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AISD Names Teacher of the Year at Awards Ceremony

Principal, assistant principal, counselor, librarian and classified employee of the year also named at Salute

AUSTIN, Texas--Tonight the Austin Independent School District announced its Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year winners, among others, during Salute 2014, an annual event hosted by AISD and Austin Partners In Education to honor outstanding educators. 

"This is an opportunity to thank our outstanding staff who always go above and beyond," Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz said. "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 event, held at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, brought together AISD employees, families and community members to recognize some of AISD's most outstanding staff members.

At Salute, AISD celebrated 122 campus Teachers of the Year, 32 National Board Certified Teachers and 105 Teachers of Promise.

The 2013 Salute winners are:

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 fourteen percent, TAKS scores in math and science increased by more than 20 percent, and attendance has increased by over six percent.

About his role in bringing about these improvements, Shapiro says: "The accolade I most treasure is not the improvement in the data, but the climate at Crockett. 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."

Assistant Principal of the Year

Valerie Torres-Solis, Webb Middle School

Valerie Torres-Solis says: "The high expectations I set forth for my students are rooted in a genuine belief that regardless of where they come from, they can and will 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."

Counselor of the Year

Michelle DeMarco-Pundt, Cowan Elementary School

Michelle DeMarco-Pundt says: "The most meaningful role I have as a counselor at Cowan Elementary is bringing hope to others. Hope is as simple as caring 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. 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 job-getting paid to give hope. That's an incredible career."

Librarian of the Year

Ellen Thibodeaux, Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus

Ms. Thibodeaux says: "As students are graduating from high school and increasingly needing to be armed with 21st century skills, I see 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. Whether collaborating with teachers to integrate resources and research into the curriculum, or teaching a course of our own, we are an indispensable part of our faculties." 

For the past two years, Ms. Thibodeaux has taught a senior elective course in Research and Technical Writing for students strengthen these skills for college. One of many 'outside-the-box' 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.

Classified Staff of the Year

Jennifer Newell, Clerk, Patton Elementary School

Ms. Newell says: "One of my absolute favorite parts of my job is connecting the 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. 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." 

Teacher of the Year

James Butler, Gullett Elementary School

James Butler is a Pre-Kindergarten 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. Prior to that, he taught at T.A. Brown, Barbara Jordan and Winn elementary schools. 

In 2009, Butler volunteered through the nonprofit, WorldTeach as a high school math and English teacher in a rural village school, Mangetti Combined School, in Namibia (southern Africa). 

"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. 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," Mr. Butler says. "I grew up in inner city Cleveland, Ohio, in an extremely negative atmosphere," Mr. Butler says.

"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.

"She was instrumental in showing me how powerful a daily positive role model is in the life of a child," Mr. Butler says. "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.  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."

For more information, please contact the AISD Office of Educator Quality at 
(512) 414-9834 or visit