The Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) announced the three finalists for Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year, and one of the Abilene ISD’s best is vying to become the 2024 honoree.
Stafford Elementary School teacher Taniece Thompson-Smith – honored last year as the Abilene ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year and announced as the Region XIV Elementary Teacher of the Year last month – is joined on the finalist list by Dr. Isela Russell of the Lewisville ISD and Genesis Yougas of the McKinney ISD.
Smith teaches fifth-grade science at Stafford, where she has taught the past two years of her 14-year career in education. Due to her travels as an 18-year military spouse, Thompson-Smith has taught in more than seven school districts across the U.S., Jamaica, and Japan.
She consistently collaborates with community members and experts in the science field to design science-based experiential learning opportunities. Thompson-Smith says she believes “each encounter with children must be transformational and awake a sense of curiosity or thirst for knowledge that only education can quench.”
She leads district-level professional development workshops, which include analyzing testing data and integrating science with reading language arts. In addition to being named the Region 14 Elementary Teacher of the Year for 2023, Thompson-Smith was the Abilene ISD Teacher of the Year and her campus teacher of the year in 2022.
In April 2023, she partnered with Future College Curls as a mentor speaker for 75 middle school and high school girls. In May 2023, she presented at the Clay Minerals Society International Organization’s Annual Meeting. Thompson-Smith holds a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College in New York, graduate-level teacher certification from Rider University in New Jersey, and a master’s degree from California State University in Fresno.
The Secondary Teacher of the Year finalists are Naveen Cunha of the Bryan ISD, Schrundagale Griffith of the Longview ISD, and Dr. Cynthia Hopkins of the Corpus Christi ISD.
On August 14, a panel of judges composed of representatives of Texas teacher associations and last year’s Texas Teacher of the Year finalists selected the finalists from the 40 Texas Regional Teachers of the Year — one elementary and one secondary teacher from each of the 20 Texas Education Service Center regions.
The six finalists will be interviewed on Oct. 19 by a panel of judges composed of representatives of educational leadership associations, community and business leaders, a member of the State Board for Educator Certification, a member of the State Board of Education, and prior Texas Teachers of the Year.
The panel will select two state-level winners — Elementary Teacher of the Year and Secondary Teacher of the Year — and designate one to represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year program. The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on Oct. 20 at Kalahari Resort & Convention Center in Round Rock, Texas, where the 40 Regional Teachers of the Year will also be recognized.
“Texas teachers perform miracles every day as they inspire children even in the most challenging of times,” said Kevin Brown, executive director of TASA, which has coordinated the Texas Teacher of the Year program since 2011. “Public school teachers are critical to the success of individual children and our society as a whole. Those who choose to teach are national heroes, and these six finalists are the best among them. They have distinguished themselves among thousands of outstanding, dedicated teachers across our nation who have answered the call to serve.”
The Texas Teacher of the Year program has honored excellence in classroom education since 1969. The program, facilitated by TASA since 2011, annually recognizes and rewards teachers who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in teaching. In 2015, Texas Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples of Amarillo ISD became the second Texas teacher named National Teacher of the Year (Eugene Bizzell of the Austin ISD was the first in 1957).
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