TASA has announced that six outstanding educators from across Texas have been chosen as finalists in the 2022 Texas Teacher of the Year program.
Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year Finalists
Jennifer Han, Juan Seguin Elementary School, McAllen ISD
Jennifer Han offers bilingual and gifted and talented education in all subjects to fourth graders at Juan Seguin Elementary School in McAllen. She has led initiatives for community empowerment and involvement through the district’s Community Youth Development program, recognizing parents and students who have been named as outstanding parents and youth by the U.S. Department of Family Protective Services. As grade level chair of her school’s Minitropolis Program, she has led in the creation of a post office, a store front, a bank, and a photography shop. In this unique program that infuses business into the educational setting, students learn real life leadership, career, and finance skills. She advocates for STEAM integration, emotional intelligence, and flipped classrooms to equip students for life’s rapidly changing demands. Her robotics team integrated Science, Engineering, Math and Technology and has shown “gracious coopertition” (cooperative competition) in and outside of the playing field, earning distinctions such as “Innovative Projects” and “Most Inspiring Team” for demonstrating great sportsmanship in the regional competition of the First Lego League. Han has been a major and consistent contributor to district curriculum writing, presenting at numerous technology-based conferences that have drawn educators from across the state. She holds bilingual generalist and Spanish certifications and a bachelor of science in education from the University of Texas at Austin with honors, magna cum laude.
Ashley Phelps, Andy Woods Elementary School, Tyler ISD
Ashley Phelps is an elementary physical education teacher at Andy Woods Elementary School in Tyler. She says she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher or a coach, having been very involved in athletics as a child and through high school. These experiences led her to majoring in exercise sports science at Texas Tech University, where she received a bachelor of science in 2009. During her student teaching, which she did in her hometown of Tyler, Phelps was placed at both Robert E. Lee High School and Andy Woods Elementary for six weeks each. She says she originally thought she wanted to be a high school coach and enjoyed the experience of being an assistant coach at her alma mater. However, when she switched over to Andy Woods, she realized that elementary physical education was a perfect match for her personality and heart. Phelps says she loves the children’s enthusiasm for learning and, each day as their faces light up when they walk into the gym, she is encouraged to reach every one of their learning needs. Phelps says her greatest contributions and accomplishments in education are most apparent when she successfully instills the joy of doing physical activities in her students. She continuously finds this success by creating innovative opportunities such as a walking club, a neighborhood run, a basketball tournament, or an indoor glow-in-the-dark golf course. Phelps strives to encourage her students and to help them realize the many talents they each have to offer.
Bonnie Anderson, MIller’s Point Elementary School, Judson ISD
Bonnie Anderson is a preK-to-fifth-grade music specialist at Miller’s Point Elementary in Judson ISD in Converse. She has been positively impacting the lives of her students for 29 years. In 1992, after obtaining a bachelor of music from the University of North Texas, Anderson moved to East Texas. Initially, she taught middle school band and choir, but a passion for elementary music soon “latched onto her lyrical heart.” Eventually, her desire to strengthen bonds with Spanish-speaking families inspired her to study Spanish Language and Literature at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. She founded a nonprofit organization that provides music instruction/performance opportunities for community Zimbabwean marimba groups, two of which performed at Carnegie Hall. Anderson has brought in well over $100,000 in grants and donations to her school and community collectives. H-E-B has given her a total of $52,000 for her music programs, and she says that Charles Butt was so moved by her award acceptance speech that the Charles Butt Foundation added an additional $10,000. She has also secured grants from the Judson Education Foundation, Office Max, Donors Choose, the Grammy Foundation and others. Anderson’s ingenuity introduced Zimbabwean Marimba programs to the San Antonio area. With the support of her colleagues, Judson ISD now has seven elementary schools with Zimbabwean marimbas. Anderson says that these programs and students combined comprise the totality of what she represents, “the movement of music loved through the eyes of children.”
Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year Finalists
Sanford Jeames, Eastside Early College High School, Austin ISD
Dr. Sanford Jeames is currently serving as the coordinator of health science programs at Eastside Memorial Early College High School in Austin. He is also an adjunct professor at Huston-Tillotson University. He provides instruction to students in grades 9-12, teaching Principles of Health Sciences, Health Sciences Theory, Medical Terminology, and Health Practicum courses. He earned a bachelor of science in history with a minor in journalism from Livingston University, Livingston, Alabama, and received a master of arts in history from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Jeames was awarded a doctorate of healthcare administration from the University of Phoenix and has completed additional courses in secondary education from St. Edward’s University in Austin. In addition to his instructional duties, Jeames has served as campus facilitator for SEL practices, and is campus advisor for Student Council, Austin Youth Council, and Student Equity Council. During his tenure, students have gained certifications as nursing assistants, medical assistants, and medical administrative assistants. Partnerships with Austin Community College have resulted in students earning certificates as pharmacy technicians, emergency medical technicians, and phlebotomists. Jeames coordinated paid internship positions for high school students through Austin Public Health. He is the current chair of the American Society Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Health Equity Outcomes Committee (2021-2022), and has memberships in the Society of Urological Surgical Associates (SUNA), American Association of Cancer Research (AACR), and the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO).
Ramon Benavides, Del Valle High School, Ysleta ISD
Ramon Benavides is the son of migrant farmworkers who dropped out of school at a young age, only to return and become educators in the Rio Grande Valley. He says that their journey was the beginning of his: He’s been passionately sharing the “fascinating world of biology” for the last 12 years at Del Valle High School and El Paso Community College in hopes of producing future leaders from the El Paso border region. Benavides says he enjoys serving as a role model for youth with socioeconomic backgrounds and educational attainment obstacles similar to those he encountered growing up in South Texas. He holds multiple degrees, including a bachelor of science in biology from the University of Texas at San Antonio, a bachelor of arts in chemistry from the University of Texas at Brownsville, and a master of arts in teaching science from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). He is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership and policy from Texas Tech University. Benavides is a part of several state and national professional organizations. He has been published in two publications and has participated in several research internships with Rice University and UTEP. He is also a national STEM advocate for The Society for Science and the Public. He says he recognizes the importance of equity and inclusion in all STEM classrooms and that he wants to deliver a message of change to students, teachers, educational leaders, and policymakers “to see a difference in the current paradigm — thus, ensuring underrepresented students attain a fair chance at success in STEM professions.”
Miguel Mendez, Holmgreen Center, Northside ISD
Miguel Mendez teaches high school students at the Holmgreen Center, an alternative school for students who qualify for special educational services, in San Antonio’s Northside ISD. He says that when he was young, he wanted to be a truck driver for his family’s company, but his parents encouraged him to pursue other interests. When he took a job as an instructional assistant in a special education classroom in 2011, Mendez quickly refocused his career aspirations. In 2014, he became a work-based learning teacher at Holmgreen. Since then, he has worked with Northside ISD’s highest need alternative learning environment (ALE) students, as they “overcame the ‘disABILITIES’ and challenges that had led others to give up on them.” Mendez says that the “journey that we undertake each year is a carefully choreographed dance of specialists, counselors, community members, and more, and that sometimes that journey means dressing up to play characters, or spending weekends with my students and their families.” Other times, he says it means finding career certification programs or emergency housing arrangements for students. Mendez says that, at the Holmgreen Center, personal goals are set for every student and plans are made that connect their homes, school, and the community together. He says that not only do his students graduate, but they thrive as they prepare for independent lives. Over the years, he has learned that learning is not something that only happens in a classroom. It happens at home, in parks, at SeaWorld, and at places of employment. Most importantly, Mendez says, his students have taught him that learning never stops — and he is proof of that.
“More than ever before, it has been reaffirmed that Texas teachers perform miracles every day as they inspire children even in the most challenging of times,” said Kevin Brown, executive director of TASA, which has coordinated the Texas Teacher of the Year program since 2011. “Public school teachers are critical to the success of individual children and our society as a whole. Those who choose to teach are national heroes, and these six finalists are the best among them. They have distinguished themselves among thousands of outstanding, dedicated teachers across our nation have who have answered the call to serve.”
On August 14, 2021, a panel of judges composed of representatives of Texas teacher associations and last year’s Texas Teacher of the Year finalists selected the finalists from the 40 Texas Regional Teachers of the Year — one elementary and one secondary teacher from each of the 20 Texas Education Service Center regions.
2022 Texas Regional Teachers of the Year
Elementary – Jennifer Han, Juan Seguin Elementary School, McAllen ISD (finalist)
Secondary – Maria Reyna, Academy for Health Science Professions & STEM, La Joya ISD
Elementary – Jeana Banta, Flour Bluff Intermediate School, Flour Bluff ISD
Secondary – Luisa White, Foy H. Moody High School, Corpus Christi ISD
Elementary – Lucinda Cummings, Industrial Elementary East, Industrial ISD
Secondary – Cody McDonald, Victoria West High School, Victoria ISD
Elementary – Vanessa George-Sebro, Silverlake Elementary School, Pearland ISD
Secondary – Sherman Batiste, Lawrence E. Elkins High School, Fort Bend ISD
Elementary – Meagan Smith, Curtis Elementary School, Beaumont ISD
Secondary – Adam Conrad, Vidor High School, Vidor ISD
Elementary – Melanie Jackson, Coldspring Intermediate School, Coldspring-Oakhurst CISD
Secondary – Kristen Saldana, Magnolia High School, Magnolia ISD
Elementary – Ashley Phelps, Andy Woods Elementary School, Tyler ISD (finalist)
Secondary – Amy Thompson, Lindale High School, Lindale ISD
Elementary – Tara Droske, Martha & Josh Morriss Mathematics & Engineering Elementary School, Texarkana ISD
Secondary – Robin Hilton, Texas Middle School, Texarkana ISD
Elementary – Jayme Beckham, Crockett Elementary School, Wichita Falls ISD
Secondary – Jennifer Conner, Jacksboro Middle School, Jacksboro ISD
Elementary – Jose Armendariz, John J. Pershing Elementary School, Dallas ISD
Secondary – Chelsie Nail, Howe High School, Howe ISD
Elementary – Hadley Brown, Roberta Tipps STEAM Academy, Mansfield ISD
Secondary – Stephanie Peters-Harris, Brock Junior High School, Brock ISD
Elementary – James Cook, Cedar Valley Elementary School, Killeen ISD
Secondary – Krystle Moos, Midway High School, Midway ISD
Elementary – Melissa Garffer, Veramendi Elementary School, New Braunfels ISD
Secondary – Sanford Jeames, Eastside Early College High School, Austin ISD (finalist)
Elementary – Marla Woods, Lawn Elementary School, Jim Ned CISD
Secondary – Kendra Bevel, Haskell High School, Haskell CISD
Elementary – Mary Murray, Northwest Elementary School, Brownwood ISD
Secondary – Sylvia Graves, Sam Houston School, San Angelo ISD
Elementary – Jose Perez, Wilson Elementary School, Pampa ISD
Secondary – Kimberly Irwin, Gruver High School, Gruver ISD
Elementary – Whitney Dunn, New Deal Elementary School, New Deal ISD
Secondary – Tammy Esparza, Idalou High School, Idalou ISD
Elementary – Sarah Hawkins, Magnet at Travis Elementary School, Ector County ISD
Secondary – Bhawna Sharma, Kermit Junior High School, Kermit ISD
Elementary – Kelsey Anderson, Cactus Trails Elementary School, Socorro ISD
Secondary – Ramon Benavides, Del Valle High School, Ysleta ISD (finalist)
Elementary – Bonnie Anderson, MIller’s Point Elementary School, Judson ISD (finalist)
Secondary – Miguel Mendez, Holmgreen Center, Northside ISD (finalist)
The six finalists will be interviewed October 14, 2021, by a panel of judges composed of representatives of educational leadership associations, community and business leaders, a member of the State Board for Educator Certification, a member of the State Board of Education, and prior Texas Teachers of the Year.
The panel will select two state-level winners — Elementary Teacher of the Year and Secondary Teacher of the Year — and designate one to represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year program. The winners will be announced at an awards luncheon in Austin October 15.
The Texas Teacher of the Year program has honored excellence in classroom education since 1969. The program, facilitated by TASA since 2011, annually recognizes and rewards teachers who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in teaching. In 2015, Texas Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples of Amarillo ISD became the second Texas teacher to be named the National Teacher of the Year.
The Texas Teacher of the Year program operates with financial support and in-kind contributions from the following:
- Diamond Sponsors: Edgenuity, H-E-B, Raise Your Hand Texas, TASA
- Platinum Sponsors: Google for Education and the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB)
- Gold Sponsors: Centric Learning, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA)
- Silver Sponsors: Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE); Texas AFT; Texas Association of School Business Officials (TASBO); Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators (TASPA); Texas Association of Secondary School Principals (TASSP); Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA); Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA); Texas PTA; Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA)