Tina Cruickshank (wearing green) in her Forest Lane Academy classroom with fellow staff members and students

With all the squeals of excitement heard at Richardson ISD schools Friday, you’d have thought Lake Highlands High grad Chris Harrison was in town. Instead, Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone played the Bachelor star’s role, presenting 9 dedicated educators with STARS Teacher honors.

“Will you accept this rose?” she asked the deserving winners. “The eyes of everyone in RISD are on you.”

Stone distributed roses and congratulatory hugs to STARS Award recipients Erin Kane, LHHS theater director, Tamesia Chatman, Merriman Park Elementary 3rd grade math and science teacher, Stephanie Bowling, Northlake Elementary 3rd grade teacher, Andrew Harden, Forest Lane Academy P.E. teacher, Tina Cruickshank, Forest Lane Academy Pre-K teacher, Helen Arceneaux, Liberty Junior High science teacher, Karen Monroe, Westwood Junior High social studies teacher, Kim Terry, MST 6th grade math teacher and Erica Walden, Greenwood Hills special education teacher. Of 9 winners district-wide, 5 were from LH-area schools.

The STARS Teacher Recognition Award acknowledges and encourages innovation and creativity in the classroom. Since 1977, the Excellence in Education Foundation has presented the award to more than 300 teachers in RISD. Each recipient received a $1,000 check while adoring students, campus staff and members of the STARS committee looked on.

“I’m a teacher to make a difference in the world, to make an impact,” said Cruickshank. “The hardest part of this process has been talking about myself. Recognition isn’t why I got into teaching, but I’m glad to know they see the good things going on in my classroom. The work we do in Pre-K is powerful, and I’m glad they’re seeing that. Sometimes I feel like we’re forgotten.”

The former 6th grade teacher acknowledged that older students can express their gratitude and verbalize the impact special teachers have made on their lives. Little ones, not so much.

“The committee asked my kids about me and they said, ‘Oh, she’s pretty, she’s nice!’ But I know by their hugs and their laugh and the sweet things that they do. That’s what I need – not the recognition. My former students will stop by to thank me or bring me their writing, and I know I helped mold them to where they need to be. I like being that first teacher.”

Bowling was nominated last year, but the process was halted when she and her spouse adopted their daughter, Jade. NLE Principal Mary Kellagher recommended her again this year.

“Being a teacher is the best feeling in the world,” Bowling told me. “You wake up and you want to be here for each and every one of these kids. Whether they need a mom, a counselor or a teacher, you want to be that for them.”

If you’d like to contribute to the Excellence in Education Foundation or attend their Boots and Bowties Bash in April, you may learn more here.

Northlake’s Stephanie Bowling (holding roses) with the RISD STARS Committee

MPE’s Tamesia Chatman gets a rose and a hug from Dr. Jeannie Stone

FLA’s Andrew Harden with the RISD STARS Committee

Erin Kane (in red) is the theatre director at LHHS