Dr. Isela Russell Named Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year Finalist
Isela Russell, Ph.D., is a third-grade Spanish Immersion program teacher at Wellington Elementary in Flower Mound (Lewisville ISD), where she has taught for the past four years of her 20-year education career. Prior to that, she was an instructional specialist/data coach and math teacher, because math has a special place in her life.
When her family moved from Mexico to the U.S., she was forced to repeat third grade because of the language barrier, but through math, she was able to demonstrate her knowledge and shine. "Now as an educator, it is through math that I can show my own students that language is not a barrier, and regardless of their backgrounds, my students can, and will, excel," she says.
Russell says she is a strong believer in César Chávez’s phrase, “Sí Se Puede,” (Yes, you can!”). "I have worked tirelessly to never have an 'Isela González' sitting in my class feeling lost or 'less than,' Russell says. "My mission of believing in my students, building relationships, and cheering them on, has created a learning environment where we don’t give up."
In 2023, Russell was not only honored as the Region 11 Elementary Teacher of the Year but also as the Lewisville ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year, and as the recipient of the Texas Lifetime Honorary PTA Award. In 2022 she was named a "Best in Denton County" Elementary Teacher, and in 2010, she was named the Irving ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year. Russell holds two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a doctorate from The University of Texas at Arlington.
“I am incredibly blessed and it’s an honor to be a finalist for the state of Texas,” Russell said. “I am a product of public education [and] I am standing here in front of you because someone believed in me. I will Be the One who makes pigs fly and believes [in] Si Se Puede - every child can do it.”
Dr. Russell joins Taniece Thompson-Smith from Abilene ISD’s Stafford Elementary School and Genesis Yougas from McKinney ISD’s Lawson Early Childhood Center as one of three state elementary teacher of the year finalists.
“Texas teachers perform miracles every day as they inspire children even in the most challenging of times,” said Kevin Brown, executive director of TASA, which has coordinated the Texas Teacher of the Year program since 2011. “Public school teachers are critical to the success of individual children and our society as a whole. Those who choose to teach are national heroes, and these six finalists are the best among them. They have distinguished themselves among thousands of outstanding, dedicated teachers across our nation who have answered the call to serve."
On August 14, a panel of judges composed of representatives of Texas teacher associations and last year’s Texas Teacher of the Year finalists selected the finalists from the 40 Texas Regional Teachers of the Year — one elementary and one secondary teacher from each of the 20 Texas Education Service Center regions.
Finalists will be interviewed Oct. 19 by a panel of judges composed of representatives of educational leadership associations, community and business leaders, a member of the State Board for Educator Certification, a member of the State Board of Education, and prior Texas Teachers of the Year.
The panel will select two state-level winners — Elementary Teacher of the Year and Secondary Teacher of the Year — and designate one to represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year program. The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony Oct. 20 Kalahari Resort & Convention Center in Round Rock, Texas, where the 40 Regional Teachers of the Year will also be recognized.
The Texas Teacher of the Year program has honored excellence in classroom education since 1969. The program, facilitated by TASA since 2011, annually recognizes and rewards teachers who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in teaching. In 2015, Texas Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples of Amarillo ISD became the second Texas teacher to be named the National Teacher of the Year. Learn more at tasanet.org/texasTOY.
2024 Texas Regional Teachers of the Year:
Elementary – Nubia German, Donna Wernecke Elementary School, Sharyland ISD
Secondary – Denise Rodriguez, Hidalgo Early College High School, Hidalgo ISD
Elementary – Heather Franzone, London Intermediate School, London ISD
Secondary – Cynthia Hopkins, Harold C. Kaffie Middle School, Corpus Christi ISD (finalist)
Elementary – Erin Blankenship (Gayler), Port O'Connor Elementary School, Calhoun County ISD
Secondary – Lindsay Ferrell, Howell Middle School, Victoria ISD
Elementary – Susan Mitchell, Groves Elementary School, Humble ISD
Secondary – Rhonda Perez, Joe Frank Campbell Learning Center, Channelview ISD
Elementary – Cheryl Spangler, Dishman Elementary School, Beaumont ISD
Secondary – Jeffrey "Daniel" Auchenbach, Bridge City High School, Bridge City ISD
Elementary – Kamy Taylor, Normangee Elementary School, Normangee ISD
Secondary – Naveen Cunha, Stephen F. Austin Middle School, Bryan ISD (finalist)
Elementary – Joanna Esparza, Wise Elementary School, Chapel Hill ISD
Secondary – Schrundagale Griffith, Foster Middle School, Longview ISD (finalist)
Elementary – Chonda Hicks, Thomas Justiss Elementary School, Paris ISD
Secondary – Amanda LaRue, Paris High School, Paris ISD
Elementary – Addie Enlow, Bowie Intermediate School, Bowie ISD
Secondary – Courtney Bozeman, Newcastle High School, Newcastle ISD
Elementary – Genesis Yougas, Lawson Early Childhood School, McKinney ISD (finalist)
Secondary – John Murray, Sachse High School, Garland ISD
Elementary – Isela Russell, Wellington Elementary School, Lewisville ISD (finalist)
Secondary – Michael Beauchamp, Granbury High School, Granbury ISD
Elementary – April Eide, Robinson Primary School, Robinson ISD
Secondary – Katelin Kelly, Lake Belton High School, Belton ISD
Elementary – Megan Vasquez, Becker Elementary School, Austin ISD
Secondary – Samantha Marion, Rosedale School, Austin ISD
Elementary – Taniece Thompson-Smith, Stafford Elementary School, Abilene ISD (finalist)
Secondary – Jason Botos, Hamlin Collegiate High School, Hamlin Collegiate ISD
Elementary – Veronica Stapper, Glenmore Elementary School, San Angelo ISD
Secondary – Travis Lange, Veribest High School, Veribest ISD
Elementary – Diana Ortega, Green Acres Elementary School, Dumas ISD
Secondary – Kelley Jo Ashlock, Friona High School, Friona ISD
Elementary – Tara Espindola, Upland Heights Elementary School, Frenship ISD
Secondary – Mika Smith, Coronado High School, Lubbock ISD
Elementary – Jessica Harkins, Terrell County ISD/Sanderson Schools, Terrell County ISD
Secondary – Letitia Cochrane, Big Spring High School, Big Spring ISD
Elementary – Adrian Stevens, Sageland MicroSociety Elementary School, Ysleta ISD
Secondary – Bruce Hoang, Canutillo High School, Canutillo ISD
Elementary – Elina Ybarra, Uvalde Elementary School, Uvalde CISD
Secondary – Jennifer Perelstein, Nimitz Middle School, Northeast ISD
The Texas Teacher of the Year program operates with financial support and in-kind contributions from the following:
· Premier Sponsors: H-E-B, Imagine Learning, and TASA
· Gold Sponsor: Capturing Kids Hearts
· Silver Sponsors: Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), Texas Association of Secondary School Principals (TASSP), Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA), Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), Texas PTA, Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA), and the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA)
TASA is the professional association for Texas school superintendents and other administrators. The mission of the organization, which focuses on professional learning, advocacy and member engagement, is to promote, provide and develop leaders who create and sustain student-centered schools and develop future-ready students.