Superintendent Paul Cruz surprised four teachers in their classrooms today to announce their selection as Austin ISD's 2019 Teachers of the Year for elementary and secondary schools.
Being selected as a Teacher of the Year is one of the highest honors the district bestows on AISD teachers.
"At Austin ISD it so important to recognize our teachers for the great work they do," Superintendent Paul Cruz said. "It's hard work, but heart work preparing our students for college, career and life."
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.
Two elementary school teachers were chosen, along with a middle school and a high school teacher. From these, an elementary and secondary teacher will be selected as AISD Teacher of the Year.
This year's finalists will be honored May 16 during Salute: A Tribute to Excellence, which recognizes outstanding employees districtwide at the AISD Performing Arts Center.
AISD's 2019 Teachers of the Year are:
Area 1 Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Ashley Rivera, Blazier Elementary School
Ashley Rivera, a special education teacher at Blazier Elementary School, is in her third year of teaching.
Rivera uses her background in clinical-based behavioral therapy to promote community and school collaboration with the goal of teaching students independence and safety.
"As a special education teacher, I am the students’ defender and advocate," Rivera said. "My role is to encourage acceptance and inspire them and their families to reach their full potential."
Additionally, she serves as the special education chairperson at Blazier Elementary where she is implementing a model that seeks to provide students with interventions that prevent misplacement of programming.
Rivera was named Teacher of Promise, an award for first-year teachers, in 2016-17.
Area 2 Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Cynthia Ayala, Ridgetop Elementary School
Cynthia Ayala, a bilingual special education case manager at Ridgetop Elementary School, is in her 19th year of teaching.
Ayala started her career as a bilingual teacher at a Title I school but said that working in bilingual special education has been her most significant impact in education.
"I service students who are the most underserved in society and education," Ayala said. "My classroom is a place where they take more risks and feel more confident."
Ayala has also led numerous initiatives outside her classroom including facilitating Ridgetop Elementary's Wildlife Habitat certification from The National Wildlife Federation.
Middle School Teacher of the Year
Kimberly Collins, Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders
Kimberly Collins, an eighth-grade math teacher at Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, is in her 15th year of teaching.
Collins uses innovative learning strategies and transformative technology in her classroom to improve student engagement. Inspired by the Cities in Space competition, she designed a unit for her students to create a sustainable colony of 1,000 people on the moon, Mars or in free space. The project has now expanded into a interdisciplinary unit involving English, History, Science, Math, Spanish, French, STEM and Art classes.
"I hope to inspire and motivate change in the classroom, through mentoring my colleagues and teaching my students," Collins said.
High School Teacher of the Year
Katye Howell, Travis Early College High School
Katye Howell, a high school Biology teacher at Travis Early College High School, is in her seventh year of teaching.
Howell has worked hard to improve the success of her campus and students, who she considers family. After noticing gaps in her student's prior knowledge, Howell and a team of teachers developed a curriculum that encouraged literacy and built a foundation for Biology and beyond. The following year, students passed the Biology end of course exam by over 95 percent.
As department chair, she also hosts study halls for students and serves dinner. Cooking in a crockpot during the day, she draws in as many as 50 students with the warm smells.
"Austin ISD is my home and the students and staff at Travis High School are my family," Howell said. "I can’t imagine
teaching anywhere else. "