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2018 Chapter Award Winners

The chair of TSPRA’s 2017-2018 Professional Awards Committee is Ronnie Zamora; Los Fresnos CISD. Other committee members include Denise Blanchard, Amarillo ISD; Patti Pawlik-Perales, Alamo Heights ISD; Marco Alvarado, Lake Travis ISD; Holly Fuller, Decatur ISD and Mike Rockwood, Lamar CISD.

2018 Professional Achievement Award: Judith Saxton, Ph.D., APR; Mount Pleasant ISD

2018 Professional Achievement

TSPRA President Melissa Tortorici with Professional Achievement recipient Judith Saxton, Ph.D., APR.



“During her career in public education, she has helped mentor dozens of TSPRA members and assist anyone who wanted to pursue their APR,” said Rebecca Villarreal, APR of New Braunfels ISD. “Last year, one of her mentees, Angela Duitch, earned her APR and became the first TSPRA member in 12 years to earn the APR.”

Saxton has served as the APR chair for TSPRA for several years and organizes workshops at the TSPRA annual conference to help those who might be interested in pursuing the accreditation get started.

A 22-year veteran at Mount Pleasant ISD, Saxton has helped pass bonds, run the Mount Pleasant Education Foundation, and launch the district’s social media channels, all as a one-person office.






2018 Most Valuable Member: Julie Thannum, APR; Carroll ISD

2018 MVM

Carroll ISD superintendent Dr. David Faltys, awards committee representative Holly Fuller, Most Valuable Member Julie Thannum, APR and West's A.J. Morgan.



“Julie is a tireless advocate for our profession,” said Lesley Bruinton, APR, President of the Alabama chapter of NSPRA. “As a national leader, she did what local leaders do -- support membership in person.”

“Julie Thannum leads with a mix of nurturing grace and Texas charm,” said Shane Haggerty, NSPRA Vice President At-Large of Technology/Innovation. “We as school PR people are better for having had her serve us as president, and we continue to be better having her in our ranks, advocating for students each and every day."

But despite a busy travel schedule that kept her jetting across the country to various state meetings and conventions, Thannum was always available to her colleagues in Texas to lend her support or experience where it would be helpful.

“Julie Thannum is a true professional in every sense of the word,” said Joel Weckerly, Director of Communications at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD. “Her enthusiastic leadership is infectious and inspiring. Despite her demanding schedule, she always makes the time to help those who need her guidance, support or listening ear.”

“As a friend and colleague, I can always count on Julie to take time out of her crazy busy schedule and step into my world to share her personal and professional expertise,” said Deanne Hullender, Public Relations and Marketing Officer at Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD. “I am truly a better PR Professional and friend because Julie Thannum is in my life!”







2018 Rookie Of The Year: Magen Davis, Midway ISD

2018 Rookie of the Year

TSPRA President Melissa Tortorici, Rookie of the Year Magen Davis and awards committee representative Marco Alvarado.



“Her wit and assertiveness challenge the status quo, pushing all who surround her to up our game, said Traci Marlin, Midway ISD’s  Public Information Officer.  “This Star Award-winning, scholarship-winning, graduate student should be Rookie of the Year from pure talent. Fair warning: She'll raise the bar for all who follow.”

Marlin says Davis has been instrumental in updating Midway’s communications efforts, both in print and online.

“Magen brings her talent, life, and unique perspectives to school district communications,” said Marlin. “She innately grasps social media, engagement, and reach, and she's able to implement those techniques seamlessly.

“Her fresh design eye helps our overall look stay current with sharp use of fonts, layout, and new color accents for our classic red and blue. She's been crucial to major ADA overhauls, establishing partnerships with graphic design classes and the successful launch of our digital sign despite an inept sign company.”







2018 Bright Idea Award:  La Porte ISD

2018 Bright Idea

TSPRA President Melissa Tortorici, Bright Idea recipient Adam Holland of La Porte ISD, Elementary Schoolmate's Rick Hill and award committee representative Mike Rockwood.

Elementary Schoolmate Logo


Chase Chicorz returned to La Porte ISD for his senior year of high school after years attending the Texas School for the Blind and the Visually Impaired to re-assimilate with his peers and the local community before graduation.

“Though quite familiar with computers – they were his primary gateway to the outside world, after all – we learned from Chase that he all but expected his vocation would involve simple tasks, such as folding towels and sheets at a hotel,” said La Porte ISD webmaster Adam Holland.

After working with their vendor to help train Chicorz, the three-way dialogue between district, company and tester began. With Chicorz’s help, La Porte ISD were able to build a website that exceeded, tweaking rotation times to give visually impaired users time to listen to voiceovers and repositioning menus to make them easier to navigate for someone who has to wait and hear what each option might be. 

“Ultimately, our collaboration resulted in a La Porte ISD website that is more accessible than the law requires,” said Holland.  “Along the way, a bright young student who had relegated himself to a future of menial tasks, seemed to find a niche in his beloved world of computers.”






2018 Partner in Public Education Award: Laurel D'Antoni

2018 Partner in Public Education

TSPRA President Melissa Tortorici, Partner in Public Education recipient Laurel D'Antoni and awards committee chair Ronnie Zamora.  


When Hurricane Harvey left many Sheldon ISD students homeless and severely damaged a third of its campuses, D’Antoni stepped in as unofficial spokesperson, liaison and booster, using her contacts in the community to make sure the district wasn’t forgotten in the aftermath.

“She didn’t do it because anyone told her to,“ said Lila Hollin, Sheldon ISD’s community partnership coordinator, “she wasn’t even looking for recognition. She decided to help rebuild Sheldon ISD because she fell in love with the grit of our students and teachers.

“She called sports teams from across the country and asked them to step up and help.”

D’Antoni also helped direct the efforts of the Houston Rockets, where her husband Mike is the head coach, toward the district’s needs. James Harden helped served food at a Thanksgiving event at Null Middle School. Harden, Chris Paul and former Rocket Clyde Drexler helped with book drives at Null and King middle schools to provide students new books  and backpacks and restock the school library. Kari Anderson (wife of Rockets forward Ryan Anderson) and members of the Rockets Women’s Organization donated school supplies to Royalwood Elementary School along with D’Antoni.

When the waters receded, D’Antoni’s support for the Sheldon ISD community remained steadfast. In addition to making a donation to Sheldon ISD Education Foundation to help teachers restock schools with learning essentials, she continues to visit campuses and volunteer at book fairs, combining her support for the district and her work with the Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation. Members of the Rockets Women’s Organization helped the foundation distribute six books to each child at Royalwood Elementary





2017 Key Communicator

For a complete list of Key Communicators, click here.

2017 Key Communicator Award
Sponsored by










Texas House Education Chair Dan Huberty named TSPRA’s 2017 Key Communicator

DanHubertyKeyCommunicatorThe Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA) has named Dan Huberty, Texas state representative and chair of the House Public Education Committee, as the recipient of the association’s 2017 Key Communicator Award. Huberty receives the award in recognition of his work to improve and defend the public education system in Texas.

Huberty will receive his award, sponsored by West (SchoolMessenger solutions), from TSPRA President Melissa Tortorici at the 2017 Texas Association of School Administrators/Texas Association of School Boards Convention, to be held in Dallas from October 6-8, 2017.

“Rep. Huberty has proven to be a consistent defender of public schools and Texas students during his seven years in the Legislature,” said Tortorici. “His work to overhaul school finance, improve ratings systems and stand against vouchers makes him a worthy recipient of TSPRA’s highest award.” 

Huberty has represented District 127, northeast of Houston in and around Humble, in the Texas House of Representatives since 2011.  During his career in the Legislature he has served on the Public Education, State Affairs, Calendars and Pensions committees, as well as a Select Committee on Redistricting and a Select Committee on Transportation Funding, Expenditures & Finance.

He was appointed chair of the House Public Education Committee in 2017, replacing the retired Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, TSPRA’s 2015 Key Communicator.  

“Chairman Huberty showed true support for public education this session by authoring legislation that would have added nearly $2 billion to Texas public schools and taken steps to reform the school finance system,” said Alamo Heights ISD superintendent Kevin Brown. “Texas Monthly magazine named him one of this session’s best legislators, calling his efforts to reform school finance ‘impressive.’”

In addition to his school finance reform efforts, Huberty emerged from the session as an outspoken opponent of any voucher proposal to divert public school monies to pay for students to attend private schools, breaking with some members of his own party in the process.

“Huberty never blinked despite the pressure put on him from our Governor, Lieutenant Governor, members of the Senate and outside forces that have a tremendous impact on policy makers,” said Alief ISD Superintendent HD Chambers. “He stayed true in keeping the best interest of all students in the state of Texas as his priority, not just a select few students that would attend schools in private school or for-profit charter schools.”

Prior to his election to the Texas House, Huberty served on the Humble ISD Board of Trustees for five years, including as Board President in his last year on the board. Huberty currently serves as president of MVP REIT, a real estate investment trust. In 2011, Texas Monthly named him the Legislature’s Rookie of the Year.

“Representative Huberty is, by far, the most collaborative leader I have ever experienced,” said Guy Sconzo, Executive Director of the Fast Growth School Coalition and former Humble ISD superintendent. “He consistently goes well beyond what I would consider reasonable in assuring that all diverse voices are a part of any deliberation affecting them…. He spent countless hours reaching out and engaging school practitioners at all levels, school finance experts, legal experts and association representatives to develop a proposal (HB 21) that garnered unanimous support from the public education community.” 

Since 1981, TSPRA has recognized a Key Communicator for outstanding contributions to public education through effective communications. The recipient may be a legislator, educator or a professional in another field who has improved school communications, or a member of TSPRA who has contributed outstanding service to the profession of school communications. Recipients have included leaders from business, media, PTA, politics and education. A complete list of past recipients can be found on TSPRA’s website at www.tspra.org/awards/key-communicator/list-of-key-communicators

West (SchoolMessenger solutions) is the sponsor of the Key Communicator Award.

West (SchoolMessenger solutions) is a strong supporter and valuable tool for school districts throughout Texas, and TASA/TASB conference attendees are encouraged to visit their booth at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas in October.

Ronnie Zamora of Los Fresnos CISD chairs TSPRA’s 2017 Professional Awards Committee, which includes Denise Blanchard, Amarillo ISD; Patti Pawlik-Perales, Alamo Heights ISD; Marco Alvarado, Lake Travis ISD; Leisha Bryant, Nacogdoches ISD, Holly Fuller, Decatur ISD and Mike Rockwood, Lamar CISD.  

2017 Chapter Award Winners

The chair of TSPRA’s 2016-2017 Professional Awards Committee is Charlotte LaGrone; Weatherford ISD. Other committee members include Julie Zwahr, Denton ISD; Craig Eichhorn, APR, Alief ISD; Andy Penney, Frenship ISD, Suzi Pagel, CFRE, Midway ISD/EF and Lyndall Gathright, Corpus Christi ISD

2017 Professional Achievement Award: Veronica Sopher; Fort Bend ISD


Professional Achievement recipient Veronica Sopher, with Relatrix's Mark Franke



"She is the “go to” person for all area members. Veronica has mentored numerous TSPRANs and she is always there to answer questions, share resources, brainstorm ideas and offer advice, especially to area members who have never experienced the things she has.

"She most recently led the effort that culminated in Leander ISD winning the 2016 H-E-B Excellence in Education Large District $100K Award earlier this year. Veronica spearheaded the campaign through strategic planning and a focus on telling the LISD story.

"Veronica comes from a long-line of public education advocates and she knows how important it is to get the media to cover a story about a seemingly small story about a student’s achievement, or a teacher’s new program. Veronica knows how important it is for principals and receptionist to have talking points to share with frustrated or confused parents. Veronica knows how important it is for parents to understand the process of a school program in their native language. She knows how important it is for the Board to have all of the facts to help govern and set policy. She knows how important it is for legislators to have quick data at their fingertips before they cast their vote on the House or Senate floor. Veronica knows that parents make the strongest and most compelling advocates. She knows this because she has spent the last 13 years in school public relations doing just that. And more importantly, she is sharing that with other TSPRANs, which only benefits more students across the state."






2017 Most Valuable Member: Patti Pawlik-Perales, Alamo Heights ISD


TSPRA President Ian Halperin, awards committee representative Craig Eichhorn, Most Valuable Member Patti Pawlik-Perales and West's A.J. Morgan.



"As president of TSPRA in 2013-2014, Patti was a people’s president. Her ease of being with everyone, no matter their geographic location in the state, or what they did at their organization, was apparent. When she talked to you, you knew that you were her priority and she focused on you – no matter the distractions around. That is a skillset that not every PR person possesses.

Although Patti is no longer on the TSPRA Board, she continues to be a cheerleader for all of us. She is someone who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk in support her professional organization. No matter the situation, Patti is always the first to volunteer, and is the one who organizes gifts and recognitions for anyone – no matter what the milestone or occasion."






2017 Rookie Of The Year: Kim Cathey, Floresville ISD


Awards committee representative Lyndall Gathright, Rookie of the Year Kim Cathey and O'Connell Robertson's Amy Jones..



"Two weeks later, this school PR Rookie, who had just created the district’s first-ever
Communications “Department” (a department of one), had her district’s only high school hit by
a a tornado. With the district website down and limited power in the small town of Floresville,
she managed all communications to the community regarding closures and day to day
operations and the numerous changes that were occurring hourly. All students and teachers 
were relocated to temporary classrooms in practice gyms and portable buildings.

"Considering the amount of communication that is required for students, parents and staff, coupled with the requests from media, one can only imagine the work load for this rookie! Yet, she managed it all, keeping a focus on the positive!

"As buildings were rebuilt, roofs repaired, and students and teachers moved back in to the buildings and a more “normal” routine, our Rookie continued to work toward promoting her schools and district in the best light."






2017 Bright Idea Award: K-TOR Radio; Galveston ISD

ElementarySchoolMate Bright Idea web

and Elementary Schoolmate's Rick Hill with Bright Idea recipient Michael Dudas of Galveston ISD .

Elementary Schoolmate Logo


"This new creative endeavor and community partnership is one of the most unique projects within a high school setting.  Since the show’s inception last September, the guest list has included members from the local City Council, representatives from the Parks Board, a local realtor, two editors from the local newspaper, the District’s superintendent, Ball High School’s principal, and many other representatives from local businesses and community organizations.  We were thrilled at the overwhelming eagerness for guests to participate. It was a general consensus by the guests after their particular appearances, that all were truly amazed that high school students were producing a professional radio talk program within an educational setting.  Many of our guests have become new community partners and friends.  Needless to say, Michael’s “bright idea” is an innovative hook to get the movers and shakers of the community onto the high school campus!

"Michael’s original “bright idea” of a weekly radio show featuring the happenings around the school, District, and local community has now quickly, in just a few short months, grown into a 24/7 internet radio station. To say the least, this endeavor is quite unusual within an educational setting. It takes a tremendous amount of innovative thinking, inventive planning, and collaborative design that links the outside community to our District’s Ball High School."






2017 Media Award: Chris Saldaña, KEYE-TV CBS Austin


Blackboard's Lindsey Fishback and Lawrence Coleman with Media Award winner Chris Saldaña, anchor with KEYE-TV CBS Austin



"As a school public relations professional, it is exhausting mitigating stories like the shigella virus, students bringing weapons to school and teacher misconduct to name a few. I can always count on Chris to promote the mission of public education: students learning new things in engaging environments.

"Ultimately, Chris truly cares about the work he does. When he arrives to film in the morning at our schools he is constantly smiling, filled with energy and eager to interact with our students. Based on his level of energy, it is always hard to believe that he begins his workday around 3 a.m."





2016 Key Communicator

For a complete list of Key Communicators, click here.

2016 Key Communicator Award
Sponsored by





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SchoolMessenger's Jim Duggan, 2016 Key Communicator Shanna Peeples, and TSPRA President Ian Halperin at the 2016 TASA/TASB Convention in Houston. 

National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples named TSPRA’s 2016 Key Communicator


The Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA) has named Shanna Peeples, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, as the recipient of the association’s 2016 Key Communicator Award. Peeples receives the award in recognition of her efforts as an ambassador for public educators throughout the country during the past year.

Peeples will receive her award, sponsored by SchoolMessenger, from TSPRA President Ian Halperin at the 2016 Texas Association of School Administrators/Texas Association of School Boards Convention, to be held in Houston from September 23-25, 2016.

“Shanna is an exceptionally qualified recipient for TSPRA’s highest honor,” said Halperin. “She has been a champion for public education not just in Texas, but across the globe.”

As an English teacher and instructional coach at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Peeples taught a wide range of students, from AP classes during the school day to those at-risk of dropping out during the school’s evening credit recovery program. She worked with English language learners with backgrounds in 27 different languages. “She seems to have an innate ability to understand where her students come from, their personal stories and cultural history, and makes that a part of how she advocates for them,” said Viet Tran, one of her former students.

Those experiences helped shape her message as an ambassador and advocate for teachers during her tenure as the nation’s top teacher.

“Ms. Peeples has not only used her year as the nation’s top teacher to talk about the positive,” said Texas Association of School Administrators executive director Johnny Veselka, “she has also worked hard to shape the national conversation about reaching students in poverty and those who have faced other extreme challenges. At every opportunity, whether it was a one-on-one interview with a reporter or a speech to a ballroom full of people, she shined the light on these challenges facing public schools and on the importance of public education.”

As National Teacher of the Year, Peeples traveled more than 200,000 miles, spoke in 27 states and five countries, delivering more than 300 speeches on public education and her experiences teaching students living in poverty or new to the country.

“We simply cannot think of another teacher in this city, in this state or in this country who has done more work to communicate the good work of educators than Shanna has in the past year,” said Chris Hays, CEO of Panhandle PBS, who featured Shanna in an episode of the station’s newsmagazine, Live Here, in November. “She shared her experiences as National Teacher of the Year and discussed the diversity of her students and the effects of poverty upon them.” A portion of the episode was translated and shared with educators in Shandong Province, China.

Peeples’ efforts have won her recognition from across the nation. She is a 2016 National Education Association Global Learning Fellow, a member of the Global Teacher Prize Academy, Scholastic’s National Advisory Panel and the U.S. Presidential Scholar Blue Ribbon panel. She received Texas A&M University’s Outstanding Educator Award and the Texas State Teachers Assocation’s Instructional Advocacy Award.

“In my role as a Texas State Representative, I meet many exceptional individuals all over our great state,” said Texas State Representative Four Price, “Shanna Peeples is a standout. She possesses great communication skills and characteristics that I know will continue to serve her and her profession well.”

Before becoming a teacher, Peeples worked as a reporter for the Amarillo Globe-News. She earned her bachelor’s degree in at West Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in education from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Since 1981, TSPRA has recognized a Key Communicator for outstanding contributions to public education through effective communications. The recipient may be a legislator, educator or a professional in another field who has improved school communications, or a member of TSPRA who has contributed outstanding service to the profession of school communications. Recipients have included leaders from business, media, PTA, politics and education. A complete list of past recipients can be found on TSPRA’s website at www.tspra.org/awards/key-communicator/list-of-key-communicators

SchoolMessenger is the sponsor of the Key Communicator Award sponsor. SchoolMessenger is a strong supporter and valuable tool for school districts throughout Texas, and TASA/TASB conference attendees are encouraged to visit their booth at the Austin Convention Center in September.

Charlotte LaGrone of Weatherford ISD chairs TSPRA’s 2016 Professional Awards Committee, which includes Julie Zwahr, Denton ISD; Patti Pawlik-Perales, Alamo Heights ISD; Andy Penney, Frenship ISD; Suzi Pagel, Midway ISD Education Foundation and Allison Lewallyn, Mesquite ISD.

2016 Chapter Awards

The chair of TSPRA’s 2015-2016 Professional Awards Committee is Veronica Castillon, APR; Laredo ISD. Other committee members include Tim Carroll, APR; Allen ISD; Marco Alvarado, Lake Travis ISD, Rachel Frost, Terrell ISD and Erin Kleinecke, Willis ISD

2016 Professional Achievement Award: Monica Faulkenbery, APR; Northside ISD


Professional Achievement recipient Monica Faulkenbery, APR, with Relatrix's Mark Franke



"Monica Faulkenberry embodies the ideals of school public relations professionals and serves not only our organization in a number of ways, but she serves her school community and represents all of us in a manner which benefits public education.

"Monica has served our organization and its members for more than 15 years and has always stepped up to serve on committees, provide professional development and encourage TSPRANs to complete the process to achieve APR. Monica has a strong work ethic and an impeccable record which speaks volumes of her quality of work. Monica shows up with a smile on her face and encourages others to do the same, she mentors others with her mere presence. When I think about TSPRA, I think about Monica and the things she has taught me without even knowing she influenced me. She is the epitome of a mentor as she does it without even trying!






2016 Most Valuable Member: Louise Henry, APR; Harris County Department of Education


Awards committee representative Rachel Frost, Most Valuable Member Louise Henry and SchoolMessenger's Frank Catalano.



"Louise has received more than 80 state and national public relations awards for effective branding, communication and marketing.  Louise is known in education PR circles as an innovative, strategic thinker and leader who can problem solve, as well as make you smile.

"Louise has served on and elected to more than 25 committees and board positions, many of these through TSPRA. She most recently has been involved in one of the newer TSPRA committees called Celebrate Texas Public Schools (CTPS), a reformed Texas Public Schools Week campaign that is now year-long.

"She has presented more than 30 workshops on communication, public relations, branding, marketing, community involvement, crisis management, media relations, fundraising, government procurement and more.  I have lost track of how many of Louise’s presentations I have attended throughout my tenure in TSPRA. They have always been informative and adaptable for my needs."






2016 Rookie Of The Year: Tiffanie Blackmon-Jones, Dallas ISD


Awards committee representative Erin Kleinecke, Rookie of the Year Tiffanie Blackmon-Jones and O'Connell Robertson's Amy Jones and Cathy Brandewie.



"Today, this former rookie is anything but. She is a true equal to everyone in the department and is frequently called on to apply her expertise and creativity to all manner of projects. Colleagues respect her insight, willingness to take on new projects, ability to quickly grasp complex issues and add value to the team’s coverage of the programs, activities and people of our district. 

"A highly dependable and skilled communicator, Tiffanie performs a broad variety of duties in the department. She covers events with multiple skills—as a photographer, a stand up broadcast reporter, a writer and, increasingly a marketing strategist." 






2016 Bright Idea Award: Picture YourSelfie At College; Mission CISD


Bright Idea recipient Craig Verley of Mission CISD and Elementary Schoolmate's Rick Hill.



"As the selfies were sent in, we then would confirm their names, year of high school graduation and which high school they went to. We also asked them to answer a couple of questions relating to their college experiences that we could use in association with our project. 

"Once we had a nice batch of selfies and quotes in place, we created posters, using the Picture YourSelfie at College phrase, and using an Instagram inspired graphic, to share the pictures and quotes of our own graduates pursuing their college dreams. The posters are put up throughout our schools and buildings. A version of the Instagram inspired graphic was also created for further sharing through the district’s two main social media channels, Facebook and Twitter. The #PictureYourSelfieatCollege hashtag was also implemented as a part of the project. 

"The response from the schools and parents has been very positive. The response from the graduates sending in their selfies has also help fuel the fire to succeed for the college students. Many of the students who participated could be considered among our average students in high school. They have taken great pride in their thoughtful responses to our questions and the fact that they are now becoming role models for other students in the schools they attended while at Mission CISD."






2016 Media Award: John Garrett, Community Impact Newspaper

Media Award John Garrettweb

Media Award winner John Garrett, publisher of Community Impact Newspaper



"With more and more printed newspapers quickly going out of business, it is refreshing to see the Community Impact Newspaper flourishing. Known for its outstanding graphics and well-written articles, this newspaper is proving that 'Print Ain’t Dead.'

"Every issue in our region includes at least one article about education and the two public school districts within the readership area. The reporters and editor support the school districts coming to Board meetings, events and establishing a strong rapport with district leadership. The articles are positive and informative as well as thorough and well-researched."