AISD Honors Top Talent at Salute

Salute, co-hosted by AISD and Austin Partners in Education, is the annual event that recognizes some of the district's outstanding team members for their dedication to student excellence and achievement in our schools.

At the event last night, May 29, held at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, AISD honored the Teacher of the Year, Classified Staff of the Year, Principal of the Year, Librarian of the Year, Counselor of the Year, Assistant Principal of the Year and APIE Hall of Fame award winner.

"This is an opportunity to thank our outstanding staff who always go above and beyond," said Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz. "All of these winners have proven that their work is more than just a job and we are grateful to have them in our district."

The district celebrated 122 campus Teachers of the Year, 32 National Board Certified Teachers and 105 Teachers of Promise. The event also included student performances, a special performance from singer-songwriter Sara Hickman and a pre-show reception.

Congratulations to all the winners this year!

Principal of the Year

Craig Shapiro, Crockett High School
Craig Shapiro has served as principal of David Crockett High School since 2008. Over the past five years, graduation rates at Crockett have increased by 14 percent, TAKS scores in math and science increased by more than 20 percent and attendance has increased by more than 6 percent.

“The accolade I most treasure is not the improvement in the data, but the climate at Crockett," Shapiro said. "Crockett is a place where students can be who they are without fear of judgment. There is no metric or test that can truly measure a moment like this one. Creating a culture where students feel this comfortable is a testament to the entire community.”

Shapiro said that as a school leader, “It is my goal to identify and cultivate each person’s strengths so they become better leaders. When you listen to people and trust their judgment, then you can achieve the impossible.”

Assistant Principal of the Year

Valerie Torres-Solis, Webb Middle School
Valerie Torres-Solis said that the high expectations she sets forth for her students are rooted in a genuine belief that regardless of where they come from, they can achieve success.

"The impact I try to make on my students is to give them the skills needed to be successful in both their academic and professional careers," she said. “My teachers and staff know that my role as an assistant principal is to advocate, develop, and support their needs—that ultimately equates to student success. Every voice matters, and there is not one problem we can’t resolve when we all come together and do what is best for kids.”

Counselor of the Year

Michelle DeMarco-Pundt, Cowan Elementary School
Michelle DeMarco-Pundt said the most meaningful role she has as a counselor at Cowan Elementary is bringing hope to others.

"Hope is as simple as careing when a child feels alone, confused or is dealing with an overwhelming friendship issue. It can be something more serious, such as a child sharing suicidal thoughts or fears of being bullied," she said. "Taking the time to care, give value to what they are experiencing and guiding them to find hope and peace of mind is a major part of what I do. I can’t imagine a more meaningful jog—getting paid to give hope. That’s an incredible career."

Librarian of the Year

Ellen Thibodeaux, Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus
Ellen Thibodeaux said she sees school libraries as more important than ever before.

"School librarians are at the forefront of the newest technologies and are learning to integrate the latest innovations into the curriculum," Thibodeaux said. "Whether collaborating with teachers to integrate resources and research into the curriculum or teaching a course of our own, we are an indispensible part of our faculties."

For the past two years, Thibodeaux has taught a senior elective course in research and technical writing for students strengthen these skills for college. One of many programs for students is called “Raise a Reader,” to encourage students who have children in the campus daycare to expose their children to reading at an early age.

Teacher of the Year

James Butler, Gullett Elementary School
James Butler is a Prekindergarten teacher at Gullett Elementary School. He ensures that the school’s newly formed Pre-K program is up to standard with AISD guidelines and that the program continues to grow and serve as a positive addition to the Gullett community. He has been teaching Pre-K at Gullett since August 2011.

“I am most proud of being able to create and sustain a feeling of community full of trust and love with all of my students and their families no matter their background," Gullett said. "From the Title 1 East Austin school where I started teaching, to a rural village in Namibia (southern Africa), to a more affluent school in west Austin where I currently teach, inspiring community in the classroom has remained my goal throughout.

“I grew up in inner city Cleveland, Ohio in an extremely negative atmosphere,” he said. “My entire childhood was marred by abuse and exposure to drugs and violence. It was not until the age of 10 that I realized that it was possible to receive love and nurturing every day."

He credits Mrs. Allcock, his fifth grade teacher, for providing this support.

“My teaching and life experience has taught me that no matter where a child comes from or what they’ve experienced, they all deserve teachers who care about educating and caring for them," he said. "Every day that I wake up, I aspire to be that type of teacher and to be the positive role model that I did not have as a child.”

Classified Staff of the Year

Jennifer Newell, Clerk, Patton Elementary School
Jennifer Newell said one of her favorite parts of her job is connecting parents to the school and helping teach them different ways to be involved in their child’s education.

"I am in charge of our website, Facebook page and weekly news blast to parents, and I use them to keep parents informed about upcoming events and ways they can join in the fun," Newell said. "I come up with crazy projects to keep parents engaged. I want parents to know all the ways they can help encourage their kids learning at home as well. Whether they help their student through onsite volunteering, contributing financially, or just show their kids how important education is, I hope my efforts are making a difference."