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TASA announced today that six outstanding educators from across Texas have been chosen as finalists in the 2018 Texas Teacher of the Year program.

Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year Finalists

Amy Hooten, Thomas Justiss Elementary School, Paris ISD

“It is important for teachers to first build relationships with their students and families,” said Hooten, who has taught at Justiss Elementary in Paris ISD for her entire 23-year career. “Only then can we provide the experiences, vocabulary enrichment, language and academic skills students need to rise up and successfully participate with other types of society members while still valuing their own. It is essential that students be taught how to make goals, make plans to achieve their goals, and broaden their world outside their immediate vicinity and situation.”

Hooten teaches second-grade English language arts.

Andrea Lucas, Lamar Elementary School, San Antonio ISD

“When a school builds a culture of learning amongst the staff, teachers are more likely to open their doors, take risks, and see themselves as reflective practitioners,” said Lucas, who teaches fourth grade at Lamar Elementary in San Antonio ISD and is beginning her 14th year in the classroom.

“I am lucky to be at such a school. We have worked to grow a shared vision and continuously learn together. We examine our teaching practices to find what works best for our students. Our morale is high and we feel we have a voice in our campus decisions. We learn and grow together. All teachers deserve to learn and grow in professional school cultures that take seriously their needs as adult learners.”

Marissa Torres, Blue Haze Elementary School, White Settlement ISD

“One of my goals as a teacher has always been to create lifelong learners who will contribute positively to their community,” said Torres, who teaches third grade at Blue Haze Elementary in White Settlement ISD.“I don’t want to just help students arrive at the ‘right answer’ in my classroom. I want to help guide them to become independent problem solvers who can apply their skills and knowledge beyond the classroom. Starting on the first day of school, I strive to connect everything we do to the real world and to emphasize the importance of contributing positively to both our classroom community and their outside communities.”

Torres has 10 years of experience in education.


Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year Finalists

Tara Bordeaux, Lanier High School, Austin ISD

“I know first-hand how hard life can be on a young heart, and I know how easy it is to give up. I know, because I did, and I dropped out of high school,” said Bordeaux. “My hope is that as a teacher, I can inspire my students to persevere, and succeed in ways I never could I believe that every student deserves the opportunity to learn from teachers who truly care about the impact they are making in a child’s life. I chose to become a teacher because I wanted to give students the chance to chase their dreams and learn how to believe in themselves even if the world gives them reasons to stop believing.”

Bordeaux has taught media arts at Lanier High School in Austin ISD since 2013. Prior to that, she spent 10 years working in television and film production in Los Angeles.

Andrea Garza, United South High School, United ISD

“I believe in the power of education and the potential of every student,” said Garza, who teaches world history and serves as the social studies department chair at United South High School in United ISD in Laredo.

“Like many educators, I want to motivate. I want to impact and reach students in a way that encourages a lifelong love for learning. I want my students to appreciate the complexity of the human experience to develop a global perspective, to view difference with empathy and compassion, and to intrinsically strive for more knowledge. These skills are fundamental to becoming civic leaders and competent civic actors. These skills are necessary to change the world.”

She has taught since 2006.

Gary Strickland, Coleman High School, Coleman ISD

“Our role as educators is more complex now than ever,” said Strickland, who teaches physics, scientific research and design, biology, and integrated physics and chemistry at Coleman High School in Coleman ISD. “Yes, we must be content experts, but we must understand that content knowledge is ubiquitous; a student doesn’t need a teacher to learn facts. They do need us, however, to help them process their new knowledge. They need a guide and a mentor to help them create new mental models and synthesize this new information.”

Strickland became a teacher in 2002, after 20 years of self-employment in the agriculture and pest control industries.

“Today we recognize six Texas educators who show true dedication to their students,” said Johnny L. Veselka, executive director of TASA, which has coordinated the Texas Teacher of the Year program since 2011. “They represent the thousands of devoted educators across our state who inspire students to excel both in and beyond the classroom.”

A panel of judges composed of representatives of Texas teacher associations and the 2017 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.

2018 Texas Regional Teachers of the Year


Region Elementary Teacher of the Year

Region Secondary Teacher of the Year


Julia Otken, Mims Elementary School, Mission CISD  Andrea Garza, United South High School, United ISD (Finalist)


Jack Marley, Flour Bluff Intermediate School, Flour Bluff ISD  Pragati Bannerjee, Roy Miller High School, Corpus Christi ISD


Laura Prihoda, Hutchins Elementary School, El Campo ISD  Xochitl Gonzalez, Harold Cade Middle School, Victoria ISD


Terri Armendariz, Carpenter Elementary School, Deer Park ISD  Brenda Varvoutis, South Houston High School, Pasadena ISD


Carol Post, Oak Forest Elementary School, Vidor ISD  Alexia King, Lumberton Middle School, Lumberton ISD


Natashia Foglesong, Willie E. Williams Elementary School, Magnolia ISD  Sheridan Clinkscales, College Station High School, College Station ISD


Rachel George, William B. Travis Elementary School, Marshall ISD  Kathleen Brown, Palestine High School, Palestine ISD


Amy Hooten, Thomas Justiss Elementary School, Paris ISD (Finalist)  Michael Rhodes, Paris High School, Paris ISD


Breann Spivey, Crestview Elementary School, Graham ISD  Michelle Lowrey, Graham High School, Graham ISD


Whitney Sellars, Naomi Press Elementary School, McKinney ISD  Melody Davis, Inspired Vision Secondary School, A+ Charter Schools, Inc.


Marissa Torres, Blue Haze Elementary School, White Settlement ISD (Finalist)  Amanda McKnight, Briarhill Middle School, Lewisville ISD


Deborah DeGraff, Bell’s Hill Elementary School, Waco ISD  Craig Sullivan, Belton High School, Belton ISD


Allie Duffy, Joe Lee Johnson Elementary School, Round Rock ISD  Tara Bordeaux, Lanier High School, Austin ISD (Finalist)


Carolyn Mullican, East Ridge Elementary School, Sweetwater ISD  Monica Rogers, Sweetwater Middle School, Sweetwater ISD


Leslie Anaya, Coggin Intermediate School, Brownwood ISD  Gary Strickland, Coleman High School, Coleman ISD (Finalist)


Alicia Lohberger, Lakeview Elementary School, Canyon ISD  Amanda Head, Caprock High School, Amarillo ISD


Kelly Baum, Charles L. Waters Elementary School, Lubbock ISD  Rachel Wheeler, Brownfield Middle School, Brownfield ISD


Edith Loya, Pecos Kindergarten, Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD  Gena Lancaster, Alpine High School, Alpine ISD


Christina Castaños, Purple Heart Elementary School, Socorro ISD  Luis C. Luna, Clint Junior High School, Clint ISD


Andrea Lucas, Lamar Elementary School, San Antonio ISD (Finalist)  Amanda White, Somerset Junior High School, Somerset ISD

The six finalists will be invited to Austin in September for interviews before 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 ceremony September 15 at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, where the 40 Regional Teachers of the Year will also be recognized.

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.