Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New Teachers Choose Spring Branch ISD for Many Good Reasons

New district teachers this year include Gina Blanco, Northbrook High; Yessenia Vazquez, Cedar Brook Elementary; Alex Montes-Torres, Northbrook Middle; Morgan Williams, Memorial Drive Elementary; Yvonne Evans, Stratford High; Julie Wilhelm, Hunters Creek Elementary; and Kaila Irons, Frostwood Elementary.
Spring Branch ISD’s new school year has opened with 326 new teachers. They include district graduates and out-of-state recruits. Some are just starting out, and others have years of experience. All of them chose SBISD as their best local option for teaching.

Gina Blanco has returned happily to Northbrook High School, her alma mater. She is teaching integrated physics and chemistry classes there as a first-year instructor. “For me, it’s home, and a loving community,” she says.

This year, some Hunters Creek Elementary fifth-graders will study math with Julie Wilhelm, a new teacher who graduated from this elementary school and then went on to attend Spring Branch Middle and Memorial High schools. “SBISD is special to me because that is where I grew up and graduated from,” she says.

Alex Montes-Torres grew up thousands of miles away from Northbrook Middle School in San Diego, Calif. As a Teach for America Houston Corps member, he now leads a sixth-grade World Cultures class at the district middle school.

He did not grow up in Spring Branch, but as a young student coming from Mexico and knowing little about the United States, he believes that his life story is one that other first-generation learners should hear. “My goal is to help empower students,” he says.

SBISD’s school year has opened with 326 new teachers, including Spring Branch-Memorial area natives like Gina Blanco and Julie Wilhelm, as well as new recruits like Alex Montes-Torres.

Many other new teachers arrived in SBISD with years of classroom experience in other public or private school systems. The district continues to recruit and to hire many experienced teachers from across the region.

“I am passionate about working with children and their families. I have heard from so many that Spring Branch feels the same way,” says Kaila Irons, who taught both second and third grade in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD.

“Faculty all over this school district are focused on each and every student, as well as dedicated to their success. I am excited to work for a district that values and looks for the best in everyone,” she says of SBISD, her new school district home.

“I really look forward to working with the faculty and community of Frostwood Elementary. Everyone refers to the school staff as ‘family,’ and they’re incredibly supportive of one another. The parents are so involved and prideful at Frostwood, and I can’t wait to get involved,” Kaila says, a Texas A&M University graduate.

Pride in school and community led Gina Blanco back to Northbrook High, where she’s teaching both chemistry and integrated physics and chemistry courses. Gina worked in a dentist’s office and liked it, but her student experiences in University of Houston’s TeachHouston program led her back to Spring Branch.

Gina’s parents immigrated to the United States in the 1980s from El Salvador. She earned a bachelor of science degree in biology with a minor in education from UH after earning her Northbrook High diploma.

“SBISD is my home town and I know this neighborhood like the back of my hand. I feel so blessed, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities in my own life. I plan to make a difference and inspire my students to do more in their lives,” she says.

“If I can make it, then my students can, too. They just have to keep pushing and dreaming. I believe SBISD is here to inspire and help lead the next generation to success,” she adds.

The desire to help others achieve and do their best inspires Alex Montes-Torres, a graduate of the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y. He’s a 2015 Teach for America Houston Corps members who was hired by SBISD.

“Like some of the students that are served here in Spring Branch, I came to the United States from Mexico as a young child knowing nothing about this country. School became my safe place,” says Alex, a new Northbrook Middle teacher.

A San Diego native, he graduated from The Preuss School at the University of California-San Diego. The Preuss School is a charter secondary school designed for low-income students seeking to be the first in their families to graduate from college. Alexis hopes to motivate his students to pursue college diplomas, too.

“School became my safe place,” he says. “I can name every single teacher that made a significant impact on my dreams and aspirations. They inspired me to be better than I ever thought I could be. They taught me how to be a good citizen of this country. They taught me how to speak better English than some of my native-born peers!”

Great teachers led Alex to be a teacher. He supports the district’s growing SKY Partnership, which includes a YES Prep charter program at Northbrook Middle School, where he will teach in the traditional campus program.

“I think the SKY Partnership shows that SBISD truly cares about the success of every student and that it’s willing to experiment with new ideas to give every child a great education,” he says.

Julie Wilhelm is a proud graduate of SBISD schools. She attended Hunters Creek Elementary and Spring Branch Middle, and then graduated from Memorial High School in 2011. In high school, she took part in the Future Teacher program.

She later graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor of science degree in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on fourth- through eighth-grade math and science. Her father is a former Westchester High School grad. She began teaching at Hunters Creek Elementary in August.

“SBISD is special to me because that is where I grew up and graduated from. As a student, I realized how wonderful this district is and how well it prepares students for the rest of their education career,” the new fifth-grade math teacher says.

“So many of my teachers have been wonderful mentors and instilled a passion in me for learning and teaching others to have that same passion. I am blessed to be able to make this full circle and to return as a teacher to the district that means so much to me!” Julie exclaims.

When longtime Board of Trustees Member Wayne Schaper Sr. greeted 300-plus new teachers at orientation with a warm “Welcome Home!” announcement, new teacher Yvonne Evans felt right at home. Her husband was a former Westchester High grad, too. “I really do feel that I am at home and am so proud to be a part of this team,” she says.

A Houston native, Yvonne has 20 years of experience in education. She will work as a special education transition specialist at Stratford High School. “I am excited about joining SBISD because of its stellar reputation. I’ve seen other districts wax and wane in regards to professionalism and high standards, but SBISD has always remained a constant,” she says.

Morgan Williams, who will teach kindergarten at Bunker Hill Elementary this year, grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma grad feels close to home in Spring Branch, part of a large city but in a “small town” suburban setting.

“I was inspired to be a teacher because of my love for kids and the opportunity to help a child grow and learn their full potential. I love being a part of this district, the closeness of all the staff and the way they support and welcome everyone,” Morgan says.


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