Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

August 19, 2013

JISD Staff rallies at convocation

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Drawing on nearly 50 years as an educator, former JISD Coach John Alexander reminded teachers at Friday's JISD Convocation to “be prepared; be positive; have patience and wisdom.”

Then, he reminded the throng of educators, faculty, administrators gathered at the new district gymnasium – located on the former Lon Morris campus – that because of the great impact each has on a student, it was important to reach out to them, even if they weren't sure they were getting through, sharing the story about a former student,  a young woman unable to walk, talk or feed herself.

“You knew when she was happy by the sounds she made, and let me promise you, you knew when she was mad because she made a sound that you would not want to hear,” he said.

Several years ago, he recognized her mother while shopping at a local store and “I walked up to her and said, 'Ma'am, I'm Coach Alexander,' and before I was finished, the girl had reached out and grabbed my hand (pulling it close to her). She started making her happy sounds,” he said, slightly choking up. “That is why we teach.

“Teaching is a mission that you are called to do; God called you to be a teacher, and that's why we have the greatest profession in the world,” he said.

The former coach, who served the local district from 1978 to 1997, and Accomplished Alumna Sissy Austin were the keynote speakers at the event, which may have looked like serious business, but the mood was pure pep rally, as those present cheered when the high school band played the Fightin' Indians fight song and former cheerleaders – including some who first began cheering in the 1940s – threaded their way through the new district gymnasium, encouraging the crowd to respond.

“Today, we're here to celebrate and honor all of JISD for being the champions that you are,” said Superintendent Dr. Joe Wardell, pointing to a gold-and-blue banner displayed at the back of the gym emblazoned with a trophy and the message “JISD Home of Champions.”

“I have a friend who is a pastor, and every Sunday when he'd get up and speak, instead of saying 'welcome back' … he always says 'welcome home.' And I think that (JISD) is really a great thing for all of us to be part of; it is our home,” he said.

Their work in creating a superior district is something in which they should take pride, because “greatest honor you can have is if someone tries to emulate what you do,” Wardell said, describing how administrators came up with a list of people who looked to JISD as an education model. “It took about five minutes, (and) we had a list of 19 different school districts who visited our schools to see what we're doing and try to emulate (that).

“Most of them came multiple times, so the word is out there of how great a job you do, and what you do. And we are so proud of the fact that we set the standard  (others try to emulate).”

During the convocation, 2012-2013 teachers of the year Sergio Camarillo of Joe Wright Elementary and Kerry Palmquist of Jacksonville Middle School were introduced.

Also during the event, the Jacksonville Education Foundation – which sponsors the annual convocation – recognized Austin and Alexander as the district's “Stars” for their personal accomplishments as well as their support of JISD.

Austin, the 1959 JHS valedictorian who worked with NASA as an aerospace engineer and helped put a man on the moon, told educators how proud she was of them.

“The theme of this convocation is 'JISD – Home of Champions,' and you are champions. You are the front line of education for our children – you will shape the city, the county, the state, nation with what you teach these youngsters,” she said. “As you begin the school year, whether this is your first year or you're a veteran … it takes a big heart to shape little minds. Be the best teacher you can, every day, and shoot for the moon. Even if you (don't get there), you'll land with the stars.”

Added Alexander: “There is no other profession that has an impact on society as you do. Your influence can never be measured. There's a saying out there that I really cannot stand, which says, 'Those that can't, teach.' They got that all wrong: Those that can't teach, they're going to have to find something else to do.”

During the convocation, JEF announced recipients of several grants, including five new $1,000 grants funded through Austin Bank, for whom Austin serves as executive senior vice president and director.

Recipients the newest awards include: Jacksonville High School AVID Coordinator Terri Orr, who received the Windmill and Annie Laurie Phillips Grant for the Advancement Via Individual Determination program; West Side educators Stephanie Ganske, Laura Kinard, Heather Brents and Kelly Flanagan, who received the Andy and Susan Phillips Grant for “Pony Up – We are College Bound!” which focuses on educational field trips and projects; Nichols Intermediate instructors Freida Grimes, Katasha Robinson-Harris and Amy Waldie were awarded the Austin Bank JISD Graduates Grant for purchase of a three SMART Slates to be used in an interactive 6th grade math classroom; East Side Elementary's Alice Ray received the Class of 1959 Classroom Grant for “Giving Students the Tools to Learn” by providing necessary, basic science tools to conduct hands-on science investigations as required by the Texas Essential knowledge and Skills test. Instructors Melynda Cundieff and Angie Stinson received the Tim L. Smith Classroom Grant, which will be used to fund NASA field trips for the district's third and fourth grade Gifted & Talented program students.

Also new this year are the foundation's “Star Awards,” $250 grants made in each star's name to a a JISD department of their choice: Austin selected the high school math department, while Alexander named the district's Life-Skills Classrooms as his recipient.

JEF awarded $1,000 grants as well, to Fred Douglass counselor Eric Alvarez for the campus After School Clubs, high school instructors Susan Mouser and Alicia Herron for Literature Circles for the English I Classroom, and instructors Lisa Brown and Myra White, for a sixth-grade reading ActiVote Student Response Systems program.

Retired high school accounting teacher Larry Garner was named the inaugural recipient of the “Influential Educator” honor, nominated by former accounting students Matt and Kelly Montgomery and Randy and Cheryl Gorham, who own local accounting and finance businesses in Jacksonville. The two couples have pledged funds that will allow the newly established “Larry Garner Distinguised Business Award” to be given to a deserving senior for the next decade, according to a JEF release.

Also newly established this year is the Neta Hanna Cheerleader Scholarship, started by former district cheerleaders. The scholarship will be awarded annually to a graduating senior cheerleader.

Several individuals recognized by their peers were also named during the convocation as “Indian Chief” and “Influential Indians.”

Late local business leader Tim L. Smith was named an Indian Chief “due to the tremendous amount recently donated to a scholarship fund in his name,” the JEF release said. “He will be missed in Jacksonville but his love for this town an the school system will keep his memory alive for years to come.”

Among those named Friday as Influential Indians were long-time East Side Elementary principal Jean Mixon; retired instructor Margaret McCown; JISD math teacher Heather Avera; Coach John Alexander; Chuck Hopson; Chris Lilley; Renee Hopson; Lisa Hopson Harris; Tony Harris; Gene Hamon; and Joey Villavisencio (in memoriam).