One of Margarita Ramirez’s fondest memories as a teacher was in her first year, when she taught a second grader new to her classroom—and this country--how to read.
Two years ago, she had the joy and honor of watching that student graduate from Cleburne High School.
Ramirez, Santa Fe Elementary’s Teacher of the Year, along with fellow honorees will be presented at Monday’s School Board meeting. Trustees will also be honoring the Campus Paraprofessionals of the Year during the recognitions portion of the meeting.
Cleburne’s top teachers for 2018, chosen by their campus peers for their dedication to students, collaboration with staff and professionalism in their role of educator also include Nicole Dunn-Adams; Jennifer Rigoulot-Coleman; Brandy Blair-C.C. Cooke; Katy Hammond-Gerard; Lauren Neal-Irving; Tracy Arriola-Marti; Melissa Johnson-Smith Middle School; Kathryn Stallings-Wheat Middle School; Taylor Bowers-Cleburne High School; Brandy Cooper-TEAM School and Donna Scholz-Phoenix program.
Ramirez, who serves as a second grade bilingual teacher at Santa Fe, came to Cleburne in the ninth grade from Tamaulipas, Mexico. She had always been strong in academics, with math being her favorite subject, but knew no English. One year later, she was honored with Cleburne High School’s English as a Second Language Student of the Year Award. With only one year in the ESL program, she chose to mainstream into regular classes, including math honors. She was also honored by Trustees, as a sophomore, in achieving Academic Recognition on the math portion of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.
In a 1998 newspaper article chronicling her achievements, Ramirez (then Margarita Calderon) said she was more worried about her lack of English than she was coming to a new country.
“I think I was more concerned about my first day of school than I was about coming to America,” she said. “But when I started school and began to learn English, my teachers made it easy to learn.”
Ramirez, who wanted to be a teacher from the time she was in second grade, was inspired by her second grade teacher and former CHS teacher Jane Cook.
“I have always wanted to be an inspiration in the life of my students, just like Mrs. Briseño and Mrs. Cook were an inspiration in my life,” Ramirez said. “Mrs. Cook believed in me regardless of my race, socioeconomic background and language.”
“I want to send a message loud and clear to my students and that is, ‘Si, se puede, it is possible,’” she said. “I strongly believe what Philippians 4:13 says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ By working hard until we reach our goals, regardless of any obstacles we might encounter on the way, we are living proof of the scripture.”
Adams Elementary’s teacher of the year is new to the campus, where she teaches music. This is Dunn’s second year in education.
“I became a teacher because I love teaching students to be the best version of themselves they can be,” she said. “Music has always been my teaching specialty. I believe it’s a crucial part of a child’s development and love watching them express themselves through music. Music is truly a gift from God, especially singing. I love teaching kids to use their God-given voices and to sing loud for all to hear. “
Rigoulot, who works with Coleman’s youngest learners as a Pre-Kindergarten teacher, chose education as a career because of the impact of her elementary teachers.
“I loved school as a child and want to be able to instill that same love of learning in my students,” she said. “My most significant accomplishment as an educator has been the opportunity to expose children to their first experience in a school setting.”
“I am tasked with making the parents feel comfortable enough to leave their children in someone else’s care and to make my students want to come to school,” Rigoulot said. “It is a large task, but I feel I have been successful in making my classroom a welcoming place, with activities to keep my students engaged and on task. I have also worked to implement the concepts within Capturing Kids’ Hearts, making every student feel loved, valued and important.”
Blair has taught for nine years, five at Cooke, and works with fourth grade math students. In 2014-15 she represented CISD in the Texas Regional Collaborative where she worked with fellow teachers in developing strategies and initiatives to increase student achievement in the classroom.
“If it weren’t for the teachers who believed in me, telling me that I could—and they knew I would—I don’t know that I’d be where I am today,” Blair said. “Those teachers that believed in me were the ones that instilled my love of learning and the confidence I needed at such an important time in my life.”
In her final semester of college, during her student teaching internship, Blair taught sixth grade math for a teacher who had been diagnosed with cancer.
“Mrs. Kemp was an excellent and highly-esteemed teacher,” Blair said. “Unfortunately her prognosis was grave and she never made it back to the classroom that year. I would visit her at home often, taking every opportunity to soak up all the knowledge I could from this master teacher. I worked hard in her classroom—for her—and especially for her students. I graduated in December and she passed in January. It was a difficult year for all of us, but the kids achieved so much despite the tragedy of losing their teacher. Then, and now, I want to make Mrs. Kemp proud of me, as a starting teacher who learned so much from her.”
As a kindergarten teacher at Gerard, Hammond believes her most significant accomplishment is creating the ideal environment for her children to come to school and be successful.
“Every day, as educators, our job is to keep the fire lit in a student’s heart,” Hammond said. “We want them to keep improving, keep striving, to continue to set goals and to maintain that desire to get up, work hard and finish the day proud of themselves. The reward is endless when a student smiles because they have been successful.”
Neal, who serves as a special education resource teacher at Irving, believes teaching chose her. She began her career in 2012 as a sixth grade science teacher and coach.
“My grandmother said from the start I was always meant to be a teacher,” Neal said. “I landed a teaching job in August, two weeks before school started. I had no idea what I was doing, yet somehow, did well. Everything seemed to fall into place like it was what I was meant to do. Six years later, I still believe teaching is what I was called to do and can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Arriola, who teaches fourth grade at Marti, knows from personal experience the impact a teacher can have on a child’s life, especially when school is a challenge for them.
“As a third grader, I struggled with reading,” she said. “Mrs. Clark, my teacher, had my brother in her class two years before me and he was a gifted student. Then I showed up in her class. I remember the day she gave me a story to read. I sat at my desk and tried to read and understand it. When she called our small group to the floor for reading time, I just started crying—I didn’t know any of the answers. I just didn’t see how all of those letters made words. The only words I knew were the ones that I had memorized.”
That teacher called Arriola’s parents, and through a battery of tests, it was determined she was Dyslexic.
“Dyslexia testing and intervention was not part of public school back then,” she said. “But my teachers supported me as I learned to become a reader. I had to work harder than other students, but I loved everything about school and wanted my teachers and parents proud of me. I became a teacher because there were many teachers along the way like Mrs. Clark, that took the time to help me. I feel I have something in common with many of my students. I understand the struggle that many have with school. I want them to feel they are equal with everyone else. This is the toughest, but most rewarding job ever.”
Both the Smith and Wheat Middle School educators of the year teach music. Johnson is in her sixth year as choir teacher at Smith. Stallings joined the Wheat faculty in the 2016-2017 school year.
“I strive to make deep connections with students in my desire to impact their lives,” Johnson said. “The fact that they know that I am there for them and they can turn to me is extremely rewarding. I chose to be an educator because I love children and I love what I teach. I grew up singing in choir and my choir teachers were the most influential people in my life at that time. They impacted my life greatly and helped me to become the person I am today. I always wanted to be a teacher so that I could also make a difference in children’s lives.”
Stallings views music as a universal language that connects all people, and enjoys instilling a love for music in her students.
“Music bridges all barriers, whether it be cultural, language or socio-economic,” she said. “Being able to overcome these obstacles by creating beautiful music with our future generations is what drove my decision to become an educator. As a choir and music teacher, I hope to instill within my students a love for learning music. Music is a unique aspect within a student’s life that nurtures self-esteem while encouraging creativity, self-confidence and curiosity.”
Bowers, who teaches social studies at CHS and also serves as assistant boys soccer coach, is among the District’s home-grown staff members, having graduated from Cleburne in 2005. A big influence in his chosen field is his mother, Cynthia, a retired CISD teacher.
“Growing up I always had a firsthand look as to how a teacher can have such an amazing impact on students’ lives,” Bowers said. “I knew that I wanted to have that same opportunity to mold young minds and be an overall positive and supportive figure in the lives of the students that I have the privilege to teach.”
Bowers has taught at the elementary level, as a member of the C.C. Cooke staff, and is in his second year at the high school.
“My most significant accomplishment as an educator has been the opportunity to teach at both the elementary and secondary levels,” he said. “This has allowed me to see the same students at two crucial periods in their lives. The growth I have seen validates exactly why I choose to teach. Seeing students grow from quiet, shy and with some, barely knowing any English, to enrolling in AP classes and being selected for Beta Club displays how important it is to have supportive teachers. The ability to see the longitudinal growth of students that I had in fifth grade entering high school as young adults qualifies as my greatest accomplishment because I know that I had some part in shaping those students’ lives.”
TEAM School’s honored educator teaches English. Cooper believes her campus is an important component of CISD and the community.
“I love my students and love helping them toward their goals to graduate,” Cooper said. “TEAM School is an important component of Cleburne ISD and the community. The majority of students at TEAM are at-risk of graduating from high school and many have a story—often a heartbreaking one.”
“The ability to empathize with each student in his or her challenging situation is important,” Cooper said. “It establishes a bond of nonjudgmental trust. Every TEAM School teacher and staff member cares about our population and together we lay the foundation for students to be academically successful, where traditional settings have failed them. While TEAM School maintains high standards for behavior, effort and attitudes, we also build relationships that allow students to prosper academically.”
Scholz is being honored for the second consecutive year as the Phoenix educator of the year. She teaches math in her work with students.
“I am honored to be chosen Teacher of the Year on my campus,” she said. “I believe that everyone at Phoenix works hard daily to help our students to be successful.”
“I have taught many students in my career,” the 27-year teaching veteran said. “When one returns to let me know that I made a difference in their life it melts my heart. It lets me know that I am making a difference in this world.”
Following the presentation of the campus honorees, the 2018 CISD Elementary Teacher of the Year and Secondary Teacher of the Year will be announced. These teachers will represent the District as candidates for the Region XI Teacher of the Year program.
Santa Fe Elementary Teacher of the Year Margarita Ramirez works with second grade bilingual students at her campus. Ramirez understands the challenges of a second language learner, having come to Cleburne from Mexico as a ninth grader who knew no English.