Superintendent Paul Cruz surprised four teachers in their classrooms today to announce their selection as Austin ISD's 2017 Teachers of the Year.
Being selected as a Teacher of the Year is one of the highest honors the district can award its educators.
"While all our teachers deserve an award for the hard work they put in every day, we love to show appreciation to our teachers who are exceptional," said Superintendent Paul Cruz. "Surprising teachers to thank them for going above and beyond in teaching students is a great reminder that it takes a team to create the best urban school district in the country."
The Texas Teacher of the Year Program, which is facilitated by the Texas Association of School Administrators and the Texas Education Agency, recognizes teachers who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in teaching.
This year, two elementary school teachers were chosen—one from Area 1 and one from Area 2—along with a middle school and a high school teacher.
From these, one elementary and one secondary teacher will be selected to represent the district in the regional Teacher of the Year competition.
This year's finalists for Texas Teacher of the Year will be named May 16 at the AISD Performing Arts Center during Salute: A Tribute to Excellence, which annually recognizes outstanding employees districtwide.
AISD's 2017 Teachers of the Year
Area 1 Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Lara Weinacht, Ortega Elementary School
Lara Weinacht, a fourth-grade English as Second Language teacher at Ortega Elementary School, is in her ninth year of teaching.
Weinacht's passion for East Austin is evident both in and out of the classroom. She has been a part of the Eastside Vertical STEM Academy for five years and teaches an after-school enrichment course for gifted and talented students that focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics exploration.
Additionally, she is a member of the Junior of League of Austin, which allows her to support families in East Austin through programs such as Food in Tummies, Coats for Kids and The Thinkery Summer Camps.
"Throughout my career, I am constantly inspired by my coworkers and other educators," said Weinacht. "The best things I have learned have come from them."
Area 2 Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Alys Porter, Dobie Prekindergarten Center
Porter describes her move at the age of 10 to New York City from Guyana as one of the most traumatic experiences of her life. Porter said she struggled in a new country and educational system, and credits two middle school teachers with her academic turnaround. Their support allowed her to attend a magnet high school and Ivy League college.
"The example set by these two teachers became my inspiration and model for teaching, and helped me develop my own educational philosophy," Porter said. "First, I believe that every child can learn and experience success, and my role is to facilitate their success. And second, I believe that education is a partnership between the teacher, administration, student, community and family, and works best when all parties actively participate."
Middle School Teacher of the Year
Marie (Alex) Vasquez, Mendez Middle School
Marie "Alex" Vasquez, an eighth-grade English Language Arts teacher at Mendez Middle School, is in her fifth year of teaching.
She serves as the ELA department chairwoman and as the Campus Advisory Council teacher chairwoman. This May, Vasquez-who is working on her master's in education from Texas State University-will be certified as a master reading teacher and a reading specialist.
"I would like to think that I have evolved as a teacher who not only cares about the education that her students get, but also [about] ensuring that students are equipped with the skills to apply real-world situations when it comes to interacting with literacy," Vasquez said. "All students come with vast amounts of experience and knowledge from their own cultures and backgrounds that should be cultivated in the classroom."
High School Teacher of the Year
Tara Bordeaux, Lanier High School
Tara Bordeaux, a high school audio-video production teacher at Lanier High School, is in her fourth year of teaching.
"Ever since I was a child, I have loved every aspect of storytelling, and that love has enabled me to pursue my dreams of being a filmmaker. I have experienced some phenomenal moments in the entertainment industry and met some amazing individuals along the way who have shared their immense wisdom and time with me," Bordeaux said. "As an educator, I strive to share those experiences with my students and pass along the same love of storytelling."
As a teacher, Bordeaux has guided students to direct a multi-camera, to livestream with professionals from Zodiac Studios, to work with KLRU's Judy Maggio on a documentary for PBS News hour and to host the superintendent's Inspire the Future luncheon.