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2020-2021 Cleburne ISD Campus Teachers of the Year


                Twelve educators will be honored by the Cleburne ISD Board of Trustees at their Monday meeting as the 2020-2021 Campus Teachers of the Year.

                 Honored educators at the elementary level include Jennifer Gaston-Adams; Jennifer Ricketts-Coleman; Elissa Hendricks-C.C. Cooke; Amy Brown-Gerard; Faith Chapman-Irving; Nicole Doty-Marti and Glorimar Asencio-Santa Fe.

                Rendon Ellis is the Smith Middle School Teacher of the Year and Sarah Moulden has been honored by the staff at Wheat Middle School. Adair Smith is the Cleburne High School honored educator, with Matthew Hilts selected by the TEAM School staff as Teacher of the Year. Rachel Bays is the Phoenix campus honoree.

                Gaston is a 16-year member of the Adams faculty and has been an English Learner Specialist at the campus for five years. She has taught students at the kindergarten, first and third grade levels and this year also served as the District’s English/language arts/reading teacher for second graders enrolled in Remote Learning. She was first honored as the Adams teacher of the year in 2014.

                As teachers, students and parents have seen learning delivered in new and different ways due to the impact of COVID, Gaston says those in education have stayed the course in new and uncharted waters.

                “I think the message that everyone in education needs to hear right now is, ‘teaching is tough, but so are teachers,’” Gaston said. “The opportunity to teach, even the toughest of kids, is a gift—and the greatest responsibility. In this time of COVID in which those in education were expected to pivot at a moment’s notice and completely change the way they were delivering lessons to students, the most effective educators continued to make the most of each day. They stayed the course and worked through the challenges they faced.”

                Ricketts joined the CISD staff in 2003, starting out as a kindergarten teacher at C.C. Cooke. She also taught kindergarten and first grade at Santa Fe and is a second grade teacher at Coleman.

                “I love teaching students to believe in themselves,” Ricketts said. “You cannot truly teach a student that doesn’t feel loved and cared for by their teacher. This is something that I have come to know over my many years of teaching experience. The students in my classroom are ‘my’ kids and I want them to feel loved the minute they walk in the door.”

                Hendricks is completing her sixth year in CISD, and currently serves as a Kindergarten-5th Grade reading interventionist at C.C. Cooke.

                “In my position, my goal is to help students grow, not only in their reading skills, but also in their love for reading,” she said. “I also work with teachers, mentor first-year teachers and provide support and training. I view myself as a ‘reading’ role model on my campus and am constantly learning how to grow and improve myself as an educator, and in teaching others. We need to continuously learn in order to grow as educators—to give our best to our students.”

                Brown is the English Learner lead teacher at Gerard, and is also the District’s first grade Remote Learning teacher. Like many of her fellow educators, she acknowledges the impact COVID has had on learning, and every student’s academic progress since March of 2020.

                “My message to teachers, parents and students is to celebrate the gains, no matter how small,” Brown said. “Over the last 17 years of being a reading specialist and English as a Second Language teacher, in work with struggling readers and second language learners, I have learned the importance of celebrating small gains. Celebrating the achievement of small goals builds confidence, which can motivate students to keep working toward larger goals.”

                Chapman is the lead Special Education teacher for students in grades 1-5 at Irving. She always viewed teaching as a dream job. After achieving a degree in education in 2009 from Tarleton State University, it became her reality.

                “I fulfill that dream every day,” Chapman said. “I very much believe students require a teacher to be interested in every aspect of their life in educating their mind, knowing what they’re involved in, meeting them where they are, and capturing their heart.”

                “It is up to me to greet my students with a smile every day, no matter what I may be going through personally,” Chapman said. “I want to make them feel special and always encourage them to be the best they can be. In order to capture a child’s heart, they must first know you truly care.”

                Doty is among the District’s “homegrown” educators, having graduated from Cleburne High School. She began her career at Marti in 2013 and this is the second time she has been honored by the Wrangler staff, following her first recognition in 2016. After spending six years as a second grade teacher, she is now working with kindergartners.

                “I enable my students to be dedicated and brave learners who know that they are loved,” Doty said. “Students care, when they know they are cared about. I believe building relationships with students is the key to success.”

                “I also believe being involved in the community and giving back is essential to education,” she said. “I strive every year to connect my students to their community, from involving them in food drives to bringing in guest speakers to share about their various roles in the community. I want to show my students the importance of being an active member of society.”

                Asencio has more than 30 years in the classroom, with 14 spent in Cleburne at Gerard, Cooke and starting in 2007, at Santa Fe as a bilingual Pre-Kindergarten teacher.  Working with the “littlest learners” on campus, Asencio always begins the year with an “All About Me” unit of study.

                “This helps me get to know my students, their backgrounds and their families better,” she said. “But most importantly, it engages the child in speaking of their home life and family. It is the perfect way to commence their school experience, by providing them an immediate opportunity to be the expert. They may not know their alphabet, their numbers or how to button their shirts—but no one else can tell their stories.”

                “Each child’s approach to learning and understanding is different,” she said. “As their first public school teacher, it is my responsibility to pay close attention to their unique needs and talents from day one. Preschool teachers like me get to literally witness minds opening and skills developing. I love that.”

                Ellis is a 7th grade history teacher at Smith Middle School, where he also serves as head boys basketball coach.

                “A quote that describes my mentality about choosing a career as a teacher and coach is, ‘when you are passionate about your job, you’ll never work a day in your life,’” Ellis said. “I enjoy helping students accomplish their goals and make it to a place they did not think was possible.”

                “In being a teacher, we have a duty to be a positive example in our students’ lives,” he said. “There is nothing more rewarding to me than getting a note from a student that just says ‘thank you for being there for me.’ It doesn’t put more money in my bank account or buy me lunch for the day—but it is fulfilling. In my role as a teacher and coach, I love to see growth in my students—in the classroom and on the court.”

                Moulden, a 16-year educator in her third year at Wheat Middle School, teaches 7th grade reading and language arts and is also the department chair.

                “After years of teaching high school English, my first reaction to teaching middle school was ‘why did I wait so long?’” Moulden said. “Most students hate writing. I feel this is a reflection of red marks on a paper and well-meaning efforts to teach them how to write a simple sentence correctly, while completely ignoring the fact that they have taken the time to share a part of themselves on that paper.”

                Among her favorite activities in which she involves her students in writing, creativity and personal expression is “Slam Poem Presentation Day” in which each “poet” reads their work aloud—and receives applause from classmates in the form of snapping fingers.

                “The art teacher’s message to students is reflected in what I share with mine: ‘just make a mark and see where it takes you,’” Moulden said. “It is my hope, in my work with students, that the writing task loses a little bit of its difficulty and gains a lot more appeal when they realize they have something to say—and it truly matters.”

                Smith, in his first year at Cleburne High School, is the executive chef instructor for advanced culinary arts which includes the Sting Bistro, new to the campus this year.  After a number of years as a chef, manager and owner in the restaurant business, he turned his sites on training students interested in the hospitality industry. Smith served 13 years at the lead chef instructor at Mansfield ISD’s Ben Barber Innovation Academy before joining the CHS faculty.

                “Sometimes class, like a recipe, does not go according to the plan. As a teacher, I have to adapt and learn to be flexible,” Smith said. “My students see this and learn that it is okay to change plans and go a different direction. I believe that is an extremely important skill in life and one that I model for my students on a daily basis.”

                “Being a good teacher starts with being a good listener, being genuine, being transparent, being a good problem solver,” Smith said. “This includes modeling that failure will happen, but what you learn from that failure—and how you grow from it—is what is important.”

                Hilts was first honored by TEAM School in 2019 as their educator of the year. He teaches all levels of English, and technical writing.

                “At TEAM School, we do our best to help our students graduate with a plan, rather than just a diploma,” Hilts said. “In my fourth-year English course, I’ve built in College, Career and Military Readiness research elements, in which students explore the different routes they might take following graduation. They then produce a series of multimedia presentations reflecting what they have learned.”

                “By the end of the course they have learned how to fill out applications, create a resume and cover letter and understand the requirements for various routes relating to college, entry into the workforce or the military. As graduates, they leave TEAM School with the necessary knowledge to move forward with a plan for their future.”

                Bays works with students in grades 6-12 as the English Learner teacher at the Phoenix campus, where she has served since 2018. Bays engages her students in the creative side of English/language arts, including a unit on poetry—her favorite—while also focusing on the practical side in showing them that reading, writing and speaking are skills they will need, and use for the rest of their lives.

                She also believes in educating each student of their important role as a scholar--and as a future member and leader of their community.

                “Students, like all people, need to feel like they belong,” Bays said. “In the Age of Information, and COVID, we are more isolated than ever. Students want to learn and want to be included in the learning process. But so often, they would rather have their ‘voice’ come across a computer screen instead of actually being heard. We need to up their individual ‘people’ skills, so they can practice them in their educational community setting before launching them into the real world. They need to belong. They need to be part of the whole.”

Monday’s school board recognition will also include the announcement of the CISD Elementary and Secondary Teachers of the Year. These two individuals will represent Cleburne as Region 11 candidates in the Texas Teacher of the Year selection process.