2018 Award Winners
Edmund J. Farrell - Distinguished Lifetime ACHIEVEMENT Award
The Dr. Edmund J. Farrell Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes Dr. Farrell’s profound impact on the profession of English language arts education, commitment to excellence in the teaching of English, and continued dedication to service and support of the mission and purpose of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts. The 2018 recipient of this distinguished award is Donalyn Miller.
Miller, affectionately known as the Book Whisperer, began her career in teaching a bit later than many, but that delayed start did not hinder her ability to make greater contributions than most make in a lifetime of service. Miller has been a teacher of tweens at various grade levels and the Manager of Independent Reading and Outreach at Scholastic Book Fairs. She is on the board of directors for the BookLove Foundation and is a presenter, speaker, and the creator of many great resources for teachers. Miller is an author of two wildly popular books, The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. She is the co-founder of The Nerdy Book Club blog, the co- host of the Nerdy Bookcast podcast, and the author of her webpage The Book Whisperer. She has written numerous academic articles and hosts regular Twitter chats. While this list is in no way complete, it is impressive beyond measure.
Of the three nomination letters received by TCTELA, words such as “reading freedom” and “choice” were prominent. All three nominators mentioned being impacted greatly by Miller’s work and voice. She gave them “the confidence to forge a better path for students.”
Miller makes the ELAR field better because she is passionate about reading choice. Her passion is evident in what she writes and says, but most importantly, it is evident in what she does. She is a reader, and teachers turn to her for book selections and the inspiration and freedom to inspire their own students to be readers. She is building lifelong readers across this nation, and this has the capacity to change the nature of the human condition. When she empowers children to read the books that move them to be better people, she is inadvertently shaping those children to be adults who can empathize with others. Now more than ever, we need a country of adults with this ability.
Miller is not done with her very important work, but there is no time like the present to honor her for the path that she has paved for so many. Please join TCTELA in congratulating Donalyn Miller on her award.
Mercedes Bonner Leadership Award
The Mercedes Bonner Leadership Award is a special award given to a TCTELA member of a diverse background who has advanced the awareness of multicultural issues. This year’s award recipient is Houston Independent School District Superintendent Richard Carranza. He is being honored for his tireless support of the Houston community, especially after the Hurricane Harvey devastation, and for raising the awareness of multicultural issues within our state and nation.
To put the impact of his work in perspective, Richard Carranza leads the seventh largest public school system in the nation and employs almost 30,000 educators and staff who serve over 200,000 students. That would be enough of a job for most leaders; however, for Carranza, this is just the foundation on which he bases some of his most impactful efforts. His work extends far beyond the boardroom and into classrooms and homes across the Houston area.
In their nomination letter for Carranza, Sarah Baker and Stephen Winton, both HISD employees, wrote, “The recent impact of Hurricane Harvey caused significant issues within HISD. Carranza’s leadership during this tumultuous time demonstrated the lengths he was willing to go for our students, teachers, and staff. Whether it was ensuring that students continued to be fed despite schools being closed or making sure that all employees, including our bus drivers and custodians, continued to receive a paycheck, he made sure that everyone was taken care of.” Carranza also served the community by helping at donation centers and keeping the public well informed of the situation facing the district.
Importantly, Carranza, along with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, pledged equal access to a high-quality public education for all children – regardless of immigration status. Given that a large percentage of HISD students will be affected by the changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, his public statements about this issue are reflective of his commitment to raising awareness of multicultural issues facing his students.
Carranza, the man, is just as dynamic as Carranza, the superintendent. Baker and Winton closed their letter of nomination with the following personal anecdote about Carranza. “We also wanted to let the committee know that Superintendent Carranza is a fluent Spanish-speaker, lifelong educator, and accomplished mariachi musician. Many teachers and staff members of HISD have enjoyed listening to him sing and perform!”
ELEMENTARY Teacher of the Year
Kathryn Mills, who teaches some of the youngest students in Texas, is being honored with this award for the teaching that she has done both inside and outside of the walls of her school. Her classroom lessons and activities focus on the differentiated learning styles of her students. She is a dedicated and enthusiastic educator with a calling to encourage and inspire children to become passionate lifelong learners.
Some of her most compelling work happened during Hurricane Harvey. Ms. Mills watched helplessly as her students and their families used social media to share stories of tragedy. As a way to reach out to them with virtual hugs when she could not be there to offer real ones, she started the Hurricane Harvey Book Club. Using Facebook as her platform, Ms. Mills started by reading a book to her students and their families. In the hope that she could use literature to help her students see beyond the rising water, she asked them to post videos of their own read aloud.
The invitation for this virtual book club was sent to her students, yet the project quickly went viral. Ms. Mills’ love for her students and the books that she hoped would support them spread to children and families across the nation. Despite her national “fame,” Ms. Mills kept the focus on her students; it was never about her, which makes her an obvious choice for this award.
Middle School Teacher of the Year
A seventh-grade teacher, Kulsoom Rizvi is dedicated to leading her students to discover a love for both reading and writing so that they are confident learners in her classroom. She is devoted to a “workshop” model for teaching literacy and consistently promotes higher levels of learning. Effectively, she has transformed the way that teachers and students view writing on her campus. Ms. Rizvi helped institute Writing on Wednesdays, during which the whole campus, teachers and students, engage in sustained and meaningful writing activities. Writing across the curriculum is now the norm at her school.
In addition, Ms. Rizvi utilizes blended learning platforms, appealing to the learning styles of her students. She includes parents in the learning experiences in her classroom through her use of technology. Ms. Rizvi seeks to support all levels of students through different modalities and instruction daily. She is truly passionate about her students and is, therefore, deserving of this award.
HIGH SCHOOL Teacher of the Year
Monica Sifuentes passionately serves a population of “high needs” students at her high school in the Rio Grande Valley. She is dedicated to excellence for all students and, according to Dr. Amy Cummins, is “the best among educators in Texas. Her commitment to helping students in the same region she grew up has real impact and helps students realize what they, too, can achieve.”
Ms. Sifuentes is devoted to culturally relevant teaching that allows students to thrive in classrooms. She regularly builds upon the cultural resources that her students bring to her English classrooms in order to promote the skills outlined in the College and Career Readiness Standards. The excellence of her teaching is evidenced in the success that her students have when they transition into higher education. Ms. Sifuentes believes in the essence of lifelong learning, and she models this as well. She is currently seeking her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on Bilingual Studies at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley. She believes that English teachers must be reflective practioners and is focusing her research on this idea. Her dedication to her students and the field of secondary English education makes her the perfect candidate for this award.