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 paraprofessionals. The Award of Excellence was created by the Cain Sczepanski Foundation in Special Education to annually recognize special education educators who demonstrate classroom excellence.
Cain Sczepanski Award of Excellence Nomination forms must be received by 4:30 p.m. on March 1, 2022, at the LEF office located at 1565 C West Main Street, Lewisville, TX 75067 or emailed to email@example.com. Any questions should be addressed to LEF Programs Coordinator Sherah Robinson by email or phone at 469-948-2020.
Congratulations to the 2021 winners!
- AUBREY LO, Independence Elementary
- MACY WINKLE, Donald Elementary
- KELLY PRESLEY, Huffines Middle School
- JENNIFER SHAW, The Colony High School
- JULIANA WOOTTEN, Marcus High School
AUBREY LO, Independence Elementary
Before even attending elementary school herself, Aubrey Lo already knew that she was destined to be a teacher. As a young child, she would help with her aunt’s classroom and be excited about all the “exciting teacher-tasks” she could help with like passing out pencils and grading papers with sticker. In sixth grade, she had her first experience working in SPED which would open her eyes – and heart- to what teaching special education could look like.
“I was part of a program called Hope, where I would assist certain students with their assignments one-on-one in the hallway,” says Lo. “When I reflect back on this time period, I realize that I never truly understood that those students had disabilities; I just knew that they needed extra help and I wanted to be the one to provide it.”
Although this is her first year teaching in Lewisville ISD, she has already made an incredible impact on her students and their parents at Independence Elementary. One parent recalls how at the beginning of the very unconventional 2020-2021 school year, Ms. Lo did everything she could to establish a relationship with her son while they were still virtual. Lo not only indulged the string of emails to address concerns about the parent’s 6 year old son but also listened and asked questions to learn how to better communicate his needs.
“The challenges are there, but Ms. Lo sees the reason behind them, she has taken an interest in him to the point where she can pinpoint when he’s getting ill. He’s had multiple ear infections this year, that were picked up on by Ms. Lo noticing that my son’s disposition was off. She sees his patterns, and she’s learned to listen to the things he cannot say. I am thankful to Ms. Lo for her consistent, open communication. She goes beyond her role of being my son’s classroom teacher.”
MACY WINKLE, Donald Elementary
Currently in her seventh year teaching at Donald Elementary, Macy Winkle is a Communications teacher who makes it a point to celebrate every tiny victory with her students and their families. Because of her positive attitude, dedication, and caring disposition, her students are highly successful in each of their individual learning plans.
“H.O.P.E. I recently heard it explained as Having Only Positive Expectations. This struck a chord in me because the part of my job I love the most is getting to celebrate every tiny victory with my students and their families,” says Winkle. “Victories that may seem like a natural part of adolescence or insignificant to some can be monumental milestones to my students. It is important to me that each student is engaged and successful in their own way and that parents see the growth their students are making.”
Winkle goes the extra mile and works closely with her students’ General Education teachers to ensure that her students are included academically and socially and also actively seeks professional learning opportunities to improve her teaching skills. She recently became STEM certified and also recently applied to graduate school to fulfill her goal of becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
“Mrs. Winkle always ensures that her students experience success by challenging their abilities in order to encourage as much growth and development as possible,” says Dr. Michelle Wooten, Previous Donald Principal). “Her students are always treated with great dignity and respect and as a result, she has excellent rapport with them and their families.”
KELLY PRESLEY, Huffines Middle School
Kelly Pressley is a special Education teacher at Huffines Middle School who is so beloved by her students, that she is invited to all their life events, including events after graduation or even more than ten years later – her impact on their lives is that great.
Pressley like many teachers found her calling at a very young age. But it wasn’t until she began substituting in Lewisville twenty years ago that she found her place in special education.
“I have been in special education for 20 years, and I would never leave this profession. I love coming to work every day and seeing the joy my kids have and the relationships I have formed with their families. Special Education is where my heart is and always will be,” says Pressley.
Families and parents love working with Pressley and many had even researched top schools and special education teachers in the area in order to find the right fit for their children. She not only works individually with each student to reach their goals and celebrate their accomplishments, but she also recognizes their potential and pushes them to new achievements.
“Not everyone can be a Special needs Teacher. It takes someone with a special heart to want to work with a child that may not always understand what she is trying to teach them,” says one parent. “She has made a huge difference in my son’s life and I know that because of her and her team, my son will be successful when he starts high school this fall.”
JENNIFER SHAW, The Colony High School
No idea is too big for Jennifer Shaw, the Academic Vocational Life Skills Teacher at The Colony High School. She not only gives everything she can as a teacher but goes even further and searches for as many opportunities possible for her students, even when that means building those opportunities herself from the ground up.
Programs that she has implemented for her students such as Grand Ball, Sunshine and Dine, and Radiant Treasures focus on creating a real life environment for her students to receive hands on learning that teaches job skills, independence and community. Shaw is the type of one-of-a-kind teacher that parents will move their families to the area just so that their children can be in her class and learn with her.
“My daughter has been forever changed by Mrs. Shaw’s love, kindness, caring, and guidance,” says one parent. “She is not only prepared for the world with necessary life skills, academic skills, and job skills, she has also fostered a love or school and teaching that has led her to want to be a teacher’s aide upon graduation. As a family, we attribute this to her favorite teacher, Mrs. Shaw, who truly is a life changer.”
For Shaw, who first became inspired to become an educator thanks to a spirited (and intimidating) teacher she had while attending Marcus High School, being an educator means giving hope to others and showing them what they are capable of achieving. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she is fulfilling that goal.
“My desire is for the world to see my student’s value to the community in which they live. I believe each individual holds unique characteristics which need to be developed into skills which will make them successful in the future,” says Shaw,
JULIANA WOOTEN, Marcus High School
This was Juliana Wooten’s first year teaching in LISD as the ALS teacher for Marcus High School and she hit the ground running immediately. The program, like many other school programs during this past school year, had a very rocky start and she was a key factor in turning it around.
She began building a rapport with her students and their families immediately by driving to each students home while remote learning and setting up her classroom to be the most inviting and welcome place for her students. One parent could immediately tell the difference in her child’s attitude and involvement in school.
“My daughter has mentioned things at home that she learned in Mrs. Wooten’s class. I do not remember her doing that in previous years,” says one of the student’s parents. “Mrs. Wooten has a way of making the learning fun and relatable.”
Wooten comes from a background of coaching before she transitioned into special education when an opportunity for a coaching position linked to a special education teaching job came up. She has since coached and sponsored special Olympic clubs and inclusion sports teams.
“It is my responsibility to train my students how to be independent young adults and to prepare them for life after high school,” says Wooten. “Aside from their parents, I am my student’s biggest fan and will advocate for their best interests for as long as I am able!”
Congratulations to our 2020 winners!
- JENNIFER HAMPTON, Flower Mound Elementary
- REBEKAH JANSEN, Polser Elementary
- DEBRA BRADFORD, Hedrick Middle School
- MELANIE NOVARRO, Downing Middle School
- KIM WATSON, Marcus High School
Jennifer Hampton took the opportunity to transform childhood academic struggles into an inclusive teaching environment that immediately puts students, parents and coworkers at ease.
One of many examples of her comforting demeaner is the testimony of a parent to one of her previous students. A young boy diagnosed with autism and a mother terrified to leave him on his first day of kindergarten, Hampton greeted them both kindly and reassured them both in a calm voice.
“I know in my heart Trevor would not be where he is today without the kind and loving help Mrs. Hampton provided starting on the very first day of school,” says the parent.
Believing that students will learn best when they feel accepted, are treated as a unique individual and are given multiple opportunities throughout their day to shine, Hampton also shares her knowledge with fellow teachers, leading Best Practices sessions and creating learning materials for others to reference.
“I believe in a system, where it is okay to not know all the answers. I teach my students that mistakes are proof that they are trying and willing. They need to feel acknowledged, heard, and most of all valued as a student. I believe the true measure of learning is not found from what I have done, rather can be found in how my students feel about their own successes along the way,” says Hampton.
Co-workers and peers cannot rave enough about Rebekah Jansen’s exceptional communication skills. As an Academic Life Skills (ALS) Special education teacher, she goes beyond the call of periodic updates but instead communicates openly and earnestly with parents, students and peers on a regular basis, creating an inclusive environment for students to prosper in.
Jansen has a long history of connecting with Special Education students, beginning at Heritage Elementary where she spent time doing music therapy with students. She then continued with being a classroom aide at Briarhill Middle School and progressed to joining the Circle of Friends Prom at Marcus High School. It’s at the Circle of Friends Prom that Jansen has a memory forever preserved in a picture with none other than Cain Sczepanski, for whom this award is a tribute to.
“Cain was one of so many friends that brought so much joy to my life and left an impact on my heart forever,” says Jansen.
Jansen also attributes her love of working in Special Education to the time she spent with her little brother, a child with Down Syndrome whom her parents decided to foster when she was in middle school.
“In the past 18 years, we have shared so many special memories together. He has a very special place in my heart and has forever changed my life. After all of these wonderful experiences, I knew that being a Special Education teacher is exactly where I was meant to be and I knew too that it was part of my mission to share with the world the same joy, kindness, compassion, and love that I felt by showing them how incredible people with disabilities are,” says Jansen.
Understanding that all students, especially Special Education student, learn in different ways, Debra Bradford of Hedrick Middle School strives each day to connect students to their lessons by presenting the material in different ways.
“My Philosophy for instruction for students with disabilities is to use as many visuals as possible, use hands on activities as much as possible, connect their learning to real-life situations, and give them the opportunity to practice and receive help when needed. When help is needed, I try to help them learn to find answers for themselves or guide their thinking to show them that they are able to think for themselves,” says Bradford.
Starting as a Special Education aide for LISD 10 years ago, Bradford continued her work with children with special needs in Content Mastery and as an Inclusion aide at the high school level. Now Bradford is a 7th and 8th Grade Math Resource teacher, helping students learn difficult concepts by teaching at a slower pace with more visuals and one-on-one guidance.
“Debra is patient and caring with her Special Education Resource math students. She has helped students be successful on the STAAR test when they never had been before,” says Jane Castillo, Testing Coordinator and SPED Lead Teacher of Hedrick Middle School. “I believe that the students and staff at Hedrick Middle School are lucky to have such a dedicated and effective educator on its campus. I know she is a teacher who loves what she does and is an asset to Lewisville I.S.D.”
Melanie Novarro approaches her role as an Academic Life Skills Lead Paraprofessional with the same amount of love and nurturing as any mother would for her own child. The children she works with adore her and their parents recognize how valuable she has been in their child’s development.
“We first met Melanie when my son, Landon was in the second grade at McAuliffe Elementary. She became his PARA & continued with Landon through elementary school and Downing Middle School,” says LISD parent Julie Faulkner. “She was such an integral part of Landon’s academic success within LISD. As a parent, we pray fervently for others to see our special needs kids the way we see them – through our eyes. TO be nurtured, understood, taught, included & most importantly loved. ‘Mith Menanie’ as Landon calls her is one of those people.”
Novarro can be found cheering with her students at football games or bonding with them out of school with movie nights or play dates. She has became such an integral part of her student’s lives and continues to provide academic support through love, nurturing and guidance to all the children in her school.
“It is my desire to give these children everything I have day to day and never stop fighting for everything they deserve. Being in this field is not a job for me, it is a blessing,” says Novarro.
Kim Watson is the only awardee this year working in the general education department instead of Special Education. Watson is a Family & Consumer Science Teacher at Marcus High School and comes from a long line of educators in her family.
She first began working with Special Education students when she learned of the Circle of Friends organization in 2008. This inspired her to find a way for her “future educators” (the group of students she sponsored in the Texas Association of Future Educators or TAFE) to participate with special needs students. This sparked her first project partnering her future educators with Life Skills students in a project making over 400 Homecoming mums and garters.
Watson and her students enjoyed the “Circle of Mum” nights so much, she knew immediately she wanted the Life Skills students to participate in the TAFE Special Edition competitive conference. Three Life Skills students partnered with a general education “buddy” to create a “Special Edition Bulletin Board” for elementary students fitting the competition theme and criteria for that year. Last year, four Special Edition teams qualified to continue to the State competition in McAllen, Texas. Watson worked tirelessly to arrange flights and hotel accommodations for the students and thei parents to attend the conference.
“I very much wanted to provide this unique experience for our Life Skills students,” says Warson. “They are not included in many UIL competitions and earning the right to compete at the state level in an academic competition is a first for Marcus High School. I feel like this opportunity is going to be a lasting life-long memory for all my students.”
Congratulations to our 2019 winners!
- BETHANY HARDWICK, Downing Middle
- BRILLIANCE CRAYTON, Flower Mound 9th Grade
- JAMIE HASLEM, Old Settlers Elementary
- KRISTI GALEY, Valley Ridge Elementary
- LISA CRANFILL, Highland Village Elementary
BETHANY HARDWICK, DOWNING MIDDLE
Bethany Hardwick fills a role at Downing Middle School that isn’t often recognized with the Cain Sczepanski Award of Excellence in Special Education: Director of Orchestra.
In her role as orchestra director, Hardwick went above and beyond to team up with former Cain Sczepanski Award winner Jennifer Rodgers to form “Downing Gives Bach”, a safe place for special education students within the orchestra program. It grew into Lewisville ISD’s first full-time orchestra inclusion class and includes every Academic Life Skills student at Downing Middle.
Hardwick says that it has “completely changed” her teaching style in all of her classes, prompting her to reconsider how she teaches everything. She is so happy with how it has gone that she “can’t imagine life without it!”.
Her colleague, Rodgers, praises Hardwick’s effort that went into making it happen. She researched modifications and hardware to allow for better control of the instruments for students with challenges in small motor skills, individually fitted Life Skills students with appropriate instruments considering which students may need less sensory stress, and much more.
As a direct effect from Hardwick’s work, Downing Middle has seen the Circle of Friends program more than double in size due to a spark in interest from the general education students in the orchestra. Rodgers says her Life Skills students are being invited to social events outside of school for the first time ever and that she is seeing general education students considering careers teaching special needs students.
Lora Swindle, an eighth-grader at Downing Middle, says she didn’t realize how similar special needs students were to her in so many ways and that this program changed her life and perspective.
A parent, Michelle Woods, admitted being “truly amazed by how the efforts of one individual can make such a monumental difference in the world of a special needs child.” She went on to outline the immeasurable progress she saw in her son, but also how much the program uplifted her spirits as a parent.
At Downing Middle, thanks to Bethany Hardwick, orchestra students are learning what #AllMeansAll really means.
BRILLIANCE CRAYTON, FLOWER MOUND 9TH GRADE
Brilliance Crayton is an SDI and BASE teacher at Flower Mound 9th and has proved invaluable at the campus. A colleague said, “She works tirelessly to get the best out of her students and myself.”
Crayton creates unique activities to enhance the learning experience of all students she works with, modifying and accommodating the work to fit the special needs of each student.
A student of hers said, “She’s helped me even when she didn’t realize it, and I’m truly grateful for her. I believe she deserves this award more than anyone.”
Crayton believes that students with disabilities can achieve success when teachers promote their best interests and create a variety of learning opportunities. It’s clear that is what she is doing at Flower Mound 9th Grade Campus and it’s getting noticed.
JAMIE HASLEM, OLD SETTLERS ELEMENTARY
Jamie Haslem has an amazing spirit of joy, patience, and love that she brings to the classroom each day, according to a former parent at Old Settlers Elementary.
“My son adores her,” said Kelly Braugh.
Inspired by her mother, a special education teacher for over 40 years, Haslem is determined to invest her time, love, passion, and energy into her students and their futures.
Paula Paterson, the Lead Special Education teacher at Old Settlers, said she can tell when someone just understands her students.
“Ms. Haslem knows how to encourage students in a positive way. She finds the strengths of each individual learner and fosters it. She treats each student as their own shining star!” said Paterson.
Colleagues across Old Settlers Elementary rave about Haslem with one even saying, “She is loved by all, as evidenced by the student hugs, smiles, high fives, and hellos.”
KRISTI GALEY, VALLEY RIDGE ELEMENTARY
Kristi Galey of Valley Ridge Elementary said that she immediately fell in love with special education.
“I felt like I was right where I was meant to be,” Galey said. “I soaked it all in and learned all I could about special education.”
She strives every day to point out something that her students do well, hoping that it will teach them that everyone can do something well.
It’s that connection Galey makes with each student that makes her so effective. She worked with a kindergarten student who would not talk to anyone but her parents when starting school. Now, in third grade, that student has the confidence to raise her hand in class every day, making great strides in math and reading, and has a wonderful set of school friends. Galey’s colleagues say that’s just one of hundreds of special education students Galey has helped in her many years of teaching.
In addition to her work with special education students, Galey is the epitome of a teacher leader on campus according to her principal Rachel Garrett.
Her work stands out to parents too as one admitted that Galey is the reason her family hasn’t moved – they did not want to lose Krisi Galey. That same parent described Galey as a “warrior and champion” for her students.
Amid anxiety of her daughter starting school, the parent said that what she didn’t know was that Kristi Galey would be on her daughter’s side. Kristi Galey is on the side of all of her students and it shows.
LISA CRANFILL, HIGHLAND VILLAGE ELEMENTARY
When Lisa Cranfill of Highland Village Elementary taught resource and inclusion, she knew she had found her love, her passion, her purpose in life.
“Being a teacher in special education made my heart sing,” said Cranfill.
She has now gone on to become the Behavior Intervention Classroom (BIC) teacher at HVE, and it is there that she says she feels the deepest connections with her students and their families.
“It is the highest honor that parents trust me with the emotional health of their child,” said Cranfill.
Her principal, Leslye Mitchell, says that Cranfill took the hardest teaching position in the school as the BIC teacher, but that she has transformed it into a happy and calm place of learning.
“Ms. Cranfill has been instrumental in creating a culture of high expectation embedded with love and support for our special education students,” said Mitchell.
A parent said that Cranfill “swooped in and saved the day” with their child, using constant love and care. There were countless admissions from parents who simply could not find a positive environment for their children until they landed in Cranfill’s classroom.
“Her students love her. The parents love her. And the campus loves her,” said Mitchell.
Congratulations to our 2018 winners!
- Marie Beck, Flower Mound Elementary
- Taryn Burton, Purnell Support Center
- Karen Cummings, Hebron High School
- Kim Jacobs, Old Settlers Elementary
- Kelly Krause-Reed, Lillie J. Jackson Early Childhood Center
- Britney Latham, Parkway Elementary
- Jennifer Rodgers, Downing Middle
- Candace Webb, Timber Creek Elementary
- Tharine Wells, Wellington Elementary
Marie Beck overflows with enthusiasm and energy when she works with students in her classroom at Flower Mound Elementary, so much so that her colleagues say that she has been “lighting up Flower Mound Elementary for six years.” Said to go above and beyond any other paraprofessional according to another communications teacher at FME, Marie doesn’t just love her own students, but the entire school population. “It seems like love just pours out of her like sweat from a basketball player,” another teacher said.
While her work with her students is what earned her this award, it should not go unnoticed that she cheers on the staff as much as she does students. Marie, a paraprofessional, is described as having a contagious joy that is captured by students and staff alike. In fact, the odds are on her to win a vote among the entire school for the happiest teacher on campus.
Her principal says that the school has watched Marie’s students go on to the next classroom setting, knowing they will become successful citizens. She uses a number of ways to prepare them, most notably acting out situations in order to help students understand nonverbal cues of what is going on. And she’s not afraid to look silly, says her colleagues. Well, looking silly, as well as everything else she does for her students at Flower Mound Elementary, earned her one of this year’s Cain Sczepanski Awards of Excellence.
Taryn Burton, TEAMS Department Lead Teacher at Purnell Support Center, says that she wanted to be the amazing teachers that she had. As one of this year’s Cain Sczepanski Award of Excellence winners, it’s safe to say she is.
She chose special education because it’s where her heart is. She works to highlight the strengths in her students in order to build them up and foster as much confidence and independence as possible. Taryn believes that you find success in the small things and that those small things are, in fact, not small at all.
Her principal says, with absolute certainty, that Ms. Burton is the most passionate and gifted educator he’s ever had the pleasure to work with. She has a knack for reaching some students that nobody else can. According to her colleagues, there are endless examples of students in which she saw potential and nurtured it when nobody else could.
In addition to her work with the students, her position as Lead Teacher asks much of her. However, her principal says she has been the single biggest influence on the TEAMS program since her arrival.
Karen Cummings of Hebron High School, is “joyful with the kindness, niceness and calmness,” said one of her students. A driven, devoted teacher, Mrs. Cummings develops inspiring relationships with her students, not just by teaching but by investing in all of her students.
The Special Education Department Chair at HHS says that Karen’s students adore her and work very hard for her both inside and outside of the classroom. Much of that is inspired by her work for them whether in the classroom, at extracurricular functions, as a co-sponsor for the Circle of Friends Club, initiator of two school-wide programs and more.
Mrs. Cummings is the type of person that cares for and invests in all people. Her assistant principal marvels at how well Mrs. Cummings connects with a student’s family, leading to relationships that continue well past high school. For that reason, it comes as no surprise that a former student’s parent recommended her for the award.
“Having Karen as our daughter’s teacher was such a joy. We received consistent words of praise for our daughter,” that parent said. “Karen sees our children as exceptional young adults and wants them and everyone else to see them that way as well.”
Kim Jacobs, a paraprofessional in a Behavioral Intervention Class at Old Settlers Elementary, has heard the question before – How do you do that job every day? She smiles and says, “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else!”
She has been seen doing cartwheels in the hallway, log-rolling into a classroom, and more, but the message is clear: Ms. Jacobs will do anything to help her students. That diligence as well as an ability to think outside the box when it comes to solving problems for her students makes her stand out.
Her colleagues say Ms. Jacobs has a reputation of excellence. That can be attributed to her work ethic as she works tirelessly to give each student the tools they need to thrive in any environment. Her principal says that Kim’s work is “something in which she has invested her heart.” That assessment is spot on as Kim says, “Unconditional love is what I give … always!”
Kelly Krause-Reed of Lillie J. Jackson Early Childhood Center is a product of Lewisville ISD, one who was highly involved in Circle of Friends as a student. It was an amzing experience for her and one of the reasons she became a teacher, along with the fact that she knew she wanted to be a special educator like her mother, Linda Krause.
Kelly, nominated by her students’ parents, is described as having a “get things done” attitude, one that the parents of her students greatly appreciate. Respected and adored by her students, Mrs. Krause-Reed certainly inspires with her intelligence, enthusiasm, humor and creativity.
Her main focus when it comes to her students is teaching them to advocate for themselves and instilling confidence in them. Clearly, it’s appreciated. One parent said that she helped her son blossom.
Britney Latham, a communications teacher at Parkway Elementary, is a very treasured teacher in and out of the classroom according to one of her students’ parents. That same parent said, “It’s not easy to find someone with such motivation, dedication, trustworthiness, talent, and responsibility. She has very quickly earned a place in our heart.”
She has a true calling and talent when it comes to working with students on the autism spectrum, a colleague says. That makes sense as it was time spent with a cousin’s autistic daughter that helped her discover her desire to teach in special education.
“Regardless of their level, I always strive to help them grow as much as possible during their time spent with me,” Ms. Latham says of her students. She stands strong in her convictions that every student can learn, be successful, and should have the same opportunities despite their difference in abilities.
Jennifer Rodgers, an academic life skills teacher who heads the special education department at Downing Middle School, feels like she was born to be a teacher. The parents of her students agree with one saying, “I continue to be amazed with the progress my daughter has made under the loving guidance of Mrs. Rodgers.”
Her principal says that she’s “never had the opportunity to work with anyone more committed to excellence in the classroom or more compassionate towards the students.” She leaves no stone unturned when looking for experiences to enrich the students’ educational experience at Downing Middle.
While her great work with the students is impossible to go unnoticed, Mrs. Rodgers also serves as a great mentor for her fellow teachers. Her work enriches the staff as a whole at Downing Middle, and the parents notice.
“My daughter absolutely loves to come to school and talks about Mrs. Rodgers all the time,” said a student’s parent.
“She is too good to be true!”
That’s what one of her students said about Candace Webb, a Speech-Language Pathologist at Timber Creek Elementary School.
Her colleagues wonder how they ever made it without her. As an invaluable member of the team, Mrs. Webb demonstrates such confidence and knowledge without being overbearing. She adds guidance for teachers and connects with her students.
She sees it as her job to encourage and build confidence in her students so they can grow not only in their speech and language skills, but also as people. Described as kind and patient, Mrs. Webb’s classroom is fun, engaging and effective.
Her assistant principal says that Candace is always happy to lend a helping hand, greet parents and make everyone feel welcome and a part of the campus culture. “she’s a breath of fresh air.”
Tharine Wells, a paraprofessional at Wellington Elementary School, deserves to be recognized for her contributions, according to a parent of one of her students.
“As a parent of a child who struggles in school, it is such a relief to know that Mrs. Wells is there to provide caring assistance,” said that parent.
Frequently giving up her lunch break or coming to school early to spend extra time with students, Mrs. Wells’ impact is immeasurable. She is described as caring, loving, supportive, encouraging, and dedicated to all the students in her care.
As for Mrs. Wells, she can’t ever remember NOT wanting to teach. Her infectious personality is best seen at morning duty when she is the first face the kids see in the morning. Mrs. Wells chooses to be upbeat and happy to try to make a small difference for all of the students she greets. The difference she makes is clear, and represented in the Cain Sczepanski Award of Excellence.
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 1, 2022, at the LEF office located at 1565 C West Main Street, Lewisville, TX 75067 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any questions should be addressed to LEF Programs Coordinator Sherah Robinson by email or phone at 469-948-2020.