Spring Branch ISD Featured News

A remarkable librarian and an impactful social studies teacher named Spring Branch ISD’s Elementary and Secondary Teachers of the Year


Named as the 2022 top district educators are Ridgecrest Elementary librarian Lorenza “Lori” Garay and Stratford High School 12th grade social studies teacher Sara Russo.

The two winners were announced during surprises by Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Blaine at their respective campuses on Wednesday.

Joining Dr. Blaine were Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees Vice President Minda Caesar, Principal Michelle Garcia of Ridgecrest Elementary, Principal Raymorris Barnes of Stratford High School and Community Superintendents Karen Liska and Bryan Williams. To celebrate the two winners, representatives from the Teacher of the Year sponsors, Mike Sullivan, director of Governmental Affairs and Corporate Partnerships for Sterling McCall Group; and Oliver Lee, Chad Varndell and Liliana Kearson from First Community Credit Union were also in attendance.

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The special surprises for both Garay and Russo at their campuses was filled with joyful moments which included flower bouquets, gift baskets and signage congratulating the teachers of the year.

As SBISD’s 2022 Teachers of the Year, each winner will receive $1,000 courtesy of SBISD Good Neighbors and program sponsors Sterling McCall Group and First Community Credit Union, as well as a $2,000 professional development stipend, a trophy-style Crystal Apple award and tickets to attend a summer Astros game with family, courtesy of the Houston Astros. 

Dr. Blaine greeted the teachers, both stunned, with flowers, huge smiles and simple words of praise. “We’re so proud of you and grateful for all the work that you continue to do on behalf of Every Child you teach!” she told the winners on behalf of the district and the Teacher of the Year Committee, which interviewed six finalists.

Lorenza “Lori” Garay: Librarian, Ridgecrest Elementary

Elementary Teacher of the Year Lori Garay is the librarian at Ridgecrest Elementary, where she is dedicated to building an environment in which literacy is at the core of all her lessons.

A product of SBISD, Garay began working in the education field during her last two years attending Northbrook High School, where she was in the Child and Development classes. In the 24 years she has been in education, one thing has remained constant, her desire to learn.

Garay does not take the desire to learn for granted. At a young age, she saw her parents struggle not only because they didn’t speak English, but also because they could not read or write in their language. Learning is fundamental to Garay, as she believes teaching is one of the few jobs in which you never truly stop learning. She believes in teaching and that there is always room to learn better practices and improve yourself as an educator.

“Lori is truly an outstanding leader of literacy and of all learners on our campus,” Ridgecrest Principal Michelle Garcia said. “She is passionate about providing Every Child the opportunity to experience the library as an innovative place for learning as well as supporting teachers with instructional strategies and resources they need to be successful. A spirit of excellence is clearly evident in everything she does because she effortlessly goes above and beyond the call of duty daily for our community!”

Garay received her bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies from University of Houston-Downtown and holds a master’s degree in school library from University of Houston-Clear Lake. 

Sara Russo: Social studies teacher, Stratford High School

Secondary Teacher of the Year Sara Russo is a 12th grade social studies teacher at Stratford. She is focused on creating an environment where the “door” is always open and methods of delivery are differentiated to meet the needs of the various learners in her classroom.

With more than 18 years of experience as an educator, all of which are in SBISD, she prides herself in planning and instruction, using a wide variety of teaching aids. She also uses motivational and implementation strategies to engage her students in active learning. 

While in college, Russo served as a long-term substitute teacher for SBISD, going on to become a social studies teacher at Northbrook High School, her alma mater, from 2004 until 2013. In 2013, her path led her to Stratford High School, where she continues to teach, in addition to being Social Studies Department Chair, National Honor Society sponsor and one of the advisory lesson coordinators.  

“At Stratford, Sara is committed to pushing all students to the next level, regardless of where they were when they started her class,” Stratford Principal Raymorris Barnes said. “She does so without making any student feel less than, but instead, they all feel valued and capable of conquering their next goal. She also teaches her students the importance of civic responsibility not only because it is a part of the curriculum but because she knows the importance of giving back to the community that you call home.”

Russo holds a bachelor’s degree in history and political science and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, both from University of Houston.  

Looking Ahead: Regional Competition

As newly named Teachers of the Year, Garay and Russo will represent the district in the regional competition. If successful, they will then compete at the state and the national level.

Campus Teacher of the Year candidates are first nominated by the district’s students, parents, teachers and interested community members. SBISD Teacher of the Year Committee members read and reviewed all Teacher of the Year applications, including candidate-submitted videos.

The committee named six Teacher of the Year finalists. In addition to Garay, the SBISD elementary finalists are Halam Tran of Westwood Elementary and Kate Zuelke of Meadow Wood Elementary. Along with Russo, the secondary finalists are Lindley Amarantos of Memorial High School and Pablo Victor of Northbrook High School.  

View this year’s Teacher of the Year surprise announcements photo gallery

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