HOUSTON – Oct. 24, 2018 – For their second award presentation of the 2018-19 school year, members of the Spring ISD Board of Trustees headed to Dekaney High School on Tuesday to present the October Employee Excellence Award to Letisha Kelly, the school’s head dance instructor and director of the Dekaney Diamonds dance team.
“The Spring ISD Board of Trustees likes for people to recommend employees for the outstanding things that they have done,” said Board President Rhonda Newhouse during the ceremony. “And each month we select someone to give this award to, as a way to say ‘Thank you for your excellence.’”
Kelly, who was nominated by an anonymous community member through the district’s “elevate” online platform, expressed both surprise and happiness at being named the October award winner.
“I didn’t even know what to say,” Kelly recounted afterwards. “I was shocked, but also very honored and humbled. I was at a loss of words – and that doesn’t come often!”
Also on hand for the presentation were Trustees Winford Adams Jr., Donald Davis, and Justine Durant. They were joined by Dekaney Principal Alonzo Reynolds III, Spring ISD Chief Human Resources Officer Deeone McKeithan and General Counsel Jeremy Binkley.
Kelly began her Spring ISD career at Westfield High School as assistant director of Westfield’s Lariettes dance team, then moved to Dekaney when the new school opened. Both Davis and Durant knew Kelly during her time at Westfield – Davis as a fellow faculty member and Durant as a parent of a Westfield student – and both commented on Kelly’s longtime dedication to the district and the community.
“She started off as an assistant director at Westfield when my daughter was a Lariette on the dance team over there,” Durant said, “and they loved her. When Dekaney opened, she got the director position and left, and all the girls cried for a week.”
Since coming to Dekaney to lead the school’s dance program, Kelly has seen the department grow to approximately 275 students across a range of dance classes. Together with assistant director Melissa Pruett, Kelly also leads the Dekaney Diamond Dancers, a competitive performing group of 25 students that regularly competes both regionally and nationally.
“She’s an original Wildcat,” said Reynolds. “She was here when the school opened. She just puts in the work and doesn’t ask for anything. She just naturally does it. I think this award is an outstanding honor for a very deserving team member.”
Kelly has led the Diamond Dancers to a number of notable milestones over recent years, including Super Bowl LI, when the group performed in Lady Gaga’s halftime show.
“The Super Bowl was one of our favorites,” Kelly said. “It was an amazing opportunity. We enjoyed every moment of it, and it was an awesome experience for our dance team.”
Newhouse described Kelly as a teacher who was willing to go above and beyond for her students and even to take on extra jobs and responsibilities. In addition to her ongoing work with the Diamond Dancers, Kelly is also serving as senior class sponsor.
“She treats her students and parents with respect, communicating with them and showing that they are appreciated,” Newhouse said. “Her girls have won many awards and recognitions over the years and brought many awards to Dekaney and Spring ISD.”
Running a performing arts program can be all-consuming at times, especially with a team schedule that includes many after-school rehearsals as well as travel to and from events and competitions. But, Kelly insisted, it’s time well-spent as she gets to watch her students grow and mature over the course of their high school years.
“I love seeing how students are able to develop and then overcome so many obstacles that may be in their way,” Kelly said. “They are dedicated not only to the team but to their talent and their craft. And it’s a lasting relationship that they’ll always have.”
For Kelly, instilling that element of teamwork is at the core of her role as both a teacher and a director.
“I think that’s what helps us be so successful,” she said, “is that we work as a team, not a group of individuals. And you have to, because when you’re dancing, that’s what you have to be – one cohesive unit.”
Kelly spoke of her own experiences as a cheerleader and dancer when she was in high school, as well as her years at Sam Houston State University, where she majored in dance. She said the relationships built over those years have strengthened her and informed her work with her own students ever since.
“My expectations are always high,” she said. “I guess I just want to teach them how to grow and develop into being better young ladies, better adults, better citizens, and for them to want to go out and encourage the same for others. They’re an amazing group of young ladies. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Like past award recipients, Kelly received a framed certificate and a special Spring ISD recognition pin. During the brief ceremony, Kelly was also presented with a check for $100, and she will join other 2018-19 winners in the chance for a $1,000 prize to be awarded at the district’s annual Employee Recognition Banquet next spring.