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Distinguished Teachers of the Year selected

2020 teachers of the yearThree outstanding educators were honored last night at SAISD’s 2020 Distinguished Teachers of the Year ceremony. They are Christina Leal, special education teacher at Advanced Learning Academy (PK-3); Marie Marks, Spanish teacher at Young Women’s Leadership Academy; and Adriana Abundis, mathematics teacher at Lanier High School. These outstanding educators will be considered as nominees for a variety of outside honors throughout the next school year.

Advanced Learning Academy’s Leal has spent the past 14 years as a teacher. After graduating from Trinity University with an M.A in teaching, Leal began her teaching career at Hawthorne Academy in 2006. She dreamed of being a teacher since she was a little girl. She took joy helping her brother, who was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, with his homework.

“I always found joy when I was able to support him with understanding a new concept or saw the pride on his face when he would come home with a good grade for an assignment he worked tirelessly to complete,” she said. 

Now as a special education teacher, Leal says she is blessed to have students who work with her in her classroom and then return to their general education classroom. 

“It is my hope and belief that they carry the positive self-awareness they have in my classroom to their general education classrooms, making the entire school a more creative and productive place for learning,” she said. “As an educator, I have always treated all of my students as if they were my own children. I do the best of my ability each and every day because that is what they deserve.”

Young Women’s Leadership Academy’s Marks has been teaching for the last 20 years, graduating from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Spanish language, and then earning her Texas teaching certificate from The University of Texas at San Antonio. She was drawn to teaching at a young age, tutoring fellow students in high school, teaching swimming lessons to children and adults, and teaching religion classes at her church.

“Enthusiasm is the characteristic which best defines me as a teacher,” said Marks. “If students see an instructor who demonstrates a passion for the subject she is teaching, inevitably they will be affected by this energy and will engage themselves actively in the learning process. I strive to create an appropriate affective filter in my classroom so that all my students feel comfortable participating in class.”

Spanish is not her first language, and Marks says that she knew very early in her life that learning Spanish turned on a light inside of her.

“People who know me say that my soul is alive when speaking in Spanish and about the cultural and historical perspectives I have gained,” she said. “I have been very fortunate to be able to study and to travel and feel immense self-satisfaction in being able to share this spark with other people. I love interacting with others and helping to cultivate in them the same love of learning, cultural awareness, travel, and service that I have in my own life.”

Lanier’s Abundis has been teaching at SAISD for the past eight years. She received her B.A. from Michigan State University, and has two M.A. degrees: an M.A. in teaching, secondary mathematics from the Relay Graduate School of Education and an M.A. in bilingual and bicultural studies from The University of Texas at San Antonio. At a young age, Abundis recalled carrying a strong ambition toward schooling and education.

“Education empowered me and afforded me opportunities in my life that I knew could change the economic and intellectual destiny of my family,” she said. “I fell in love with learning at a young age, in part as it validated my worth and academic potential.”

Abundis says she wants to support youth and help them understand that education is their most critical life opportunity. She wants them to understand that learning is not simply an opportunity to grow one's intellectual capacity, but a vehicle by which to challenge stereotypes, address misguided notions, and remove biases that are unjust and misinformed. 

“The most significant contributions and accomplishments in education for me begin with the families whom I have supported, the student trajectories which I have impacted, and the school culture and curriculum which I have contributed to the field,” she said. “It is my dream and desire that all SAISD students feel powerful.”
A total of 89 teachers and librarians across the District were celebrated as Teachers of the Year for their individual schools during the ceremony held at the Alamo Convocation Center. This is the first year that librarians were considered for the Teacher of the Year acknowledgement, and eight librarians were among the night’s honorees. 

Each school’s Teacher of the Year was selected by a vote of his or her peers. All had the opportunity to submit a written application for SAISD Distinguished Teacher of the Year, and one each was selected for the elementary, middle and high school levels from a pool of outstanding candidates. 

All Teachers of the Year received a certificate, personalized glass trophy, and $100 gift certificate to the Learning Zone. The 2020 Distinguished Teachers of the Year received an additional $150 gift certificate as well as a check for $500.


Teachers of the Year for each campus

Early Childhood Education Centers
Carroll: Mallorie Sarro
Gonzales: Elizabeth Saavedra
Knox: Ellen Mc Kissick
Nelson: Heather Beagle
Tynan: Elizabeth Rendon

Elementary Schools
Arnold: Christina Vara
Barkley-Ruiz: Analisa Spicer
Baskin: Kim Rosenthal
JT Brackenridge: Norma Montalvo
Briscoe: Anna Ulate
Cameron: Ashley Brady
Carvajal: Enrique Hernandez
Collins Garden: Petra Garcia
De Zavala:  Martha Espinoza
Franklin: Leslie Romero
Gates: Angel Prado
Graebner: Elly Felson
Highland Hills: Cynthia Garcia
Highland Park: Raymond Briseno
Hillcrest: Alejandra Lopez
Hirsch: Isabel Renteria Quijano
Huppertz: Melinda Adams
Kelly: Blanca Quezada
Sarah King: Vanessa Osburn
Lamar: Megan Correia
Madison: Christina Vogel
Maverick: Priscilla Quezada
Miller: Barbara Smith
Neal: Leticia Lara
Pershing: Rikii Gipson
Schenck: Danielle Eisele Elizondo
Smith: Leticia Salcido
Storm: Julie Vallery
Washington: Fidelia Rosas
Wilson: Cristina Silva
Woodlawn Hills: Maria De La Rosa

Advanced Learning Academy (Pk-3): Christina Leal
Ball: Carmen Hurtado
Beacon Hill: Michelle Naumann
Bonham: Diana Estrada
Bowden: Robert Wilson
Cotton: Sylvia Anchondo Gonzalez
Crockett: Veronica Cuellar
Douglass: Blanca Hernandez
Fenwick: Cynthia Montalvo
Forbes: Sarah Kersh
Foster: Sarah McFarland
Green: Sara Cortez
Hawthorne: Bonnye Cavazos
Herff Academy: Julieta De Luna
Irving Dual Language: Zachary Chan
Japhet: Maria Yebra
M.L. King: Jessica Grice
Margil: Doris Blanco
Mission: Conor Callison
Ogden: Stephanie Fernandez
Riverside Park: Monica Ramirez
Will Rogers: Joy Tuxhorn
Steele Montessori: Claire Romano
Twain Dual Language: Guadalupe Villarreal
Woodlawn: Brian Derouen
YMLA: Franki Allmon
YWLA at Page Primary: Shelby Calderon

Special Campuses
Cooper Academy at Navarro: Melanie Martinez
Estrada Achievement Center: Rebecka Rendon
Satellite Campuses: Jeana Vidaurri

Middle Schools 
Davis: Tijuana Jones
Harris: Dorothy Kniker
Longfellow: Tina Duffy
Lowell: Hannah St. Pierre
Poe: Wilson Sims
Rhodes: Leah Andrews
Rogers: Andrew Campos
Tafolla: Tammy Mendez
Whittier: Margaret Pearson

High Schools
Advanced Learning Academy (4th-12th): Meghan Harrington
Brackenridge: Carlos Borrego
Burbank: Jennifer De Waelsche
Cast Med: Sarah Alecozay
Cast Tech: Dr. Donald Davis
Edison: Rita Ann King
Fox Tech: Lindsey Buff
Highlands: John Decker
Sam Houston: Diana Godines
Jefferson: Monica Rodriguez
Lanier: Adriana Abundis
St. Philip’s Early College: Jenalyn Stetz
Travis Early College: Frances Santos
Young Women’s Leadership Academy: Marie Marks


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