As the 2019-2020 school year begins in College Station, five district employees are going into the new year with regional recognitions.

Julie Cooper, Erin Stutts, Josh Symank, Michael McEver and Rocco Grande all received recognitions during the Aug. 9 awards banquet at the Region 6 Education Service Center.

Cooper and Stutts were honored as the Region 6 elementary and secondary teachers of the year, respectively.

Symank and Grande were recognized as the region’s middle school principal and assistant principal of the year, respectively, while McEver was named the region’s high school assistant principal of the year.

In his 20 years in the district, College Station Superintendent Clark Ealy said he could not remember a time when College Station had both the elementary and secondary teachers of the year. Both will move on to represent the region in the state competition. The state elementary and secondary teachers of the year, selected from the top two educators from the 20 region education service centers in Texas, will be named later this fall by the Texas Association of School Administrators.

Region 6 Deputy Director Brian Zemlicka also said he could not think of another instance in the five years he has been with the service center that the region’s two teacher of the year representatives have come from the same district.

“We have outstanding teachers in Region 6. They’re all winners, and I’m just so happy that Erin Stutts and Julie Cooper are going to represent all the great teachers that we have here at Region 6,” Zemlicka said.

Cooper and Stutts were selected out of 15 elementary candidates and 14 secondary applicants by committees made up of representatives from Region 6 ESC, educators from districts that did not submit a candidate and members of Sam Houston State University’s education department.

"I think every teacher should have this honor once in their career," Cooper, a third grade teacher at Greens Prairie Elementary School, said about the regional award. "Teachers work so very hard. I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without the team of teachers I work with and learn from daily. I feel honored and blessed that the region chose me to represent them as Elementary Teacher of the Year. It’s been a humbling experience."

Stutts, ag teacher at College Station High School, had similar feelings, saying she believes many of her peers are just as deserving of the award.

“I don’t think I do anything more extraordinary than 99% of the teachers at my campus and in my district,” she said. “I think that teachers as a whole are amazing for kids and do amazing, wonderful things, so it’s kind of overwhelming and very humbling to be chosen as the representative of that.”

Symank, Oakwood Intermediate School principal, said his recognition as the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals (TASSP) middle school principal of the year is validation for the faculty and staff on his campus.

“We’ve got really great families that send their kids to school here,” he said. “… I feel like I’m accepting it for them just because they’re a really great group of kids and they’re really great staff. I’m really excited. I couldn’t do this without them. They make my job easy, and I’m happy to serve them.”

Rocco Grande, assistant principal at Oakwood and recipient of the TASSP’s middle school assistant principal of the year award, said the reward for working in public education is the success of the students in the community.

“Recognition, especially at this level, is just an extra boost,” said. “It reinforces all the effort that we put in, and it’s really recognition deserved more so by the teachers and students in the school. The magic happens in the classrooms. When we get these awards, it wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for great teachers, great students and great help from the families and the PTO.”

A&M Consolidated Assistant Principal Mike McEver, who was awarded the TASSP high school assistant principal of the year, said it is the teachers who make his job the best.

“It’s just great to be able to support them in the work that they’re doing,” he said. “Really, I think it’s an honor to be a part of that, to be recognized for that, but again, I’m elevated because of the work that my teachers are doing with students.”

All five pointed to the support they have received from the district as one of the key reasons for their success.

While Cooper and Stutts will go on to represent the region at the state level, the administrator awards are only done on a regional level.

As students return to College Station campuses, an emotional Stutts said, “I hope that all kids on our campus — not just the ones in my classroom, but all kids — feel like they belong here and have a place here. I hope that kids in my classroom know that I care and love them.”

As the new school year begins, Ealy said, his hope is that the employees can work to find the “unique gifts, the untapped potential” in the district’s 13,800 students.

“When I look at these five individuals, these leaders, these administrators and teachers, they embody that exact spirit because they are the ones that are doing this on a daily basis in their classroom and on their campuses,” he said. “They’re finding the good and the potential in every person that they come in contact with.”

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