities, not obstacles. She has that can-do spirit and presence – she is always positive about what can be done. She doesn’t dwell on the negative.”
The above comment is why I am especially delighted that Lisa was chosen to represent Wyatt this year. The year has been full of emotions for all educators. Those teaching remotely are on a new frontier and face many challenges beyond their control; those teaching Face to face have large classes and constant pressure to keep everyone safe and to engage students within the constraints of COVID protocol. As a principal, I have always been proud to say to my staff, “There’s nothing I would ask you to do that I haven’t done sometime during my career.” I couldn’t say that this year. At nearly every turn, I have had to ask teachers to do things I have never had to do myself. That’s where Lisa comes in – principals need teacher leaders who believe in the mission and vision of their school and the district. We need teacher leaders, like Lisa, to be the model of positivity, and show joy in their work even when it looks different. Teacher leaders, like Lisa, echo the voice of their leadership, reminding colleagues that together we are very strong and unbeatable. That’s what Lisa does for Wyatt and why she was nominated by many teachers this year!
Lisa is heavily invested in the lives of her students, her school and the district. She passionately supports public education and embodies what it means to be COMMITTED TO EXCELLENCE, DEDICATED TO CARING, POWERED BY LEARNING and, is someone who is proud to be a member of the Plano ISD family! This makes Lisa a wonderful representative of our district and a teacher that I am honored to nominate for Plano ISD Teacher of the Year!
Principal, Wyatt Elementary School
2021 Elementary Teacher of the Year Nominees
- Sydney Young - Aldridge Elementary School
- Priya Subramanian - Andrews Elementary School
- Paige Edwards - Barksdale Elementary School
- Laura Morales - Barron Elementary School
- Karen Hallowell - Beaty Early Childhood School
- Rebecca Vanderbrook - Bethany Elementary School
- Kristin Meggers - Beverly Elementary School
- Daniela Vega - Bird Special Programs Center
- Jennifer Arbuckle - Boggess Elementary School
- Hannah Clifton - Brinker Elementary School
- Reggi Dawson - Carlisle Elementary School
- Kathryn White - Centennial Elementary School
- Jennifer Horbovetz - Christie Elementary School
- Maribel Quiroz - Daffron Elementary School
- Lauren Carpenter - Davis Elementary School
- Courtney Craven - Dooley Elementary School
- Luz Quintero - Forman Elementary School
- Doris Ratenski - Gulledge Elementary School
- Sierra Imper - Haggar Elementary School
- Jennifer Nguyen - Harrington Elementary School
- Sarah Daigrepont - Haun Elementary School
- Martha Tate - Head Start
- Adrian Watson - Hedgcoxe Elementary School
- Maria Flores - Hickey Elementary School
- Vanessa High - Hightower Elementary School
- Heather Ressler - Hughston Elementary School
- Kelly Hamilton - Hunt Elementary School
- Callie Anthony - IB World School at Huffman Elementary
- Teresa Perez-Chavez - Isaacs Early Childhood School
- Amanda Blumenberg - Jackson Elementary School
- Anitha Reddy - Mathews Elementary School
- Mindy Molina - McCall Elementary School
- Melissa Svec - Meadows Elementary School
- Indira Curtis - Memorial Elementary School
- Doris Martinez - Mendenhall Elementary School
- Kerie Padilla - Miller Elementary School
- Suzanne Judkins - Mitchell Elementary School
- Amy Olivero - Pearson Early Childhood School
- Danielle Stein - Rasor Elementary School
- Andrea Ayala - Saigling Elementary School
- Meredith Rush - Schell Elementary School
- Emily Rodriguez - Shepard Elementary School
- Raquel Dixon - Sigler Elementary School
- Aimee Estep - Skaggs Elementary School
- Melissa Haynie - Stinson Elementary School
- Linda Rozeboom - Thomas Elementary School
- Pam Owens - Weatherford Elementary School
- Connie McClure - Wells Elementary School
- Lisa Speckman - Wyatt Elementary School
SECONDARY TEACHER OF THE YEAR
MARILYN BROOKS EXCELLENCE IN SECONDARY TEACHING AWARD WINNERS
Caitlin Bailey-Garafola, Jasper High School
Jasper High School – Social Studies Teacher
I believe that the purpose of education is to help grow students into participatory members of our society who can apply the skills and knowledge they acquire in school to the rest of their lives. I believe that in order to do this, teachers must create welcoming, safe communities based on a solid foundation of relationships where students can experience failure, grief, joy and explore their interests and beliefs with support and understanding.
As a Social Studies teacher, I think my content is an important vehicle to help students understand their role in the world and to see how they can be agents of change and justice. To encourage them to see themselves in this way, I regularly have students read current event articles, tying what we are learning historically to the world around them. I also regularly open class with opportunities to ask questions or discuss feelings about things happening in the world. While not all of my students will go on to use European/world history in their careers or college education, I hope that my content and our discussions will help them make their way in the world, foster an understanding of those who come from different backgrounds, and provide a blueprint for how they, as individuals, can actively work to have a positive and productive impact on our world.
To be able to have these often difficult conversations about the world, I think it is imperative to start each year and each class by building strong relationships with students, in which they can discuss difficult topics, feel comfortable expressing a variety of emotions, and learn from failures rather than be defeated by them. In my classes, I do this a variety of ways. In my AP European history classes, we begin each Friday with gratitude journals. In these, we list three people and three things we are grateful for and one struggle we are having. Then, we share, always starting with me sharing my own journaling. This has allowed students to get to know me better and for us all to know each other better. In my Humanities classes, we start each Friday with an alignment chart, answering what seems to be silly questions about our preferences. While these things don’t seem connected to my subject, they allow students to be their genuine selves and build community, paving the way for hard historical conversations later. I also try to create a community outside of the regular classroom. For example, in non-COVID years, I host “dinner and a movie” once a month. On these evenings, students bring snacks and we stay late at school on a Friday to watch a movie that somehow relates to the historical period we are living in. These hangs have allowed students in different classes and even different school years to get to
know each other without the pressure of schoolwork that exists during the normal period. Additionally, because I didn't feel like I fit in during high school, I also try to create a space where students feel free to be their full, unique selves. I do this by modeling my own acceptance, showing them that it is ok to be passionate about weird things (Russian history! Any mention of Frankenstein! Women in art!) and then encourage them to share their own knowledge when we get to or touch on things they are passionate about. I’ve let students teach about musical movements they love, inform us about changes to computer science or astronomy, and write a year-long research paper on a topic completely of their choosing. To model learning from failure, I share my own graded essays from college, mistakes I have made along my own educational journey, while offering time to retake/redo most assignments for partial or sometimes full credit.
While all these things inside my classes help give students a sense of belonging, they do have their limits. Recently, a new concern has risen, the question: Have I been making my content, and school in general, relevant to all students? I began to be very concerned that many of our diverse student population didn’t see themselves in our school curriculum, especially in my European history class, which clearly focuses on Europeans. To combat this, I have introduced diverse viewpoints in my courses in both primary and secondary sources, as well as literature. I also created the Jasper Diversity Committee. The Committee has a three-to-four year plan to bring diverse role models to the students of Jasper. Last year, the committee’s first year, we approved lists of role models that fit both what we teach on campus (art, science, math, history, etc) and the federal recognition months (i.e. February = Black History Month). We connected each of these role models (numbering 70-100 a month) to TEKS, and created a central poster hub each month highlighting 20 or so of the role models. This year, we have expanded into a website and an Instagram (@jasperdiversity) that attempts to highlight a different role model every day. Next year and beyond, I hope to continue updating the website and Instagram, as well as having a poster on every door in the school. These posters would highlight one person whose area of expertise matched what was being taught in the classroom. By highlighting diverse role models for students, my goal is that every single student at Jasper sees their goals reflected in a person who shares a similar background with them, encouraging them to see themselves as capable learners and members of our community.
While my content is important, and understanding our place in the world on an individual and community level is central to the historical conversations we have, I don’t think students feel comfortable having those conversations without a foundation of community. I think it is central to a teachers’ work, especially my own, to create strong relationships with students and between students in the classroom. Some of this educational philosophy is selfish -- I am infinitely rewarded by the relationships I have built with students over the past 12 years. When a student reaches out with a news article or book they are reading in college, when they invite me to their wedding or college graduation or the screening of their documentary, when they tell me they’re going into teaching because of my influence, it reaffirms my choices to center relationships in the classroom.
Dear Plano ISD Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:
It is my pleasure to tell you about Caitlin Bailey-Garafola, Jasper High School Social Studies/AP Teacher. Ms. Bailey-Garafola joined the Jasper staff in August of 2009. Since that time, she has established herself as a master teacher whose impact is felt throughout our building and extends across our district. Her students are unique in that they are some of the brightest in our district. Ms. Bailey-Garafola’s ability to build relationships with them and engage them at such a high level is extraordinary. In the classroom, she has a gift for combining a rigorous curriculum and high expectations for all learners with a warmth and humor that creates an experience that students remember for a lifetime. Her students continue to reach out to her well beyond their years as Jasper. They make a connection that does not end when the final grade is entered. In this very difficult year of teaching and learning during a pandemic, Ms. Bailey-Garafola is often that one individual that serves as hope and a guiding light to students who are struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy in a challenging and uncertain time. Her students have shared with me that learning is always fun and engaging, and that their teacher goes the extra mile to ensure that students are involved in the lesson.
Outside of her classroom, Ms. Bailey-Garafola consistently participates in thoughtful dialogue with her team members to ensure that students have the best instruction possible. Her experience in curriculum and assessment writing provides a wealth of knowledge as her colleagues work together. This results in a high level of student success on AP exams, well above the national average.
While Ms. Bailey-Garafola’s academic work and successes are important, I believe it is her work related to student equity that is most powerful. Ms. Bailey-Garafola has a deep passion for creating equity within her classroom, across her campus, and throughout her community. Her work led to her being named the Plano ISD District Diversity Leadership Award winner in 2020. Through her club and organization sponsorship that helps provide a place for all students to belong and her building-wide initiative to make history relevant to students of all cultures and backgrounds, students feel safe and welcome on the Jasper High School campus.
Because of the pace and rigor of advanced classes, it is sometimes difficult for teachers to get beyond getting through the content and making sure that students are prepared for their next assessment. That is never the case in Ms. Bailey-Garafola’s classroom. As a principal, I have rarely seen a teacher that is as committed to the social and emotional needs of kids as she. Even at this level, she is constantly checking in with students, and the students know that. They know she is on their side, that she is cheering them on, and that she cares. Her heart is in all that she does for students, and that high level of commitment is what makes Caitlin Bailey-Garafola worthy of recognition as the Plano ISD 2021 Teacher of the Year.
Billie Jean Lee
Principal, Jasper High School
Amy Dehdari, Plano Senior High School
Plano Senior High School, Math Teacher & Coach
I am fairly certain having to sum up 17 years of teaching and coaching into a two-page essay is as equally challenging as teaching in the midst of a pandemic. After reading the prompt for this narrative I thought to myself, “I have no idea what makes me an outstanding teacher or what in the world is my teaching philosophy.” I know that may seem odd to hear from a “veteran” teacher but it is completely true. I have personal statements, non-negotiables and ethical standards that I hold myself to, but I feel teachers live their life “in the trenches.” Oftentimes we keep our heads down and stay focused on the closest goal ahead, all the while putting our faith in others to keep an eye on the big picture, making sure the ship is still headed in the right direction.
I believe that receiving the Plano Senior High Teacher of the Year award was not merely the result of the last year of teaching, as much as a collection of all my experiences in the past almost two decades in education. Looking back on each year separately I see that each one has tested my patience, challenged my limits and filled my heart in such a manner that I did not know possible. The years pass by, turning into decades and all of a sudden I turn around to see a beautiful, yet in some ways, extremely chaotic and messy compilation of a career.
Let me expand on my compilation of a career for a moment. My first position in education was at a middle school in Mansfield, Texas. I knew nothing about Mansfield other than the fact that a few people were willing to take a chance on an inexperienced, yet extremely eager, 23-year old whipper-snapper. Wester Middle School was the absolute best place I could have ever imagined to begin such a storied career. Over the course of the next several years, I managed to again convince a few more administrators to invest in me, thus taking me to McKinney North High School, a somewhat familiar “suburb” of my hometown of Flower Mound (a far stretch to describe it as such, but in my mind it made sense), then out east to Kilgore High School. After two years of tremendous growth in east Texas, I knew I was ready to return back home to the “big city.” Finally, 2014 was the year Plano Senior High School became home!
Now let me return to the beautiful mess that is teaching. One philosophy I stand firm in is the “big picture.” I strive to make every action, every reaction, every decision I do or do not make to be well thought out. Stepping back and looking at the “whole” instead of only the “part” is one thing at which I feel I am extremely skilled. Personally, I need to see how the pieces fit together, and it would be naive of me to think that one small interaction does not affect others in the future. What I believe makes me a unique educator is the time I put in to each and every student and athlete to learn who they are, what makes them tick, what brings them joy and what causes them stress. I can only be “outstanding” if they allow themselves to be vulnerable to me and open up in such a way that may be outside of their comfort zone.
At Plano Senior, I serve as a math teacher and team leader for the Math Models team. Math Models is an incredibly diverse group of students, with quite the range of challenges. The students I work with are often frustrated with school (and by default, math), sometimes stemming from poor emotional experiences in the past, a lack of support at home, or other various life-altering challenges that have been thrown their way. My goal is to change their perspective on how they view school and how it affects their life daily. Students commonly ask the formidable question, “how will I use [insert math topic here] in the future?” Also a strange answer from a veteran teacher, but my response is 100% pure, “school is not about learning math, it is about learning how to think and how to problem solve.” Judging by most reactions, this is not the typical teacher response, which leads them to do exactly as I wish...think! The most rewarding thing about teaching struggling students is not when the “light-bulb moment” occurs, it is when they return the next week and the next month and the next year simply to say “hi!” It is not the content they remember about my classroom, but the feelings they experienced when they entered and left my room. A child that feels supported, valued and heard will always do more than expected. I believe this wholeheartedly and I can only hope that through my unique, and often quirky, teaching style of dialogue and random storytelling that students will have no doubt in their mind about where they belong.
My other role at Plano Senior is the Head Girls Cross Country and Track coach. I consider myself to have the most honored position in leading my young ladies through the navigation of life as a teenager. Being able to teach character development through running, hard work and commitment is a wonderful metaphor to life. I know that I must lead by example, hold them accountable and provide consistent, unconditional love and support in order to help them develop into their best self. I was asked in my interview with Coach Brence and Mrs. Watkins to describe my coaching style and without hesitation I firmly replied, “an iron fist with a velvet glove.” Coaching with compassion and understanding, while holding them accountable and teaching self-sufficiency is my own personal way of expressing the love and adoration I have for every athlete, every day.
Every morning that I wake up, I want to be the best person I can be for each student that walks through my door, logs on to class or shows up to practice. Taped on my classroom computer for the past ten years or so is a quote that I try to review daily, “take your position seriously and use your influence well.” My hope is that I can do right by the students and athletes day in and day out, plain and simple. I believe the foundation for mutual success, teacher and student success, is relationship building. I must take the time to build a relationship that they can trust, or the academics do not matter. Students want to feel happy, healthy, safe and loved, and it is my chosen duty to provide such a place for them when they are in my care. I take this responsibility seriously and know they are giving me a chance to prove that I am worth their time.
To the Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:
Amy Dehdari, Plano Senior High’s nominee for Experienced Teacher of the Year, has taught on this campus since 2014. She has served as head coach for girls’ track and cross country (XC), and she has taught math and served as team leader for math models since 2015. Amy is exceptional at every endeavor she undertakes, and I recommend her proudly and without reservation.
You know someone’s special when her presence transforms the culture of the environment she’s in. Amy Dehdari is truly transformational. Amy began developing a new culture in girls’ track and XC from her first day on campus. She set up a summer running program, but she also ran with the students, or at the very least followed them on a bicycle, encouraging them along the way. She implemented strength and conditioning to help the girls improve but also to keep them safe. She also taught them to stretch themselves mentally as well as physically. Samantha Shulhan was one of her first team members, and she ran for Coach Dehdari from 2014-2018. She stated, “I was able to tap into potential I would’ve never believed I had in the past. She always encouraged me to dig down deep and set goals that were out of my comfort zone. She taught me that life was never going to be easy, but with hard work and dedication, you are able to do more than you could ever imagine.” As a result, Samantha went from an average athlete of average athleticism to being a key component of the Plano Senior High School Girls’ Track 2018 district championship team. “I had personal records in every single event I ran, helped my team win districts, and by the end, I was given the opportunity to run track for the University of Texas. I became successful because of the traits I had developed throughout years of hard work and through the guidance of Coach Dehdari. Her focuses are always placed on making improvements in your own life and your own races. This idea enables her to create amazing and humble athletes that use resiliency and dedication in order to accomplish their goals.”
Amy’s ability to transform those around her did not go unnoticed. That year she was subsequently invited to be a track and field lecturer at the Texas High School Coaches Association (THSCA) state clinic – the only female that year. THSCA is the largest coaches’ association in the state. She presented on the topic of “Developing the well-rounded 800m runner,” which she also presented at the New Mexico Track and Cross Country Coaches Association the following year.
Amy is also an ardent advocate for women athletes. Besides providing them with a top notch program of her own design, Amy makes sure they have the support of strong assistants and access to equipment and facilities they need to be successful. She’s not afraid to assert herself in a world often dominated by male coaches on behalf of her athletes. One of our coaches hired this year is here specifically to learn from Coach Dehdari. A successful college basketball player, she worked tirelessly to earn the certificates she needed to get a job here just so she could learn coaching technique from Amy Dehdari.
Make no mistake. Amy shows that same level of hard work and leadership in her academic teaching, as well. Amy teaches math models, a course often full of some of our most math-averse students. Amy actually asked to teach that course when she came here, and has stayed with it ever since. It is not uncommon for some students in math models to start the class defeated. Luckily for them, they have Amy Dehdari. Just like she does in track, she gets the students to just improve upon themselves, one step at a time. She cajoles the math out of them, and as in her coaching, she is tough but fair and exceptionally consistent. Amy is 100% dedicated to teaching and coaching, and she works relentlessly in order to make sure all of the needs of every student, athlete and fellow faculty member are met. She never loses sight of the greater good and is dedicated to contributing to it.
As a result, Amy has become a leader in the classroom. Any time a new math teacher is assigned to math models, she puts them in the class right next to hers with only a folding wall between them. Then that new teacher can learn in the best manner possible – in real time and from a master. Her natural leadership also led her to become the team leader for math models after her first year here. She has also been a contributor at the district level by writing math models curriculum for the last five years. Math Coordinator Whitney Evans says, “Amy has been collaborative, willing to share with her cross-district colleagues and open to learn and grow. She’s also very reliable and honest!”
Any responsibility Amy is given will be accomplished to the highest of standards. In fact, it occurs to me now that Amy embodies the vision of this district: she is relentless in her pursuit of excellence, driven by her caring for students and desire to make them the best version of themselves possible, and constant in pursuit of learning for herself to help her students succeed.
Amy should make us all Plano Proud. Seriously, she is the Teacher of the Year.
Principal, Plano Senior High School
Paige Johnson, Guinn Special Programs Center
Guinn Special Programs Center – Math Teacher
As an eighth-grader at Desert View Middle School, I decided that I would become a teacher. That year I had two teachers who I loved. It’s funny to say, but one was the meanest lady I had ever met; however, I learned so much from her. The other was an amazingly loving and kind teacher; unfortunately, I don’t remember learning anything in her class. At the age of fourteen, I told myself that I would be the best of these two educators. I was going to become the teacher who made her students feel loved and welcomed and fill their heads with knowledge at the same time. My eighteen years in education have been quite the journey; however, my philosophy on education has not changed very much. After 15 years in the traditional classroom, I felt called to work with at-risk students. I requested a transfer to Guinn Special Programs, where I have been teaching for three years. The experiences I have had and the students I have met have been enormous blessings in my life. It has also reminded me that the little middle school girl from years ago had the right idea.
First and foremost, students need to feel welcomed and accepted in your classroom. I know what it is like to be at a party or social gathering where I have felt entirely out of place or that nobody wanted to speak to me. I can’t imagine expecting children to learn in an environment where they feel out of place, awkward or unwanted. When my students walk in the door, I want them to know that I notice them, and that I am excited they are there. When my students are absent, I make a point to tell them how much I missed them. As a teacher at Guinn Special Programs, I benefit from small class sizes, which allows me to speak to each student daily. I can visit with them about how they feel and what is going on with their friends, family or job. If students know that they are important to you, they are much more willing to attempt the work, even in a subject they do not like.
From divorce, to loss, to abuse, to peer pressure, our students face heartaches and disappointments that are unimaginable. As educators, we have to remind ourselves that while there are many students with good home lives, there are many who simply cannot place school as their top priority. Get to know your students. Find out why they are falling asleep in class. Are they staying up too late playing video games, or are they working late to support their family? Are they not finishing their homework because they are disorganized, or because they babysit their siblings in the evening? Their reason for falling behind may not be that education isn’t a priority; it may be that education can’t be the priority. I wish all students had the privilege of making academics their most considerable concern.
Although math was not always easy for me, I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment you feel when you finally understand a problem. My goal has always been to help make math seem easy and fun for my students. If you can break the learning down into small, manageable steps, anyone can do it. If you can make learning a game or get them out of their seats, they are more likely to think your subject is fun. In my class, we do puzzles, sing songs, recite rhymes and make hand motions to remember the mathematics. Sometimes, years after having them in Algebra I, I will bump into an old student who demonstrates that they can still sing the quadratic formula.
As a young teacher, if people asked me what my students needed to know by the end of the school year, I would respond with concepts like graphing lines or solving equations. Of course, I want my students to walk out of the room with their heads filled with mathematics. Now, I know it is more critical for my students to leave my room knowing how to advocate for themselves, feel confident enough to ask questions when they don’t understand, be aware of the learning styles and study techniques that work best for them. I want them to walk out of my room with the tools to learn anything, not just the tools to do the math.
I wish we lived in a world where students did not have anything to worry about other than school. Unfortunately, that is just not the case. Our students are living in a world filled with distractions, trauma, confusion, and in current times, the stress of a pandemic. It is our responsibility as educators to let them know they are cared for, understand their circumstances, help them build confidence and foster a love for learning.
To the Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:
First and foremost, it is an honor to recommend Mrs. Paige Johnson for Plano ISD’s Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Johnson has been a teacher leader at Guinn Special Programs Center for the past few years, and she continues to amaze us with her ingenuity and passion. Although we could write volumes about Mrs. Johnson’s work ethic, character and ability to affect change – particularly when it comes to our district’s most vulnerable students, the following nomination represents a fragment of the impact she has had on our school community.
Mrs. Johnson embodies what it means to be a visionary. When she entered our campus in the fall of 2018, she impacted the school climate instantly. Mrs. Johnson does not tiptoe around areas of growth, she bulldozes them with solution-oriented initiatives and structural changes. With student outcomes and high expectations at the core of all of her decision-making, she has led a shift in the school culture to expect greatness from every student. Mrs. Johnson’s innovative nature has permeated through our school building, and it has extended beyond our doors. Mrs. Johnson is currently working with a number of Plano ISD high school campuses to improve services for students considered at-risk. When Mrs. Johnson sees a problem, she strategically and efficiently formulates a solution. Since Mrs. Johnson understands that our current education system often fails to notice students falling through the cracks, it motivates her to make positive changes within our school and beyond – even if it means that she sacrifices her personal time. As a result of her leadership, Guinn has implemented the following programs and initiatives:
- Vitals Thursday - Mrs. Johnson designed embedded weekly EOC preparation for all content areas.
- Parent Partners - Through our Expectant Parent Program, Mrs. Johnson has mentored the students and provided them with opportunities to learn about parenting, lactation and early childhood development.
- Post-Placement Home Campus Visits/Tutorials - After a former student (previously placed in the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP) reached out to Mrs. Johnson requesting assistance with his current mathematics course at Plano Senior High School, Mrs. Johnson contacted the counselors and administrators there to set up tutorials for all former students placed in the DAEP who are struggling with academics. She organizes weekly visits to Plano Senior High School to support former students academically and social-emotionally.
- Intercampus Curricular and Instructional Support - At McMillen High School, Mrs. Johnson has collaborated with administrators and the Special Education Department to facilitate curricular and instructional support for the campus’ resource Algebra and Geometry courses. In fact, she modifies and coordinates all of the lessons and activities for the classes.
- Wrap-Around Program - At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mrs. Johnson arranged a school-wide mentoring program that connects each student with a go-to teacher to assist them in navigating remote learning and the hybrid schedule.
Above all, Mrs. Johnson is passionate about making a difference in education. Her underlying love for students was apparent to me when she transferred from the comfort of her position at Renner Middle School to teach at Guinn SPC. Each student who crosses her path is exposed to a quality education and a meaningful relationship. The implications of her actions extend beyond students’ graduation and their return to their home campuses. In fact, the influence Mrs. Johnson has on students slowly and surely chips away at poverty and elevates the social capital of her students.
Mrs. Johnson personifies imagination, diligence and prescience; this combination has made her an extraordinary leader and an even better teacher. She uses the end goal to calculate each action that will produce desired results. The future Mrs. Johnson sees for students at Guinn and across the district has inspired those around her to aim high and exceed standard expectations. Needless to say, her widespread impact makes her the ideal candidate for Teacher of the Year.
Assistant Principal, Guinn Special Programs Center
Tiffany Johnstone, Solomon Adult Transition Center
Solomon Adult Transition Center – Special Education Teacher
#lifereadyadults. That hashtag has been running through my head ever since I saw it on the back of our staff shirts last year. See, I don’t work at a typical K-12 campus. I spend each and every day with young adults, helping to guide them and their families along the path of “what’s next.” Staff, students and families collaborate together to determine what #lifeready looks like for each and every unique student. Supporting our students to become #lifeready is our mission here, but when you think about it, isn’t preparing students for life outside of formal schooling, the ultimate mission of everyone who has been called to teach?
I think back to my years as an elementary teacher when I had students help me assemble our new classroom easel and bookcases as they read the instructions. I aimed to teach them reading skills in meaningful and functional ways so that they would be #lifeready to tackle their own projects someday. Later, I moved to middle school where my favorite parts of the day were when I could embed functional skills into the daily Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that had to be covered. Things like making purchases and cooking and completing campus jobs; skills that would help my students build independence and lay that foundation towards being #lifeready.
With my current students, our instruction is based directly off the needs of each student as they journey to be #lifeready and our classroom is wherever it needs to be. We develop exercise routines at the rec center and explore local parks and walking trails. We use recipes to compile a grocery list and then shop and pay for items before cooking in the mock apartment. We provide opportunities to practice self-advocacy and time to reflect on our day. We support our students as they work through managing expected and unexpected behaviors from others and we help them generalize strategies and supports to a variety of environments.
Being #lifeready means building resilience. It means learning from mistakes, asking for help and saying you’re sorry. It means developing independence. It means being able to forge and maintain relationships. It means advocating for yourself. It means being ready to live a life of purpose, whether you are in college or the workforce, volunteering or spending time with your family.
#lifeready. Those words alone may not seem like much but they are everything. As educators, those words should be our cornerstone as we design and implement daily instruction. They should be our bullhorn as we empower our students to advocate for themselves and allow them to use their voice. They should be our compass as we guide our students through defining their post-secondary goals and dreams. And they should be the goal posts as we equip our students to work towards making their dreams a reality.
From PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities) and elementary when students are first discovering formal learning, to middle school where they are exploring who they are, to high school and senior high where they are dreaming and planning for post secondary life. Shouldn’t our student’s entire educational journey be about becoming #lifeready?
To the Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:
It is with great pleasure that I nominate Tiffany Johnstone to be Plano ISDs Secondary Teacher of the Year. I have worked with Mrs. Johnstone since 2013 in both an instructional support role and now as her campus administrator.
As a special education teacher, Mrs. Johnstone has proved herself to be a strong leader at both the classroom and campus levels. Her highest priority is to meet the needs of her students and their families. Instead of seeing her students' disabilities and needs as challenges, she sees them as opportunities to grow, learn and adapt. She believes in all students’ abilities and is a strong advocate for students and their families, well beyond just those she serves. A dedicated lifelong learner, Mrs. Johnstone participates in ongoing professional learning that builds her skills to better meet students and their families’ needs. Family support is a big piece of our work here at the transition center. Mrs. Johnstone dedicates herself to ensuring families have the information and support they need to make the best possible decisions for their young adult. The lengths she is willing to go to ensure her student’s success is inspiring.
Mrs. Johnstone is also an integral part of our campus leadership team. She has taken on projects that benefit the campus as a whole such as digitizing assessment protocols while also finding time to focus on the needs of the team she leads. She acts as a mentor to many of our less experienced teachers and is always willing to spend time with them. In addition to her leadership on campus, Mrs. Johnstone has provided training at the district level and the Region 10 Life Skills Bootcamp. Her guidance is valued and sought out time after time. She takes pride in lifting people and supporting them in any way she can. The level of time and support she is willing to give has made her a well-respected member of our faculty.
In conclusion, Mrs. Johnstone is an innovative and compassionate teacher who only wants to see students succeed. She wants students to have as many options as possible once they leave the Adult Transition Center, and she keeps that goal in the forefront of everything she does. For these reasons, I feel that Mrs. Johnstone would be an outstanding representative of Plano ISD and the values our district stands for.
Director, Solomon Adult Transition Center
2021 Secondary Teacher of the Year Nominees
- Laura Simmons - Armstrong Middle School
- Bailey Ferrell - Bowman Middle School
- Ashley Shaw - Carpenter Middle School
- Kenya Forrest - Clark High School
- Justin Parker - Frankford Middle School
- Paige Johnson - Guinn Special Programs Center
- Victoria Taylor - Haggard Middle School
- Clint Guinn - Hendrick Middle School
- Caitlin Bailey-Garafola - Jasper High School
- Ashley Marshall - McMillen High School
- Barbara Butt - Murphy Middle School
- Elsa Tancredi - Otto Middle School
- Russell Young - Plano ISD Academy High School
- Giselle Devillier - Plano East Senior High School
- Amy Dehdari - Plano Senior High School
- Aaron Sands - Plano West Senior High School
- Mathew Duckworth - Renner Middle School
- Chelsea Farmer - Rice Middle School
- Hope Johnson - Robinson Middle School
- Zach Drogosch - Schimelpfenig Middle School
- Stephanie Nichols - Shepton High School
- Tiffany Johnstone - Solomon Adult Transition Center
- Ericka Lindsey - Vines High School
- Daniel Solis - Williams High School
- Kaitlyn Middleton - Wilson Middle School
THANK YOU TO OUR 2021 TEACHER OF THE YEAR SPONSORS!
Summer in a Lexus Package
Park Place Lexus Plano provided two “Summer in a Lexus” packages, including the use of luxury vehicles, for the Elementary and Secondary Teachers of the Year.
InTouch Credit Union provided dinner for four from Urban Crust for all the Teacher of the Year nominees.
- Plano ISD Education Foundation
- Plano ISD Council of PTAs
- Columbus Realty Partners, LTD.
- Geller Orthodontics
- Warner Group, Inc.
Cheers for Teachers of the Year!
Summer School Registration
Virtual Academy: Application Window Closes May 24
- The PISD Virtual Academy will provide students with a high quality education that is flexible, rigorous, and tailored to fit students’ unique needs.
- Students enrolling in the Virtual Academy are making a commitment for the full year (2021-22).
- Participation in UIL/Extracurricular activities will only be available to 11th and 12th grade students who are able to provide their own transportation to/from campus and have room in their schedule for such activities.
- The Language Proficiency Assessment Committee, ARD and/or Section 504 committees may provide a recommendation as to whether or not the Virtual Academy is the best placement for your child. Read More.
Virtual Academy Parent Informational Meeting
May 19 | Informational Parent Meeting from 6:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
- The meeting will consist of a brief presentation on the Virtual Academy as well as designated time for questions and answers.
- We will provide the meeting link on the day of the meeting.
PLEASE NOTE: The Texas Legislature has not yet passed legislation related to online learning in the 2021-22 school year. It is possible that Plano ISD may need to adjust or cancel our plans for the Virtual Academy based on guidance from the state. In the event that we cancel plans for the Virtual Academy, students will resume enrollment at their home campus.
Virtual Job Fair for Teachers & Classroom Support Staff: June 2
Plano ISD will host a virtual job fair for teachers and classroom support staff on June 2 from 2-4 p.m. All campuses will have a virtual booth where candidates can visit, connect and chat with campus administrators about current and future opportunities. Preregistration is required.
Leadership & Ambassador Program: Applications Close June 10
Plano ISD is committed to excellence, and in the spirit of this commitment, the 2021-2022 school year marks the inaugural year of the Plano ISD Leadership and Ambassador Program.
This leadership program is designed to provide participants with a comprehensive overview of Plano ISD. Ultimately program graduates will feel empowered and motivated to be active participants in the district’s mission. Participants will be provided with learning opportunities regarding the academic and operational goals of the district in order to help provide a greater understanding of internal operations at both district and campus levels. District leadership is looking forward to learning from program participants in two-way interactions. The program culminates in a recognition/graduation event in the spring. Who should apply? Potential applicants include Plano ISD community members, parents, PTA members and members of the Plano area business community, to name a few, who are interested in gaining insight into what is happening in Plano ISD. Apply and read more.
PASAR Summer Care Sign Up
If your child is attending a virtual summer school program, you have the opportunity to enroll them in PASAR’s Summer Care program.
Students can attend virtual learning in a supervised classroom during the morning hours and then attend PASAR child care after lunch in the afternoon. Full weekly tuition for PASAR is required.
A minimum of 15 virtual students is required to offer the supervised virtual learning. Otherwise, families will be notified by May 23 if the minimum is not met and care cannot be provided.
Only 150 spots are available for PASAR’s Summer Care program, which runs from June 7 through July 30, and will be held at Thomas Elementary and Christie Elementary. The program is for students in preK-fifth grade. Enroll today. If you have questions regarding summer school, visit Plano ISD’s summer school webpage.
Each student who is enrolled in PASAR’s Summer Care should bring two snacks, a sack lunch that does not require heating or refrigeration, and a labeled disposable water bottle.
Enrollment for Early Childhood Is Open Online
The enrollment process is now open online for prekindergarten through kindergarten age students. Find out more at www.pisd.edu/ecprograms.
Curbside Meals Available Each Tuesday
Curbside Meal Distribution
Curbside meals are available for pick-up each Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
The meal bundles can be picked up at any of the following locations:
- Clark High School, 523 W Spring Creek Pkwy, Plano
- Shepton High School, 5505 W Plano Pkwy, Plano
- Williams High School, 1717 17th St, Plano, TX 75074 (new pickup location off of Avenue P)
- McMillen High School, 750 N Murphy Rd, Murphy, TX 75094
- Vines High School, 1401 Highedge Dr, Plano, TX 75075
Anyone picking up meals for students, without the student present, must bring appropriate documentation in the form of a school issued ID, report card, parent portal attendance summary form, or birth certificate. Read More.
Community Flyers Online in the Materials Distribution Portal
Families can now easily learn about events, enrichment activities and opportunities offered by community organizations as well as school-affiliated organizations by visiting Plano ISD’s Online Materials Distribution Portal.
Community organizations are also invited to visit the site to post information. There is a $15 fee per post for nonprofit organizations and a $30 fee per post for for-profit organizations. Details about establishing an account to post information can be found on the website as well as guidelines
Health Screening Reminder for Families
Families should continue to monitor their children’s health. If a child is sick, please have them stay home to get better. Additionally, if any of the following scenarios apply, please also complete the COVID-19 Student Reporting Form and your school’s nurse will contact you to discuss your quarantine requirements:
- Your child or a household member is positive for COVID-19
- Your child or a household member is waiting for COVID-19 test results
- Your child is experiencing symptoms that could be COVID-19. Symptoms to watch for include coughing, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, headache, sore throat, fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, new loss of taste or smell, congestion or runny nose, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- In the last 10 days, your child has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19
All students entering a Plano ISD facility should continue to follow all current health and safety guidelines.
- Wear a face mask (prek–2nd grade students may use a district-provided face shield instead of a mask while in the classroom) whenever entering or leaving a building, in all common areas, and around others. The face mask should cover the nose and mouth at all times.
- Maintain a safe distance (at least 6 feet) from others, whenever possible.
- Continue to practice good hand hygiene by hand washing throughout the day and using hand sanitizer that is available at building entrances and in classrooms.
Thank you for your assistance in helping to keep our students healthy and safe.