Highest honor: McAllen ISD wins H-E-B Excellence in Education Award

McAllen ISD teachers and staff celebrated being named the Best Large District in Texas at the 20th annual H-E-B Excellence in Education awards Monday with an oversized check, lots of photos and — appropriately — cake from their friendly neighborhood H-E-B.

The award, which was announced in Austin Saturday, recognizes Texas districts who address student achievement through innovative programs, involve the community and offer professional development opportunities to their staff.

McAllen ISD beat out four other nominees for the award, taking home a tidy $100,000 purse to boot.

The selection process for the award took months and was exacting, Superintendent J.A. Gonzalez said. He said that competition, and H-E-B’s role in the culture of the state, made it a particularly sweet prize. “That’s what makes it so special, is it’s connected to H-E-B, a world class organization run by a world class family that started in 1905 and has been around for 100 plus years,” he said. “So that’s what makes it so special — and it’s so competitive. Rounds of judges coming through, talking to staff, talking to the superintendent, visiting the board, visiting campuses, so it’s very comprehensive, it’s very competitive and it’s very hard to win.”

McAllen High Mariachi Oro sophomore Andrew Treviño plays his violin during a celebration held Monday at McAllen ISD’s Staff Development Center.

In addition to the win, McAllen was a finalist in two other categories: one in School Board Leadership and one in the Rising Star-Elementary category, where McAuliffe Elementary teacher Mayela Canales represented the district. The district was the only one in the Rio Grande Valley to have become a finalist in the Best District and School Board Leadership sections.

All those plaudits, Gonzalez said, were the result of his district functioning like a well oiled machine and consistently producing well-rounded students.

“I think a big part of it is that we have not only a big focus on academics and raising the IQ of students, but we also have a system and a focus on raising the emotional quotient…” he said. “So I think that kind of sets us apart. But I think our story is one of resiliency, it’s one of grit. I mean, we powered through the pandemic and set the example. I think that that really set us apart.”

So how’s the district going to spend its prize money? That hasn’t been decided yet, but Gonzalez favors using it to market the district and its successes.

“The idea that I like the best is to take that $100,000 and invest it in a billboard in a high traffic area off the expressway somewhere. It would obviously cost more than 100 grand, but we would get a $100,000 discount off whatever the cost is,” he said. “We’re very good on social media, we’re very good at telling our story, we get on the AM and FM radio on a pretty consistent basis, but one area that some of our competitors have a little bit more presence is on that expressway, so we’d like to get in on that.”

Gonzalez thanked the district’s employees, saying that their role and the role of the MISD board, community and students were critical in earning the award.

“This is the ultimate team award,” he said. “That’s what makes it so special.”