Austin’s JW Marriott Hotel was filled to the brim on Sunday with public school educators for the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards banquet. Learning was in the air. People seemed to be fully engaged in what others had to say. Scanning the room, people weren’t fiddling with their phones and the room was silent when another was speaking. Heads were nodding with agreement and hands were clapping at every audible chance.

Teachers put up with a lot; long hours, rambunctious students, upset parents, you name it – and they’re not doing it for the money. H-E-B stepped up to the plate, once again, to recognize these hardworking teachers for the 14th year in a row. H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt personally handed out $430,000 in cash awards and grants to Texas teachers Sunday evening.

This year appears to be the first year since the award ceremony’s inception that a teacher, school, or principal in the San Antonio metro area did not receive an education award.

H-E-B chairman and CEO Charles Butt stands on stage during the 2015 H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards on Sunday. Courtesy photo.
H-E-B chairman and CEO Charles Butt stands on stage during the 2015 H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards on Sunday. Courtesy photo.

The awards ceremony recognized public school teachers and school and district leaders who have gone above and beyond expectations in and beyond the classroom. Teachers were awarded money both for themselves and for their school district. In the end, teachers were awarded more than money. They were accorded the time and attention from other educators to share their commitment to quality public education.

Bellaire High School 12th grade AP economics teacher Michael Clark won the Lifetime Achievement Award. Last year his students won the National Economics Challenge, a competition held in New York where students are tested in macro, micro and international economics. Clark said he was humbled to stand on stage in a room full of quality educators.

Michael Clark, right, shakes hands with H-E-B chairman and CEO Charles Butt during the 2015 H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards on Sunday. Courtesy photo.
Michael Clark, right, shakes hands with H-E-B chairman and CEO Charles Butt during the 2015 H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards on Sunday. Courtesy photo.

“One of the things that was so amazing for me was that H-E-B made this weekend so special for everyone. Everyone felt that people finally realized how hard we sacrifice and how much we give up to be in that classroom and we do it because we love it,” he said. “I think H-E-B should be commended for having events like this because it just really shows how important education really is.”

Sir Ken Robinson, a world-renowned authority on education who is best known for his TED Talks, was the evening’s keynote speaker. He nailed it. Robinson spoke of the suffocating qualities of standardized testing and the need for more creative thinking in the classroom. He told a story about a recent interaction he had with the Dalai Lama at a peace summit in Vancouver.

“(The Dalai Lama) was asked a question, and he took a long breath, and he waited for about minute before he replied, and I thought, ‘This is going to be great,’ and he took a breath and he said, ‘I don’t know,’” Robinson said. “One of the world’s greatest teachers was perfectly happy to say ‘I don’t know.’ Nobody knows everything. Knowledge is a collective possession that we all contribute to from our own different perspectives. We know far more together than we know separately. What we know is affected by our dispositions, our talents, our opportunities, our own life experiences.”

Sir Ken Robinson speaks during the 2015 H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards on Sunday. Courtesy photo.
Sir Ken Robinson speaks during the 2015 H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards on Sunday. Courtesy photo.

Robinson’s speech captivated the audience. One could hear a fork fall on the carpeted floor of the Lone Star Ballroom as he shared anecdotes of past experiences with Paul McCartney and other iconic cultural figures.

H-E-B, a homegrown establishment, is one of the largest privately held companies in the nation. The company and Butt’s long-standing commitment to improving public education outcomes in Texas led to the  launching of the Excellence in Education Awards program in cooperation with the Texas Association of School Administrators in 2002. It is now one of the nation’s most important recognition programs for public educators.

H-E-B asked customers, employees, and community members to nominate teachers, principals, districts, early childhood facilities and school boards in Texas. Nominees filled out an application regarding their educational beliefs, which were reviewed by a team of judges who selected semi-finalists. From there, five regional judging panels unaffiliated with H-E-B selected 40 teacher and principal finalists who received cash prizes of $1,000 to $2,500. Three separate panels selected eight school districts and five early childhood facilities as finalists, awarding another $2,500 to $5,000.

Teacher and principal finalists came to Austin to be interviewed by a panel of judges to compete for the larger cash prizes totaling the $430,000. Eight winners — two principals and six teachers — were announced, along with two school districts, one large and one small, a public school board and an Early Childhood Facility, at the banquet.

The full list of winners:

Rising Star Award

Melinda Gaona Schermerhorn, Elsa England Elementary, Round Rock, Round Rock ISD

Cindy Jones, Woodrow Wilson Junior High, Dayton, Dayton ISD

The Rising Star Category recognizes teachers with less than 10 years of experience. Winners received a $5,000 check for themselves and a $5,000 grant for their school.

Leadership Award 

Erica Crowder, Windermere Primary School, Pflugerville, Pflugerville ISD

Krystal Watson, Collegiate High School, Corpus Christi, Corpus Christi ISD

The Leadership Category honors teachers with 10-20 years in the classroom. Winners receive a $10,000 check for themselves and a $10,000 grant for their school.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Norm Sands, Tabasco Elementary, La Joya, La Joya ISD

Michael Clark, Bellaire High School, Bellaire, Houston ISD

The Lifetime Achievement Category salutes teachers with more than 20 years of experience. Winners receive $25,000 in cash for themselves and a $25,000 grant for their school.

School Principal Award

Aaron Peña, Woodway Elementary, Waco, Midway ISD

Larry Berger, Pearland High School, Pearland, Pearland ISD

Winning principals receive $10,000 in cash for themselves and a $25,000 grant for each of their schools.

Early Childhood Award

Aldine ISD, Houston, TX: Dr. Rosalinda Rodriguez, Area Superintendent

The winning early childhood facility receives a $25,000 cash prize.

School Board Award

Arlington ISD, Arlington, TX: Bowie Hogg, Board President

The winning public school board receives a $25,000 cash prize.

Small School District Award

Burnet CISD, Burnet, TX: Keith McBurnett, Superintendent

The winning small school district receives a $50,000 cash prize.

Large School District Award

Humble ISD, Humble, TX: Dr. Guy Sconzo, Superintendent

The winning large school district receives a $100,000 cash prize.

*Featured/top image: Aldine ISD superintendent, Dr. Rosalinda Rodriguez, speaks during the 2015 H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards on Sunday. Courtesy photo. 

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H-E-B Announces First Batch of Education Award Finalists

Does Your Teacher Deserve an Award? H-E-B Accepting Applications

When Excellence in Education Means Awards, Cash, and True Appreciation

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Joan Vinson

Former Rivard Report Assistant Editor Joan Vinson is a San Antonio native who graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She's a yoga fanatic and an adventurer at heart....