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TASA has announced that six outstanding educators from across Texas have been chosen as finalists in the 2024 Texas Teacher of the Year program.

Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year Finalists

Isela Russell, Wellington Elementary School, Lewisville ISD
Isela Russell, Ph.D., is a third-grade Spanish immersion program teacher at Wellington Elementary in Flower Mound (Lewisville ISD), where she has taught for the past four years of her 20-year education career. Prior to that, she was an instructional specialist/data coach and math teacher, because math has a special place in her life. When her family moved from Mexico to the U.S., she was forced to repeat third grade because of the language barrier, but through math, she was able to demonstrate her knowledge and shine. “Now as an educator, it is through math that I can show my own students that language is not a barrier, and regardless of their backgrounds, my students can, and will, excel,” she says. Russell is a strong believer in César Chávez’s phrase, “Sí Se Puede,” (Yes, you can!”). “I have worked tirelessly to never have an ‘Isela González’ sitting in my class feeling lost or ‘less than,’ Russell says. “My mission of believing in my students, building relationships, and cheering them on, has created a learning environment where we don’t give up.” In 2023, Russell was not only honored as the Region 11 Elementary Teacher of the Year but also as the Lewisville ISD Teacher of the Year, and as the recipient of the Texas Lifetime Honorary PTA Award. In 2022 she was named a “Best in Denton County” Elementary Teacher. And in 2010, she was named Irving ISD Teacher of the Year. Russell holds two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a doctorate from The University of Texas at Arlington.

Taniece Thompson-Smith, Stafford Elementary School, Abilene ISD
Taniece Thompson-Smith is a fifth-grade science teacher at Abilene ISD’s Stafford Elementary, where she has taught the past two years of her 14-year career in education. Due to her travels as an 18-year military spouse, Thompson-Smith has taught in more than seven school districts across the U.S., Jamaica, and Japan. She consistently collaborates with community members and experts in the science field to design science-based experiential learning opportunities. Thompson-Smith says she believes “each encounter with children must be transformational and awake a sense of curiosity or thirst for knowledge that only education can quench.” She leads district-level professional development workshops, which includes analyzing testing data and integrating science with reading language arts. In addition to being named the Region 14 Elementary Teacher of the Year for 2023, Thompson-Smith was the Abilene ISD Teacher of the Year and her campus teacher of the year in 2022. In April 2023, she partnered with Future College Curls as a mentor speaker for 75 middle school and high school girls, and in May 2023, she presented at the Clay Minerals Society International Organization’s Annual Meeting. Thompson-Smith holds a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College in New York and graduate-level teacher certification from Rider University in New Jersey as well as a master’s degree from California State University in Fresno.

Genesis Yougas, Lawson Early Childhood School, McKinney ISD
Genesis Yougas teaches pre-K Head Start at McKinney ISD’s Lawson Early Childhood School, where she has taught for the past three years of her 10-year education career. In 2021, she wrote and secured a grant through the McKinney Education Foundation for inclusive play equipment. “As a teacher of a student with spina bifida, I saw a problem with accessible play equipment for children with disabilities,” Yougas says. “Through this grant, I was able to secure inclusive play equipment for my campus that is available to all kids, including those who use walkers or have other health impairments.” Yougas says she wants all students to have an accessible learning environment where learning is individualized and adapted to meet the needs of all students. “It’s the little things,” she says. “The small moments of pure joy bring teachable moments that allow students to feel safe, loved, and connected. These same moments also build brain strength by releasing endorphins to help students feel positive and confident.” Yougas holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University-Commerce and a master’s degree from the University of North Texas. She has plans to pursue a doctorate.

Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year Finalists

Naveen Cunha, Stephen F. Austin Middle School, Bryan ISD
Naveen Cunha has taught eighth-grade Robotics 1 at Stephen F. Austin Middle School in Bryan ISD for the past six years of his 30-plus year career in education. As the coordinator of the district’s Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) academy, he helps students identify and utilize all disciplines in their learning while being supported by some of the latest technological advancements. “I became a teacher because of my desire to be a life-learner and to share that passion with others,” Cunha says. “Advocating for our program and students have been a mindset since the beginning which has reaped rewards in many ways.” In 2002, he received the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST). This was followed by his selection as a NASA Educator Astronaut finalist and receiving an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship. These experiences, along with his recent International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) Teacher Excellence Award, he says, have exposed him to federal agencies and programs that allow him to share new resources with his students. Cunha holds a bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin and a master’s from Texas A&M University.

Schrundagale Griffith, Foster Middle School, Longview ISD
Schrundagale Griffith teaches sixth-grade math at Foster Middle School in Longview ISD, a position she has held for the past two years. She has taught in Texas public schools since 2009. Griffith says she prides herself on helping her students discover the joy of learning through exploration and discovery, trial and error, and productive struggle. “Students can learn from what they do right, and what they have done wrong. Creating a safe place for students to learn is and will always be my goal,” she says. In 2021, Griffith was honored with Ellen Degeneres’ Kleenex Nominate your Incredible Teacher Contest Award, and she received Peltier’s Outstanding Teacher Award. She says that her most prized awards, however, have come from her students. Students have featured her in a Forever Friends Exceptional Influencer Poster Campaign, and she was also selected to receive the school’s You Rock Award for outstanding character, leadership abilities, community service, and for empowering students to develop and implement initiatives that benefited the school and community. Griffith holds an associate degree from Kilgore College, a bachelor’s from LeTourneau University, and a master’s from Texas A&M University.

Cynthia Hopkins, Harold C. Kaffie Middle School, Corpus Christi ISD
Cynthia Hopkins, Ph.D., has taught science at Harold C. Kaffie Middle School in Corpus Christi ISD since 2007. She sponsors the school’s robotics, coding, drone, engineering, science fair, and STEM honor clubs. Hopkins also chairs her district advisory team, serves as a mentor teacher for new teachers, and has hosted nine clinical teachers. “Students are not a blank slate for me to fill with science and robotics knowledge,” she says. “They investigated the world around them for 12 years before stepping into my classroom. I want to honor that knowledge while providing opportunities for students to attach new experiences to their prior knowledge.” Hopkins, who serves as an instructor for the Region 2 Educational Service Center and as an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMUCC), is a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescence Science. She is the only teacher from Region 2 on the state’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force. Hopkins holds a bachelor’s degree from American University and three master’s degrees (curriculum and instruction, special education and educational administration) and a doctorate from TAMUCC.

“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, 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.

2024 Texas Regional Teachers of the Year

Region 1 Region 2
Elementary Secondary Elementary Secondary
Nubia German, Donna Wernecke Elementary School, Sharyland ISD Denise Rodriguez,
Hidalgo Early College High School, Hidalgo ISD
Heather Franzone,
London Intermediate School, London ISD
Cynthia Hopkins,
Harold C. Kaffie Middle School,
Corpus Christi ISD (finalist)


Region 3 Region 4
Elementary Secondary Elementary Secondary
Erin Blankenship (Gayler),
Port O’Connor Elementary School,
Calhoun County ISD
Lindsay Ferrell,
Howell Middle School, Victoria ISD
Susan Mitchell,
Groves Elementary School, Humble ISD
Rhonda Perez, Joe Frank Campbell Learning Center, Channelview ISD


Region 5 Region 6
Elementary Secondary Elementary Secondary
Cheryl Spangler, Dishman Elementary School, Beaumont ISD Jeffrey “Daniel” Auchenbach, Bridge City High School, Bridge City ISD Kamy Taylor,
Normangee Elementary School, Normangee ISD
Naveen Cunha, Stephen F. Austin Middle School, Bryan ISD (finalist)


Region 7 Region 8
Elementary Secondary Elementary Secondary
Joanna Esparza, Wise Elementary School, Chapel Hill ISD Schrundagale Griffith, Foster Middle School, Longview ISD (finalist) Chonda Hicks, Thomas Justiss Elementary School, Paris ISD Amanda LaRue,
Paris High School, Paris ISD


Region 9 Region 10
Elementary Secondary Elementary Secondary
Addie Enlow, Bowie Intermediate School, Bowie ISD Courtney Bozeman, Newcastle High School, Newcastle ISD Genesis Yougas, Lawson Early Childhood School, McKinney ISD (finalist) John Murray, Sachse High School, Garland ISD


Region 11 Region 12
Elementary Secondary Elementary Secondary
Isela Russell, Wellington Elementary School, Lewisville ISD (finalist) Michael Beauchamp, Granbury High School, Granbury ISD April Eide, Robinson Primary School, Robinson ISD Katelin Kelly, Lake Belton High School, Belton ISD


Region 13 Region 14
Elementary Secondary Elementary Secondary
Megan Vasquez, Becker Elementary School, Austin ISD Samantha Marion, Rosedale School, Austin ISD Taniece Thompson-Smith, Stafford Elementary School, Abilene ISD (finalist) Jason Botos, Hamlin Collegiate High School, Hamlin Collegiate ISD


Region 15 Region 16
Elementary Secondary Elementary Secondary
Veronica Stapper, Glenmore Elementary School, San Angelo ISD Travis Lange, Veribest High School, Veribest ISD Diana Ortega, Green Acres Elementary School, Dumas ISD Kelley Jo Ashlock, Friona High School, Friona ISD


Region 17 Region 18
Elementary Secondary Elementary Secondary
Tara Espindola, Upland Heights Elementary School, Frenship ISD Mika Smith, Coronado High School, Lubbock ISD Jessica Harkins, Terrell County ISD/Sanderson Schools, Terrell County ISD Letitia Cochrane, Big Spring High School, Big Spring ISD


Region 19 Region 20
Elementary Secondary Elementary Secondary
Adrian Stevens, Sageland MicroSociety Elementary School, Ysleta ISD Bruce Hoang, Canutillo High School, Canutillo ISD Elina Ybarra, Uvalde Elementary School, Uvalde CISD Jennifer Perelstein, Nimitz Middle School, Northeast ISD


The six finalists will be interviewed October 19 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 ceremony October 20 Kalahari Resort & Convention Center in Round Rock, Texas, 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.

The Texas Teacher of the Year program operates with financial support and in-kind contributions from the following:

  • Premier Sponsors: H-E-B, Imagine Learning, and TASA
  • Gold Sponsor: Capturing Kids Hearts
  • Silver Sponsors: Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), Texas Association of Secondary School Principals (TASSP), Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA), Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), Texas PTA, and the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA), and the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA)