The Houston Independent School District said “mahalo” (“thank you”) to the district’s top elementary and secondary teachers of the year during the sixth annual Educators of the Year celebration, which honors exceptional teachers, principals, and instructional coaches.
Margaret Jernberg, a special education teacher at Parker Elementary School, was named HISD Elementary Teacher of the Year, while Nicole Walker, an AP English teacher at Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy for Young Men, was named HISD Secondary Teacher of the Year.
Jernberg and Walker each received a $2,500 cash award, a framed certificate, a deluxe night’s stay at Hotel Icon, and other prizes. They also advanced to the state’s regional Teacher of the Year competition.
Jernberg, who has been teaching special education since 2004, attributes her success as an early childhood educator to providing her students with a safe place to explore and develop the social skills and dreams that will inspire them for the rest of their lives.
“I am called to teach children with special needs and I love it,” Jernberg said. “I get to help mold them into kind, loving, independent people, and that is a blessing. If they leave my classroom with those three traits, then they are prepared for the long road ahead of learning and life. Each child in my classroom is unique. My job is to meet them where they are and create a set of individualized experiences that will help them on their educational journey.”
Walker, who has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston and is head of the English department at Mickey Leland, has been teaching since 2013. She believes that being a successful teacher means finding joy in her role and realizing that energy is her greatest sense of power.
“As a teacher in a fast-paced environment, I’ve learned that my energy dictates the success of each class,” Walker said. “My boys feed off of and reflect my energy; a successful class requires a positive, appreciative vibration. If students feel appreciated, they will rise to the challenges you give them and strive to achieve more than they would have thought possible. I take my role as a positive influence in their daily lives seriously; I have no idea what the rest of their day is like, but I can control what their life is like in my classroom.”
More than 1,500 teachers from HISD’s 283 schools attended the sold-out event at Bayou City Event Center, sponsored by Cigna. HISD Board of Education President Wanda Adams thanked teachers for all they do for HISD students.
“The educators we are honoring tonight put their hearts and souls into helping students discover their potential, explore limitless possibilities, and realize their most ambitious dreams,” Adams said. “These educators are changing outcomes. They’re changing lives. They are an inspiration not only to their students but to all of us, and for that, we thank them.”
The district also honored the three Beginning Teachers of the Year with a $3,500 cash award. The winners are Olivia Hooper of Mandarin Immersion Magnet School, Arkadiusz Turloski of Baylor College of Medicine Academy at Ryan, and Genry Santibanez of Austin High School.
Other winners include Pugh Elementary School’s Brittany Corprew, who was presented with a $1,500 cash prize and a certificate as part of the Emily Scott Evans Award, which is given to a third-grade teacher known for encouraging students to be excited about learning and to respect peers and adults.
“As educators at HISD, you hold in your hands the power to change lives and change the trajectory of our city,” HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza said at the event. “I have worked at several school districts, and I can honestly say that the principals and teachers at HISD are some of the best I have ever met. You have my deepest gratitude for everything you do.”
Two outstanding teachers were honored with the Fan Favorite Award, which allows HISD staff, students, and alumni to vote for their favorite campus-based teacher of the year. More than 150,000 votes were submitted this year, and Jorge Gonzalez Perez from DeAnda Elementary School received this year’s Elementary Fan Favorite Award and Mallory Williams from Fleming Middle School was named Secondary Fan Favorite Teacher of the Year.
Both elementary and secondary principals of the year, which were announced in February, also were recognized at the event. Lyons Elementary School Principal Cecilia Gonzales was named HISD’s Elementary Principal of the Year, and West Briar Middle School Principal Keeley Simpson was selected as HISD’s Secondary Principal of the Year.
In honor of Ann Sledge, who dedicated more than 30 years to HISD, one campus-level and one districtwide instructional coach were recognized.
Claudia Hernandez from Crespo Elementary School was named Campus Instructional Coach of the Year, and Kendra Yarbrough was named District Instructional Coach of the Year for outstanding contributions to building instructional capacity to positively impact student achievement.