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Waco ISD celebrates four exceptional educators

As Teacher Appreciation Week draws to a close, Waco ISD is recognizing four outstanding teachers for their deep commitment to student success. Dean Highland Elementary third-grade teacher Greg Oubre has been selected as the district’s outstanding elementary teacher of the year, and Brazos High Credit Recovery Center life science teacher Brittany Foster is the outstanding secondary teacher of the year.

The district also honored Raelynn Spicer, a second-grade teacher at Cedar Ridge Elementary, and Brent Fudge, a fourth- through sixth-grade science teacher at Lake Air Montessori Magnet, as the outstanding first-year teachers of the year.

“Teaching isn’t a job; it’s a passion, perhaps, even a ministry,” Oubre said. “Watching struggling students become proficient in reading, writing and math is the biggest reward of all. … Their lives have changed from limitations to possibilities.”

Oubre has been an educator in Waco ISD for the past 14 years. Watching him in the classroom, his passion for teaching is evident. Oubre is an energetic practitioner of what he terms “whole brain teaching,” which seeks to engage as much of the brain as possible by incorporating physical activity in instruction.

In an effort to further challenge his students, Oubre introduced the Sumdog math competition to his classroom. A free, online multiplayer game, Sumdog allows students to practice math skills while competing against peers from around the world. Oubre’s students were national champions in 2018 and 2017 as well as the state champions in 2016.

In her fourth year with Waco ISD, Foster also seeks out ways for her students to actively experience the life science curriculum.

“Learning should be student-centered… hands-on, relevant and meaningful,” Foster said. “One of my strengths as a teacher is my previous experience as a scientist, which allows me to bring relevancy to the content.”

Foster worked as an environmental scientist, a wildlife education specialist, and a fisheries and wildlife technician before becoming a high school teacher. In the classroom, she has been able to combine a love of science and the outdoors with a desire to help students make a personal connection with the curriculum.

“Waco ISD is fortunate to have great instructional leaders, like Greg and Brittany, teaching our students,” Dr. Hazel Rowe, interim superintendent said. “These educators truly deserve the title of outstanding teacher. They create unique, hands-on experiences that make their instruction engaging for their students. They are passionately committed to their students’ success.”

Like the district’s outstanding teacher awards, the recipients of the Virginia DuPuy First Year Teacher of the Year awards are nominated by their respective campuses. Named for the former mayor and advocate for public education, the awards recognize one elementary and one secondary teacher, who are starting their careers in education.

Cedar Ridge Elementary Principal Helen Smith describes Spicer’s second-grade classroom as “an oasis for our students.” That calm environment helps Spicer build relationships with her students.

“I encourage students with mixed abilities to work together and motivate each other,” Spicer said. “This allows them to grow self-confidence and social learning skills and be able to verbally express their ideas to their peers to grow confidence.”

Similarly, Lake Air Montessori Magnet Principal Stephanie Tankersley describes Fudge’s classroom as a “safe, positive and caring” learning environment. As a result, the students in it feel comfortable challenging themselves and each other.

“‘Who got this? ... We got this!’ is our battle cry and our way of overcoming struggles with courage and ferocity,” Fudge said. “When I say struggles, I am referring to our commitment to fighting for every bit of experience we can get. 'Failing' is encouraged, as long as we know that means we have to learn from it and get right back up.”

Rowe said, “With outstanding teachers like Raelynn and Brent leading the way, the future of our district is in good hands. These educators may just be finishing their first year in the classroom, but they are already making a lasting difference in our students’ lives.”

All four award winners will be recognized at the Waco ISD school board meeting on May 23.

Oubre will receive a $1,000 award sponsored by Alliance Bank. Foster will also receive a $1,000 award, which is sponsored by Richard Karr Motors. Spicer and Fudge will each receive $500 awards sponsored by DuPuy Oxygen.