ECISD recognizes employees of the year

Corina Garza, left, presents Travis Magnet Elementary’s science lab teacher Sarah Hawkins with a gift bag during the presentation of her ECISD Elementary Teacher of the Year award Friday afternoon at Travis Magnet Elementary. (Eli Hartman | Odessa American)

Six Ector County ISD employees were recognized with Employee of the Year awards by a small contingent of administrators.

Included in the six were Elementary Teacher of the Year Sarah Hawkins at Travis Elementary and Cheryl Cunningham as secondary teacher of the year.

Other stops were made at Carver Early Education Center, EK Downing Elementary, Wilson & Young Middle School and Permian High School.

A second round of deliveries to the remaining employees of the year is being scheduled, a news release said.

Hawkins was teacher of the year for Travis, as well, Principal Amy Russell said.

Russell said Hawkins is the science lab teacher for the grade three through five school, teaching virtually and in person. She also coaches teachers.

This is her third year at Travis, but she has taught in other districts in other states and countries. This is her retirement. Hawkins has five daughters.

Hawkins said the award was a big, unexpected surprise.

When the district group came to her door, Hawkins said her heart started beating really fast.

“I was looking for a way to hide. I like to be everybody else’s cheerleader. I’m the person behind the scenes, so this really got me. I was not expecting any of this,” Hawkins said.

She added that it was a good feeling to be recognized, but she’s not one for the spotlight.

One of her daughters, Dalas, a PE aide, encouraged her mom to dress up Friday, but Sarah didn’t think anything was going on.

Hawkins said she was expecting the “full meal” Sunday for Mother’s Day.

“I love this job. I love my students. I love my kids. I love my coworkers. If it wasn’t for any of them, this wouldn’t be possible. … I give them all a hard time and they know it,” Hawkins said.

Russell said Hawkins was the perfect choice for Elementary Teacher of the Year.

“She’s done so much,” Russell said. “Like she said, she’s a behind-the-scenes worker. She helps me with teachers. She helps me with data. She helps me with grade-level planning. She’s one of my leadership team members that helps us with our turnaround plan. She monitors and takes care of the after-school buses for me. It’s the perfect choice. I couldn’t see a more perfect choice to represent, especially this time of year with COVID, what a true elementary teacher encompasses.”

Cunningham teaches future teachers in the Career and Technical Education program at George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa.

“It’s well deserved. It’s an honor that is just so well deserved,” Executive Director of CTE Carla Byrne said. “Cheryl is the kind of teacher that goes above and beyond all the time. You will never meet somebody more selfless than her. She puts her students above everything; all the time. We have this new program where we expanded this to UTPB for students to get more upper-level college courses in education. And anytime you implement something new, there’s always some great opportunities and Cheryl has just been paramount in the success that we have so far with this program. She is absolutely amazing and a tremendous blessing to the students of this district.”

Cunningham, who has been in education for 39 years, 32 of which are with ECISD, said the past two years have been difficult.

“The last two years have been the hardest and I’ve tried to instill in them (her students) that the personal touch is still important, even though there’s always going to be a virtual component,” Cunningham said.

“We run two programs here in ECISD. We do one that is (for the) child care workforce through OC and then the new program that is starting up. We have our first group of seniors this year that have gone to OC and UTPB and have earned 21 hours off of their UTPB transcripts for the education program off of their bachelor’s degree as they graduate high school. But next year, we’re going to start Future Teachers of Odessa. … They can get up to 78 college credits if they start in the teaching program when they’re in ninth grade. It’s an amazing opportunity, because you take two full years-plus before you ever get out of high school. And there is no cost to them …,” Cunningham said.

Although the recognition is nice, especially given the last two school years, Cunningham said it’s still “all about the kids.”

She noted that it hasn’t been as difficult for younger teachers to make the transition to a virtual world.

“… They have grown up with computers. I’m self-taught and so it’s harder for me to adjust to the box than this generation. They’ll be very effective. I think technology is here to stay in the classroom more than ever in a whole different manner. But it’s amazing seeing that they’re still wanting to teach …,” Cunningham said.