Home » Success Stories » Cain Sczepanski: A Loving Tribute and Lasting Legacy

Nominate a Special Educator Today!

The Cain Sczepanski Foundation in Special Education was created by Bill, Carolyn and Cara Sczepanski in memorial to their son and brother, Cain. Cain lived for 24 years with Down syndrome and heart defects. He died on March 7, 2011, of a heart attack. Cain spent 18 years under the guidance of dedicated LISD instructors and para-professionals. The Award of Excellence was created by the Cain Sczepanski Foundation in Special Education to annually recognize special educators who demonstrate classroom excellence.

Cain Sczepanski Award of Excellence Nomination forms must be received by 4:30 p.m. on March 2, 2018, at the LEF office located at 400 West Main Street, Lewisville, TX 75057. Any questions should be addressed to LEF Programs Coordinator Sherah Robinson (robinsonsl@lisd.net, 469-948-2020).

Nominate a Special Educator Today!

Congratulations to our 2017 winners!

  • Dawn Chegwidden, Lewisville High
  • David Florentino, Parkway Elementary
  • Alesha Gillieland, Purnell Support Center
  • Misty Graham, Lakeview Middle
  • Theresa Marcellus, Shadow Ridge Middle
  • Miranda Marrott, Killian Middle
  • Cynthia Metivier, Marcus High
  • Paula Paterson, Old Settlers Elementary


Dawn, a general education AP environmental science and aquatic science teacher, fills many roles at Lewisville High School. In addition to her general education teaching, Dawn is the department chair for science at LHS while also co-advising the National Honor Society and HOSA (Health Occupational Student Association). In addition, she has made great contributions to the special education department.

As a science teacher who co-teaches and parallel teaches with the special education department, Dawn’s goal is to prepare ALL of her students to become informed citizens. When it comes to science, she makes scientific connections and discovery through past knowledge and present learning experiences. Her best vehicle for doing that is her ecosystem project in which students are responsible for designing and building an ecosystem that will support fish over a seven-week period. It’s described as the “perfect hands-on mode of instruction to help students with special needs visually grasp concepts in aquatic science.”

Dawn supported special education lesson planning and provided equipment from her own budget to ensure special education students were able to have the same quality of education as students in the general education classroom. That falls in line with one of her chief philosophies: in order for students with disabilities to succeed in school, they need to be provided with the same learning opportunities that the general education student receives.


All who attend or work at Parkway Elementary hold David, who says he realized all he’s ever wanted to do is teach children, in high regard. Mr. David, as students call him, was inspired to work in special education by a family member with disabilities, and it’s clear that he considers all those he works with as family.

“All students are capable of achieving anything they put their minds to, and it is our responsibility as educators to provide them with the environment, tools and support to achieve those dreams,” David said. He does that by lighting up the room with his attitude, according to those he works with every day.

His impact is described as “off the charts” in the short time he has been on staff at Parkway. Pulling from his own experience as a bilingual student at Hedrick Middle School, David relates to the learners around him and exhibits a genuine and authentic eagerness to help others and do so with a friendly smile no less. His most impressive skill may be the ability to turn a student’s frown into a smile when no one else can. His willingness to help in any situation sets him apart, but his ability to do it with his never-ending positive attitude makes him special.


Alesha has only been with Lewisville ISD a short time, but has, without a doubt, made a lasting impact. A student parent credits Alesha for how far their son has come in such a short time.

After a tough few months, now he looks forward to going to school to see “Ms. G” every day with a contagious smile on his face. He made amazing strides in learning and speaking with Alesha. He is just one of many she has supported in her time at Purnell.

After starting as a substitute, Alesha completed her transition from management to full-time teacher when she was hired in February. Knowing she wanted to teach in special education from the beginning, it was no surprise she immediately fell in love with it. “I absolutely love my job,” she says. One demonstration of that love is the pantry she has spearheaded at Purnell.

Students collect donations, stock shelves and count inventory in order to distribute Weekend Survivor bags. Not only does the program ensure none of Purnell’s students go hungry over the weekends, but it also teaches marketable skills. It’s just one program Alesha has instituted in a short time there, joining her One Warm Coat drive and more. As a mother of six, Alesha applies that experience to her teaching to think outside the box and individualize her teaching.


“Mrs. Graham has been our rock.”

“There is no bigger cheerleader in the lives of these children than her.”

“This is truly her passion and calling.”

“Her potential for growth in this field is limitless.”

These are the statements Misty’s colleagues, students’ parents and supervisors say about her. Inspired by two particular educators in her own education, Misty has moved from teaching her stuffed animals in her closet as a child to a highly valued special education teacher at Lakeview Middle. My students are “my smile each day” she says.

Her current position at Lakeview has been the most rewarding opportunity of her career and surely rewarding for LISD. Her gift of open and honest communication with her students, co-workers and parents make an impact every day. In addition to that, her tireless work ethic has led to her establishing three separate learning environments and working to restructure the school’s AVLS program to work more seamlessly with the high school in order to ease and better facilitate each student’s transition. Misty says her students are her most influential teachers. It’s clear the feeling is mutual.


Theresa’s tireless work ethic does not go unnoticed. Often being the last to leave at night or the fact that she never seems to be “off duty” when someone needs help, her staff at Shadow Ridge Middle as well as her students’ parents know they can call on her.

She realized she wanted to be a teacher after helping her own teachers with younger classes growing up. Then, when she met her sister-in-law with Down syndrome, Theresa knew she wanted to pursue special education. She has been called a gifted educator.

In her role as team lead at Shadow Ridge, Theresa’s leadership is appreciated by her staff and noticed by parents. Her tremendous dedication shines through as well. Whether it is midnight emails or availability for after-hours calls and texts, it seems like Theresa is always there to help.

In fact, one of her students moved last year, and his parents credit Theresa’s work for his seamless transition to a new school. She still offers guidance and support to his current teachers hundreds of miles away more than a year later. Her principal says her devotion and dedication is unprecedented.


As challenging as working with special needs students can be, one parent said Miranda has met the challenge “like a rock star.” Her students focus on always being ready to learn and being responsible for one’s self. She fosters that environment in many ways.

In her effort to be “numbered among the proverbial, and very real, village that it takes to bring our children successfully into adulthood,” Miranda constantly seeks out ways for each child to be exposed to every life skill they may encounter. Her patience stands out as she gives all of herself to provide students so many opportunities to be challenged and grow.

A colleague calls her truly one of a kind, an innovator and a passionate teacher who inspires others. To those she works with, they say she always lets you know you’re cherished. For her students, they’ve each beautifully blossomed and know they can go to her in the face of struggles. A tireless advocate for her students, Miranda is said to be a great teacher of character.

But, most importantly, her class is so fun, that her students don’t even know how much they’re learning whether it’s through an etiquette luncheon, a snack cart business, or countless other opportunities Miranda uses to equip her students for life.


Her peers and students’ parents describe Cynthia in many ways but the most telling word is irreplaceable. A parent says she is “truly special” and “stands out from the rest.”

After learning a lot, she says, from her best friend’s son with special needs, Cynthia made her way into special education. Now at Marcus she has the opportunity to work with students for up to six years, and in that time she strives to know each student as well as she can in order to truly individualize her instruction. It shows as one parent said her son benefitted from the fact that Cynthia was so in tuned with his personality. He became a student who thrived due to her dedication.

Another example of her dedication is the regular communication she provides to the parents of her students on a nearly daily basis. While it may be just a paragraph or a half a page in someone’s eyes, those parents cherish that communication. Described as an expert at individualized instruction, Cynthia will surely be missed upon her retirement.


Old Settlers Elementary Principal Kelly Hayunga says she has never encountered a better educator in special education in 26 years of working in education. Paula stands out as a loving professional who provides a caring, welcoming, supportive environment for each learner to thrive.

She sets her expectations high and ensures her students receive the individualized instruction in order to reach those expectations. She looks at each child as a diamond, a unique student who requires individualized instruction, and, no matter what, she and her staff find the best solution for each student.

Paula is described as a vital part of the Old Settlers community, but really her entire community. It’s not uncommon for Paula to attend concerts, plays, proms, hospital visits or home visits for her students. Her personal approach makes others say there are none like her.

A parent called her a “powerhouse, a wealth of knowledge and one who never gives up.” She doesn’t let her students either. They learn life skills through “Super Star Snacks” in which students take orders, measure out, and deliver snacks to the OSE staff. Students are proud of their work and the smiles on their faces speak volumes.

For our full photo gallery, click here.

Congratulations to the 2016 winners!

Lillian Gilbert, Old Settlers Elementary: Lillian is known as an educator who goes above and beyond to make sure each student learns and grows academically, emotionally and socially. She holds students accountable but gives consequences in loving ways, always reminding students “tomorrow is a new day.” Students feel loved, safe and secure in her care, with one student writing on the nomination form, “She helps me calm down when I am upset.”

Tina Taylor, Briarhill Middle School: Tina is described as approachable, collaborative, and flexible in thought and strategy. She’s appreciated for her ability to think outside the box to accommodate individual student needs. Her students know she counts on them to do their best and they thrive because of her confidence and support. She is a valued colleague in her field because she cares about what happens in every aspect of students’ lives. Her students know this. “She helps me with EVERYTHING,” one 6th grade student said.

Kari Wiggins, Flower Mound High School: Kari is known by her peers as the “go-to” expert on Special Education. She works to do what is best for each student, and has an uncanny ability to know when to challenge a student, and when to hold their hand. She works to create independence by teaching students to advocate for themselves and set goals for themselves.

Denise Tooch, Marcus High School: Denise was described as an educator with a vision rarely found among teachers outside Special Education. She believes all students benefit when special education students are included in the theater program. Her approach gives special education students a chance to shine with their “typical” peers. She has goals and a vision to implement a program that would allow more special education students the chance to grow through musical theater.

Walter Jimenez, Focus on the Future: Walter works with students to create opportunities, such as the Comic Expo. He also created street hockey tournament for students with Dallas Stars players, which enabled students to gain skills by teaching other special needs students about street hockey. He started the print shop at Focus on the Future, which has given students marketable skills and led to job placements. He is described as an innovative and dedicated educator who instills leadership skills in students through comics, hockey, and print programs.

William Miller, Focus on the Future: William is instrumental in changing students’ focus from being a good student to becoming a good employee as they age out of program. He respects students and expects them to communicate for self as much as possible and inspires students to take pride in their appearance and maintain an organization system. He is known for his dedication and commitment to making sure everything is done with the students in mind, and is said to be always in the midst of students, working hands-on to direct their day in a patient and flexible manner.

Congratulations to the 2015 winners!

Ida Bishop, Lewisville High School: Ida is known for her joyful selflessness and dedication to students that extends beyond the school day. She has provided clothing and grooming items for students in need. Ida guides students to better choices, focuses on “life lessons” and teachable moments, and puts an emphasis on a student’s ability, rather than challenges.

Paula Bruner, Forestwood Middle School: Paula is known for her ability to make each student feel special through her positive, loving and supportive approach. A valued member of the Forestwood team, she received their first ever Staff Member of the Month award.

Deborah Corbet, Hebron High School: Deborah is known for her commitment, diligence, and leadership. She established Hebron’s Video Game Society for students with Autism. Additionally, she assisted with the Special Education department’s paperless conversion, creating easier access and greater accuracy in documentation campus wide, ensuring teachers know how to best serve students and students get what they need to be successful.

Donna Davis, Wellington Elementary: Donna is highly respected by her colleagues, and praised for her unending patience and positive attitude. Her tireless determination in helping each child make progress and experience success has earned the trust and gratitude of the parents and children with whom she works.

Lindsay Lovett, Homestead Elementary: Lindsay is known for her kind, caring approach to teaching each child. She strives to enrich learning through projects and field trips, and constantly looks for new ways to engage her students in learning.

Summer Swindell, Focus on the Future: Summer is known for her eager, helpful spirit, reliability and professional rapport with students. In her role as Lead Job Coach for Focus on the Future at Purnell Support Center, she coaches students and works with employers to develop job positions for them within the community.

Pictures from each presentation are posted in our Facebook album!

In 2012 Cain’s Foundation presented the Award of Excellence to two LISD teachers. In 2013 Cain’s Foundation recognized the classroom excellence of four remarkable educators. The 2013 Awards of Excellence and $500 were awarded to the following individuals:

  • Becky Hanna teaches Academic Life Skills for grades 3 – 5 at Prairie Trail Elementary School. Becky has taught Special Education students for 11 years.
  • Katie Taylor teaches a Communication Class for grades 4 and 5 at Flower Mound Elementary School. Katie became a Special Education Instructor because her foster brother has Down syndrome.
  • Robin Lewis teaches Kindergarten and Third Grade Resource Reading, Writing and Math at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School. Robin’s philosophy is simple – she has never met a child who cannot learn.
  • Phillip Humphries teaches Special Education at Flower Mound High School. Phillip believes that teaching is not a profession – it is a way of life.

“Each recipient was honored and humbled by the recognition and cash award. Carolyn and I were honored to make the presentations and maybe in a few years we can talk about Cain without getting teary eyed,” Bill Sczepanski said. “The growth from two to four Awards is due to donations from over 50 friends of Cain and our partnership with the Greater Lewisville Special Education PTA. There are many more Special Education instructors and Para-professionals to recognize in the district, and we anticipate being able to recognize five or six instructors in 2014. Thanks again to those who remember Cain by supporting Cain’s Foundation and honoring Special Education instructors.”

Cain Sczepanski Award of Excellence Nomination forms must be received by 4:30 p.m. on March 2, 2018, at the LEF office located at 400 West Main Street, Lewisville, TX 75057. Any questions should be addressed to LEF Programs Coordinator Sherah Robinson (robinsonsl@lisd.net, 469-948-2020).