A highly committed first-grade classroom teacher and a middle school choir director dedicated to serving all students were named as Spring Branch ISD’s Elementary and Secondary Teachers of the Year during a special district recognition event held Tuesday, April 23.
Housman Elementary School teacher Michelle Clements and Northbrook Middle School’s Lizzy Snelling are 2019’s top district educators.
The two winners were announced publicly in pre-game events held before Tuesday evening’s Houston Astros-Minnesota Twins game held downtown at Minute Maid Park, the site for the third year of SBISD’s annual Service Awards. The Astros beat the Twins 10-4 in a game with a late-inning, three-run homer by Jose Altuve.
As top teachers, Clements and Snelling received a trophy-style Golden Apple award, plus other awards and recognitions including a $1,000 cash prize funded by Memorial Hermann Memorial City Hospital and a $2,000 professional growth stipend from the school district.
As SBISD’s new Teachers of the Year, Clements and Snelling are recipients of the Going the Extra Mile Award sponsored by Sterling McCall VIP Services. This award will be presented May 15 at the Spring Branch Education Foundation’s Bright Stars Event. (Follow Twitter @SBISD for award and event details.)
Tuesday’s Service Awards attracted more than 1,200 employees and guests to Minute Maid Park. The celebration event included a fun, colorful, pre-game reception inside Union Station. Attendees received game tickets preloaded with individual food vouchers.
The Rev. Josef Klam, who serves as SBISD Board of Trustees president, presented Golden Apples to Clements and Snelling during the brief, on-field announcement. A Jumbo Tron screen gave a crowd of SBISD employees and family members a close-up view of the big announcement.
Six Teacher of the Year finalists joined Board President Klam on the field. In addition to Clements and Snelling, finalists were Lindsay Ripley of Nottingham Elementary, Sharon Crump of Wilchester Elementary, Amanda Campos of Landrum Middle and Ryan Harvey of Spring Forest Middle.
Elementary Teacher of the Year Michelle Clements taught first grade at Housman Elementary for the past two years. Before joining SBISD, she taught in Plano ISD for two years, too.
She earned a bachelor of education degree with a focus on special education topics from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in counseling from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
Her interest and pursuit of teaching as a full-time career began early, surviving a critical comment from an adult mentor who told Clements that she “was too smart to go into teaching, and then not make enough money.” Her passion and intent are to teach in underserved schools.
“I am most passionate about teaching in Title 1 schools, [and] . . . have actively sought jobs in schools with heavy bilingual populations. I am an advocate for all Second Language learners and students from lower-income families. I am constantly striving to keep those students as academically advanced as their peers.”
In a Wednesday morning circle with her first-graders, Clements showed off her Teacher of the Year award, and let her students know that their high-quality academic performance and best example helped her be named best-in-class as an educator.
“Last night, it was a shock and a whirlwind for me. Everything happened so fast [during the pre-game ceremony], I heard my name and looked up and said to myself, ‘I guess it’s me!’ It was an exciting whirlwind,” she said.
“Today, this award is making me feel challenged to live up to its Teacher of the Year name. It’s truly a huge honor, and I want to make sure that I meet and live out that honor correctly,” she also said.
One way for Clements to do that is to pursue and finish her master’s degree. She anticipates a December 2020 graduation from Lamar.
Clements, in another highlight, was selected for Housman’s four-member school redesign team, known as CORE. The team is reviewing and analyzing ways to re-engineer learning to best serve students. Classroom design, she said, should encourage literacy and engaged learning.
“I want every child who comes through my classroom to leave with the academics and social skills needed to achieve whatever goals and dreams they have for their future, regardless of where they come from,” she said.
“Being on the CORE team for school redesign has provided me the ability to craft and to mold our school needs to make these dreams of mine a reality for my students,” she said. Housman is one of many SBISD campuses planning redesign efforts for the school year ahead.
Principal Lindy Robertson joined Clements’ colleagues in expressing pride for her top trophy.
“From community circles at the start of the day through her Read Aloud at the end of the day, students are excited to be learning and growing in Michelle’s class,” Principal Robertson said. “The recognition of SBISD Elementary Teacher of the Year is a tremendous honor and so well deserved.”
“I am thrilled that the SBISD community will now have an opportunity to see the impact that Michelle is making on students at Housman Elementary, and how her contagious enthusiasm spreads beyond her classroom walls to impact the larger Housman community,” she added.
Lizzy Snelling has been head choir director for the past three years at Northbrook Middle School. Since 2014, she has also been head director of the Spring Branch Girls Choir, an all-district middle school performance group.
A United Kingdom native, Snelling joined Northbrook Middle after working as assistant choir director at Spring Oaks Middle School for four years. Under her, Northbrook Middle’s choir has grown from just 24 students to more than 150 in only three years.
A 2010 graduate of Trinity University in San Antonio, Snelling took her music bachelor’s degree and earned a master’s degree in art of teaching a year later, also from Trinity University. She is currently focused on earning a future graduate degree from the University of Redlands located in northern California. Her second advanced degree will be a master of music in vocal chamber music. She hopes to earn that graduate degree by 2021.
She is committed to student inclusion in choir as a top priority. She includes students with autism in her lessons through the APPLE (Autism Program Preparing Learners for Excellence) program, as well as Life Skills students who may have disability conditions that impact cognitive and related functions, including daily tasks. Snelling has had clear success in her music outreach, by student response as well as reaction.
“All humans deserve music and art,” Snelling said. “My belief is that without music and art, our cultures will eventually dwindle. However, through the education of all students and exposure to other cultures through music and art, we can then ‘Stop, Look and Listen,’ to the world that exists all around us.”
As newly designated team lead, Snelling works closely with orchestra, band and other fine arts program instructors to create a supportive “art school” environment. School leadership is very supportive.
“We have an amazing administrative team here now at Northbrook Middle that looks at the whole student,” she adds, citing Principal Sarah Guerrero,retired Assistant Principal Kathy Green, and current band and orchestra leaders, for strong support and guidance. “There is a culture here of reaching out to the whole child.”
Administrators and colleagues praise her on many levels.
“Lizzy Snelling is a phenomenal educator in every aspect,” Principal Guerrero said. “She cares so deeply for her students and her teammates. She helps make those around her shine. She is constantly seeking out new learning, and then innovating her instructional practice.”
Principal Guerrero adds that Snelling’s influence and impact extend beyond her classroom. “She is a leader of her peers. She is a leader in SBISD and region for choir and the performing arts. Lizzy is the trusted adult for so many of our students and alumni because she is a rock for our students,” the principal said.
Like so many recent Teacher of the Year winners, Snelling found the fast-paced announcement on the baseball field a bit shocking. “They said my name, and I said to myself, ‘Me?’ My favorite next thought was my parents were in the stand watching,” she said.
Her parents, British natives who now live in Katy, took a family photograph with her Teacher of the Year poster inside Minute Maid Park’s Union Station.
Snelling also had a big administrative and campus cheering team at the ball park, as well as her guests, Spanish teacher Alice Reyes, and orchestra’s Marisol Luna.
By early Wednesday morning, Snelling was back in the choir hall and focusing on work ahead. The Northbrook Middle Choir would perform several times in the days ahead. Spring Branch Girls Choir was in rehearsal for a pop show. Snelling herself will perform soon with Houston Camerata, a notable adult performance group.
“The next two weeks may be my busiest,” the choir director noted.
As newly named Teachers of the Year, Clements and Snelling will soon represent the district in regional competition. If successful, they will then compete at the state and the national level.
During its history, SBISD has had regional and Texas Teachers of the Year. Many more district educators have been regional-level finalists, or won separate high-level awards and honors.
Campus Teacher of the Year candidates are first nominated by the district’s students, parents, teachers and interested community members. This year, more than 1,500 nominations were submitted, and 781 SBISD educators in all were nominated.
Members of the SBISD Teacher of the Year Committee read and reviewed all campus Teacher of the Year applications, including candidate-submitted videos. The committee voted, naming six Teacher of the Year finalists.
Recognized earlier as this year’s SBISD Principals of the Year were Roy Moore of Nottingham Elementary and Randolph Adami of Northbrook High School.
The Service Awards reception at Union Station and the Astros Game event were coordinated by the SBISD Community Relations and Communications teams, with planning led by Community Relations Specialist Becky Wuerth.