Waco ISD honors outstanding teachers following year of improvement

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) The top 25 teachers of the school year for the Waco Independent School District were honored Tuesday night.

Amanda Guerrero (center) accepts Outstanding Teacher Award for Kendrick Elementary School. (Photo by Montana Brazil)

Hundreds came to University High School for the 2018-2019 Outstanding Teacher Ceremony.

"We are trying to build a team that is focused on positive student outcomes at all levels,” Superintendent of Schools for Waco ISD, Dr. A. Marcus Nelson, told the crowd. “We want you to know the all-stars of our team are here tonight."

The elementary and secondary honorees, one educator from each campus, were picked by their peers.

For Kendrick Elementary School, that educator was Amanda Guerrero.

"She's always willing to go above and beyond for her students, even going to their sporting and other extracurricular events,” said Principal Isabel Lozano. “Mrs. Guerrero loves her students, and her students love her."

A former student at Kendrick, Guerrero, 26, of Waco, returned to the school to enrich the neighborhood where she was raised.

“I want to be an impact for these kids, these boys and girls in this community, because this is the community I grew up in,” said Guerrero.

An honors student and Baylor University graduate, Guerrero probably could have gone anywhere.

"Just realizing that I can help the kids in this community the way that somebody helped me – that just had a real big impact on me, and I wanted to have the same impact on other kids, and since this is my home and this is where I grew up I figured 'why not here?'" she said.

Her original plan wasn’t to be a teacher, however; Guerrero, a childhood and family studies major, wanted to be a counselor until she says her childhood principal, Julie Sapaugh, the same principal who ended up hiring her, talked her into trying teaching.

"Somehow she convinced me to come be a tutor here, and after that the kids just stole my heart and I was like ‘this is what I have to do,’” said Guerrero.

Guerrero now teaches fourth-grade math and science in a portable building on the campus.

"I just love my students,” said Guerrero. “If you set your mind to anything, you can do anything that you would like to do, and I just really hope that they know that."

She’s one of 30 at Kendrick, and one of 984 teachers in the district who work daily to better the lives of students, officials say.

“Make no doubt about it, we would not be a successful school district without outstanding teachers,” said Nelson.

The students of two of last year’s honorees told the crowd about the impact their teachers had on them.

“You have those days that are hard, but you still put us first,” said Kimara Talley, a seventh-grader at Cesar Chavez Middle School. “You see the best in your students, even when we don’t see it in ourselves.”

State Senator Brian Birdwell and President of the Waco Chamber of Commerce Matthew Meadors spoke about the important role educators play in the community.

“You are to public education what nurses are to hospitals,” said Birdwell, adding that his mother and father were teachers. “It’s not a sexy job, but it’s critical to the survival of our free republic. God bless you for what you do.”

Teaching has been a heightened emphasis for Waco ISD over the past year, and the number of school’s on the state’s ‘improvement required’ list has dropped from five to one.

“This is where the rubber meets the road,” said Nelson.

Guerrero said her kids all want to be teachers at Waco ISD now too, the district she plans to spend her career elevating.

"I hope to go back to school and get my master's degree and maybe do something with administration or some type of counseling here, but I would like to stay in Waco ISD and help the kids in the community that I came from,” said Guerrero.