After more than a year-and-a-half of presenting Employee Excellence Awards to district staff virtually – members of the Spring ISD Board of Trustees set out in-person on Tuesday to deliver the first three Employee Excellence Awards of the 2021-22 school year, including the August, September and October winners, all selected for living out the qualities in the district’s Leadership Definition.
“It’s amazing to be able to get out and let our exceptional employees know that we appreciate them,” Trustee Justine Durant said, “and that we’re here to recognize them for all of their hard work, and for their demonstration of their leadership skills.”
Board members returned to their tradition of surprising winning employees at their campus or work site. In addition to Durant, trustees participating on Tuesday included Winford Adams Jr., Dr. Deborah Jensen and Board President Rhonda Newhouse. The group began the morning at Westfield High School, where Assistant Principal Dr. Marlene Blandon, who oversees Special Education (SPED) at the school, was recognized as the August 2021 award winner.
In presenting the award, Newhouse told Blandon that she had been nominated by one of the school’s longtime SPED teachers, who said Blandon had been tireless in her efforts to support SPED classrooms, teachers and students since her arrival at Westfield in 2020.
“Dr. Blandon exemplifies total commitment to doing what is best for our children,” said Newhouse during her remarks, given in the school’s main entrance hallway. “She has also been very true to her word. If Dr. Blandon tells you she is going to do something, guess what? You better believe she’s going to do it, and get it done!”
In a role that can often feel nonstop, with many potential stressors and challenges to tackle on any given day, Blandon said it was encouraging to receive the words of thanks from the trustees.
“I’m just really honored, and I really appreciate it,” Blandon said afterward. “We do this work because we love it, and sometimes, you know, it can be a thankless job because everybody’s moving and working hard and solving problems. So just to hear those kind words, it really just meant a lot to me.”
Following the Westfield presentation, trustees headed next door to the district’s main administration building, where the surprise recipient of the September 2021 Employee Excellence Award was Spring ISD Director of Performing and Visual Arts (PVA) Dr. Joe Clark.
“Every month, there’s something that he’s doing that we’re seeing and appreciating,” said Newhouse, giving special mention to the recently formed Spring ISD Alumni Band and to Clark’s ongoing support of the student-led audio/visual team during football games at the district’s Planet Ford Stadium. “So today, we’d like to recognize Dr. Joe Clark. He exemplifies the Spring ISD Leadership Definition by going above and beyond to benefit Spring ISD students and the community.”
Newhouse also praised Clark for building a collaborative PVA culture throughout the district – one that supports and empowers teachers and students to do their best – and for his support of the district’s arts integration initiative. Clark was quick to point toward his own PVA department team members, calling for a round of applause for them and saying that it took all of their combined efforts to make the district’s arts education offerings a continued success.
“I feel honored, humbled, surprised, and I also want to honor the work that everyone has done that came before me,” Clark said after the presentation. “It truly is the team, and it truly is just a pleasure to serve.”
Finally, the board members traveled to Thompson Elementary School to recognize the October 2021 winner, second grade teacher Kristina Noland, who was nominated for the award by the grandparent of one of her students, who credited Noland with reigniting the student’s interest in school after a difficult time with virtual classes during the pandemic.
“He did kindergarten in person, but his first grade year was virtual, and he never established a bond with being in school,” Newhouse said during her comments about the nomination. “Therefore, he had no interest in wanting to attend school. Now, not only does he like school, he actually elaborates on his day and what he’s learned, and he speaks very highly of his favorite teacher, Ms. Noland.”
Newhouse went on to commend Noland for building strong connections with all her students, and for making her classroom a fun and welcoming place, not only for students, but also for parent volunteers excited to join in supporting the learning process for their children.
Noland, who was named a Campus Teacher of the Year last year by the Houston Area Alliance of Black School Educators (HAABSE) and who is also currently Thompson’s second grade team lead, said it felt awesome to receive the Employee Excellence Award from the board, especially knowing it meant her students were engaged and excited about learning.
“My goal always, as a teacher every year, is to help grow the humans in my class, which is what I refer to them as because that’s what they are,” Noland said. “Sometimes you definitely wonder, ‘They’ve been through so much, am I reaching them? Are they understanding?’ So to hear that they do go home and they do talk about it, and they are so happy and they do want to come back, makes my heart happy.”
She said that after all the challenges she has faced as a teacher during the pandemic, the award also helps reaffirm her own sense of calling and purpose.
“It’s a really good reminder that this is the career I should be in,” Noland said, “and then just to continue to give.”
Noland, Clark and Blandon all received an individual framed award certificate and a special Spring ISD recognition pin, along with a check for $100, made possible by the support of the Spring ISD Education Foundation. All three were nominated through the district’s online submission form, where any employee, parent, or community member can enter a nomination.
To learn more, or to nominate a Spring ISD employee, visit www.springisd.org/employee-recognition.