2021 Professional Awards Winners

Chair: Traci Marlin, Midway ISD
Committee: Craig Eichhorn, APR, Alien ISD; Melissa Tortorici, Texas City ISD; Keyhla Calderon-Lugo, Edgewood ISD; Matthew Jones, Castleberry ISD

2021 Professional Achievement Award
Art Del Barrio, Pasadena ISD

Sponsored by ParentSquare

Art Del Barrio is a nationally recognized school public relations professional who has amassed nearly 10 years of leadership experience in this career.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Texas Pan–American and worked for a variety of media outlets and school districts over the years.

He assumed the role of Pasadena Independent School District director of communication in the fall of 2016, where he has consistently demonstrated strength in his leadership skills through his ability to bring staff together to achieve positive outcomes for the students and staff in the school district.

Through Del Barrio’s leadership, Pasadena ISD’s social media presence has skyrocketed, almost tripling in likes after an aggressive four-year social media push. Through the use of storytelling via videos, press releases and Facebook Live-streams, Pasadena ISD’s Facebook likes rose from 16,933 to 43,800 thousands likes, increasing the district’s ability to provide effective, modern, two-way communication with community stakeholders.

Strategic communication practices are at the forefront of every decision he makes. In his second year at Pasadena ISD, Del Barrio led efforts to develop a comprehensive communication plan that is updated annually, along with an evaluation rubric to help the department track progress and make improvements each year. As a result, the department has become a well-oiled machine, allowing the department to focus on strategic planning and communication initiatives.

2021 Most Valuable Member
Justin Elbert, Klein ISD

Sponsored by The Scholastic Network

Justin Elbert is one of the brightest people in our industry, but more than that he is one of the most giving professionals. According to his nomination, Elbert is never shy about lending a helping hand or being a sounding board, whether it’s a glimpse into drone regulations, crisis communications or a mental health check-in with TSPRA colleagues during a worldwide pandemic.

“I had the privilege of hosting the TSPRA [virtual] Check-Ins with Justin during the height of the quarantine time and he led those events with grace and professionalism,” says nominator Justin Dearing, Southlake Carroll ISD’s assistant director of communications. “While they were intended to be a show and share of different ways teams were communicating, these events felt more like a family reunion because of the way Justin led them. TSPRA is better because of Justin Elbert, plain and simple.”

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2021 Rookie Of The Year:
Shelby Akin, Pleasant Grove ISD

Sponsored by O’Connell Robertson Architects

Shelby Akin, a graduate of Pleasant Grove High School, started in this role in 2018 and is the first and only Director of Marketing and Communications the district has ever had. She serves in the district leadership cabinet and also currently serves in many community organizations including the Junior League of Texarkana, Texarkana Community Ballet Board and Women for A&M Texarkana.

In a recommendation letter from Superintendent Chad Pirtle, it says: “This year, communication has been so important with the COVID-19 pandemic. Through all of the work conducted to prepare for a safe return to school, Mrs. Akin was always there to produce the message for our community. She compiled and communicated the district’s Return-to-School Plan for COVID and successfully disseminated the information to our stakeholders through multiple means. Many times, this year she has been invaluable with crisis communications. In addition, she is responsible for our mass communication for our entire district and she oversees and manages our extensive social media presence. She has also designed and is implementing a new website for our district.

Mrs.Akinisastar.Sheisatrendsetterinperforming thefunctionsofourjobandisinvaluable to me to create the culture of our district. I look for Mrs. Akin to be a leader at the state level andhelpotherswhoarenew to theprofession.Herpositivedemeanorandknowledgeofhow to accomplish our goals, relationships in and out of our district, and her vision for where she is going with her work are what sets her apart from the field.”


2021 Bright Idea Award
Charlotte LaGrone and John Tarrant, Weatherford ISD

Sponsored by Huckabee Communications

Weatherford ISD’s communication team, Executive Director of Communications Charlotte LanGrone and Director of Marketing and Communications John Tarrant, struck gold with their Hometown Heroes recognitions on Facebook. With more than 220 recognitions since April 2020, this series that features former students has resonated with our Facebook community. The concept is simple, costs nothing to implement and has been a great way to show the value of a public-school education through Weatherford ISD.

Weatherford ISD Recognition of Hometown Heroes

  • Weatherford ISD began a series of Hometown Heroes recognitions on Facebook in April 2020 as a way to maintain engagement with our followers on Facebook during our school closing.
  • Initially, this started as a way to recognize former students who were working on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. These recognitions have been expanded to include graduates serving in the military, working as first responders or those who have careers in education.
  • Recognitions are posted at 7:00 pm each evening except on evenings when athletic or special events take place such as volleyball playoffs, football games, graduation, etc.
  • Over 220 former students have been recognized to-date.
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2021 Media Award:
Demond Fernandez, WFAA Dallas, TX

Sponsored by Blackboard

Demond Fernandez is a veteran reporter from WFAA in Dallas, TX that exhibits the very best of broadcast journalism. He seeks out stories that highlight teaching and learning and provide unbiased investigative coverage on school districts’ sensitive subjects. His reporting allows the community to remain up to date on critical issues impacting their community and schools. Most recently, he’s had to cover two southern sector school districts in the DFW area. He has broken these news stories and reported the facts while providing unbiased coverage with integrity. He’s dedicated to showcasing all sides of stories, so those impacted the most are informed with all information. He does the groundwork to ensure accurate reporting, which showcases why he is an award- winning investigative reporter. Fernandez uses his journalistic skills to inquire about stories and has a dedicated following on social media, allowing him to connect with individuals for story ideas. In a world that is over- saturated with misinformation, Fernandez is passionate about reporting the facts, telling a great story, and being a source of information for the DFW community. When he’s not engulfed in investigative reporting, he’s always looking for ways to highlight the best of school districts.

2021 Partner in Public Education Award:
Ally Surface, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD Education Foundation

Sponsored by Harris County Department of Education

Director of Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD Education Foundation and Community Partnerships Ally Surface has made significant contributions to the cause of public education through her work as Director of EMS Education Foundation and Community Partnerships; her service with the PTA, including holding leadership positions at the campus and district levels, including serving as district Council of PTAs president, and collaborating with Texas PTA; advocating in the state capitol for public education; raising money and volunteering her time for communitywide projects such as organizing events to benefit an all- inclusive handicap accessible playground, encouraging others to vote, serving on a local news station’s election/voting information panel, and ensuring that local students and families in need have been fed and provided with necessities throughout the COVID- 19 pandemic. She also created and leads a community partnership group consisting of community church leaders, city officials, school officials, and business/organization leaders to benefit students. Surface is a tireless advocate for public education and the scope of her work impacts not only those in the EMS community, but public-school children and educators across Texas. She is an effective liaison who insists on engaging parents and community for the benefit of children and constantly works to increase awareness and information among parents about the value of their child’s education.