Wednesday, December 3, 2014

November T-2-4 Spotlight Educators Award Honors Four District Specialists

Four of the district’s leading authorities on teaching, curriculum and instruction were named as the November 2014 recipients of Spring Branch ISD’s Spotlight Educator recognition during the recent regular monthly meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Receiving this award at the Nov. 24 Board meeting were Donna Handlin, Martha Meyer, Alana Morris and Ro Luecken. The four received special recognition for their incredible years of work and achievement with Operation Graduation, a special program that helps identified seniors in our high schools to graduate on time with their class.

The SBISD Spotlight recognition shines a light on educators across our system who embrace the Spring Branch T-2-4 goal and who actively go above and beyond to demonstrate a commitment to, and actions in support of, this goal and the T-2-4 belief statements that undergird it.

SBISD’s T-2-4 goal focuses on doubling the percentage of our graduates who complete technical certification, military training, or a two- or four-year college degree. Trustees reaffirmed its own belief in this goal during a recent meeting in a unanimous vote.

During the past five years, Operation Graduation has helped more than 150 seniors who were at risk of not graduating with their peers meet their credit goals and graduate on time. SBISD’s four award honorees and other district educators have managed a six-week program for these seniors.

Operation Graduation students began their final school year on track to graduate on time, but found themselves struggling for a variety of reasons or circumstances. Students are identified and selected through their high schools. The selected students are immersed in seminar-style classes in required subjects needed for them to graduate.

Jarett Hernandez, a 2011 graduate of Spring Woods High School and Operation Graduation, told Trustees how this program changed her views on education after she was injured in her senior year in a bad car accident.

Today, she is a teacher assistant in a high school Special Education Adaptive Behavior setting. She has taken classes at Lone Star College, and dreams about a future medical career. Recent graduate Anne Ho, now a University of Texas freshman, spoke about how she was aided, too.

“Without Operation Graduation, I probably would not have this dream or even have graduated from high school,” Jarett said. “The person that I was three years ago is very different from the me you see here tonight.”

She added: “When I first came to Operation Graduation it seemed a little scary and impossible to do, but after a while I became convinced that I could do it. In fact, I loved it. The staff who taught Operation Graduation were so supportive. No matter what excuse one had, the staff found a way to make it all possible, and no matter how negative we were they never gave up on us.

“Instead they lead us on the correct path and made us believe in ourselves all over again. The tests were a little hard, and you had to pass each and every one of them to keep going. At times it seemed impossible and insane to think that I was going to make it. The day I heard we'd be getting our caps and gowns for free, I knew that I had made it. I was going to walk and graduate with my class. This to me was beyond shocking and exciting. For the first time in a good while I actually accomplished one of my goals without giving up or placing it on hold. “

Joining Jarett during the Nov. 24 Board Meeting was Anne Ho, who also praised the honorees for their support and encouragement. A high performing student, Anne nonetheless struggled as a senior due to a medical condition that has sometimes required hospitalization.

T-2-4 award recipients Martha Meyer, Donna Handlin, Alana Morris and Ro Luecken are some of SBISD’s best and brightest – with or without special recognition. All four have been District Instructional Specialists at one time.

Martha Meyer, who earned bachelor and master’s degrees in geology from the University of Michigan, worked several years as a geologist in New Orleans for Amoco before moving here with her family and starting an education career. She has served 24 years in Texas education, including 11 years with SBISD with instructional support and teacher coaching.

Operation Graduation will always be one of her best memories. “I am honored to be able to work with our Spring Branch seniors every year to help them attain their goal of a high school diploma and formulate plans about their future,” Martha says.

“When I think about the highlights of my career, Operation Graduation tops the list and is the most rewarding work I have done. We start the program every year thinking about how we are going to help change students’ lives by giving them opportunities they might not otherwise achieve, and every year they touch our hearts. We grow from building relationships with our students. It’s an honor to be an Operation Graduation mom!”

Donna Handlin has taught 31 years in Spring Branch, including 24 years as a math teacher and math coach at Spring Forest Middle School.  In addition to working more than two decades in math education and instructional coaching, Donna is known by many for her math family ties, including husband, William, a longtime Spring Woods High math instructor, author and coach, and her son, Bill, who is now teaches at the high school, too.

A native of Illinois, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Eastern Illinois University. If math is her enduring career love, Operation Graduation is a highly cherished memory.

“Operation Graduation is one of the most rewarding experiences I have each year. There is no greater satisfaction than working with students to support them in their journey of achieving their high school diploma. In the six week journey of Operation Graduation, we truly get to know students’ dreams, goals, and fears and are able to help them begin to formalize a plan for success after high school. Watching these students flourish and grow in confidence as they fulfill their goals and plan for the future is beyond gratifying,” Donna says.

Alana Morris, a K-12 Literacy Specialist, has supported reading and writing instruction and teacher training and support in SBISD for the past seven years. She has 27 years in Texas education, and is nationally recognized as a top teacher trainer with Abydos, formerly known as the New Jersey Writing Project. She is the author of the 2005 book, “Vocabulary Unplugged.”

She earned bachelor and master’s degrees from North Texas State University, now known as the University of North Texas. Literacy has been Alana’s highest passion since she was a child. She is currently working toward a doctorate in Literacy at Sam Houston State University.

One Operation Graduation student writing sample that Alana cherishes was written by a young man after attending a Teen Book Con event and observing what “real” writers do to create their books. “I almost messed up my whole school year,” that teen wrote, “but now I feel like I got a second chance. I won’t screw that up. I’ve worked too hard. So many times I asked for help, but I didn’t. I wish I could have changed that.”

Ro Luecken has 19 years in Texas education, including 13 years in SBISD. As District Instructional Specialist, she has worked for the past four years in science leadership on team building, lesson design, science literacy and professional development throughout the district.

She attended Woodview Elementary School as a child before moving with her family to Ohio, Wisconsin and OklahomaShe returned to Spring Woods High school as a sophomore and graduated with her class in 1979.  She married her high school sweetheart, Rick Luecken, who went on to play professional baseball. She earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and physical education from Texas A&M University in College Station.

After teaching science at Memorial Middle and Spring Forest Middle schools for eight years, Ro was a Science Instructional Specialist at Spring Woods and Landrum middle schools for one year prior to her current position.

Ro also has served as the lead for three years on the JASON/Chevron STEM Implementation Grant. The grant supports teacher training and development, JASON Host researcher visits to district schools, and the JASON National Argonaut Teacher and Student program, which has resulted in international research trips and travel for our students and teachers.

“Operation Graduation has been an opportunity for me to step back into the role of being a science teacher,” Ro says. “It is a great feeling to empower students who feel as if they have not been given a fair shake, or just need the extra time, effort and encouragement to believe that “Yes, I can do this!”

“The thing that I remember best during my first year with the Op Grad team was the consistent encouragement and creativity that this group used to set in place a 6-week plan to help these students earn credit, recover credit, and serve their (absence) hours,” she adds.

Like other honorees, Ro enjoys attending high school graduations each year and seeing smiles on the faces of Operation Graduation students as they realize what they have achieved. “There are hugs, tears and ‘Thank you for believing in me’ statements as they walk by us on the way to their seats. It is a great feeling!”


Post a Comment

Do you have feedback? Tell us.