Taniece Thompson-Smith, a fifth-grade science teacher at Abilene ISD’s Stafford Elementary, was named the 2024 Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year.
Naveen Cunha, eighth-grade Robotics teacher at Stephen F. Austin Middle School in Bryan ISD, was named the 2024 Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year.
Thompson-Smith was chosen to represent the state as Texas Teacher of the Year in the National Teacher of the Year competition, making her official title Texas Teacher of the Year.
“I congratulate Taniece and Naveen on this achievement. Texas Teacher of the Year is the highest honor our state bestows upon its teachers,” said Kevin Brown, executive director of TASA, which administers the program. “They have distinguished themselves among thousands of outstanding, dedicated teachers across our state and nation have who have answered the call to serve others.”
The announcements were made during an awards ceremony in Round Rock on Oct. 20. Both state-level winners will receive a cash award and a commemorative trophy. Photos of the ceremony can be viewed here.
Also honored during the luncheon were the Regional Teachers of the Year and the finalists for Texas Teacher of the Year: Schrundagale Griffith, Foster Middle School, Longview ISD; Cynthia Hopkins, Harold C. Kaffie Middle School, Corpus Christi ISD; Isela Russell, Wellington Elementary School, Lewisville ISD; and Genesis Yougas, Lawson Early Childhood School, McKinney ISD.
Taniece Thompson-Smith, Stafford Elementary School, Abilene ISD
Taniece Thompson-Smith is a fifth-grade science teacher at Abilene ISD’s Stafford Elementary, where she has taught the past two years of her 14-year career in education. Due to her travels as an 18-year military spouse, Thompson-Smith has taught in more than seven school districts across the U.S., Jamaica, and Japan. She consistently collaborates with community members and experts in the science field to design science-based experiential learning opportunities.
Thompson-Smith says she believes “each encounter with children must be transformational and awake a sense of curiosity or thirst for knowledge that only education can quench.”
She leads district-level professional development workshops, which includes analyzing testing data and integrating science with reading language arts. In addition to being named the Region 14 Elementary Teacher of the Year for 2023, Thompson-Smith was the Abilene ISD Teacher of the Year and her campus teacher of the year in 2022.
In April 2023, she partnered with Future College Curls as a mentor speaker for 75 middle school and high school girls, and in May 2023, she presented at the Clay Minerals Society International Organization’s Annual Meeting.
Thompson-Smith holds a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College in New York and graduate-level teacher certification from Rider University in New Jersey as well as a master’s degree from California State University in Fresno.
Naveen Cunha, Stephen F. Austin Middle School, Bryan ISD
Naveen Cunha has taught eighth-grade Robotics 1 at Stephen F. Austin Middle School in Bryan ISD for the past six years of his 30-plus year career in education. As the coordinator of the district’s Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) academy, he helps students identify and utilize all disciplines in their learning while being supported by some of the latest technological advancements.
“I became a teacher because of my desire to be a life-learner and to share that passion with others,” Cunha says. “Advocating for our program and students have been a mindset since the beginning which has reaped rewards in many ways.”
In 2002, he received the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST). This was followed by his selection as a NASA Educator Astronaut finalist and receiving an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship. These experiences, along with his recent International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) Teacher Excellence Award, he says, have exposed him to federal agencies and programs that allow him to share new resources with his students.
Cunha holds a bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin and a master’s from Texas A&M University.
To achieve recognition as Texas Elementary or Secondary Teacher of the Year, a teacher must first be chosen as a campus and district teacher of the year, then a regional honoree. From the group of 40 regional teachers of the year, six finalists are chosen and interviewed by an independent panel of judges composed of representatives of education 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 state’s top elementary and secondary teachers are selected from these six finalists, and the Texas nominee for National Teacher of the Year is chosen from the top two winners. In 2015, Texas Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples of Amarillo ISD was the second Texas teacher to be named the National Teacher of the Year.
The Texas Teacher of the Year program has honored excellence in classroom education since 1969 and continues to annually recognize and reward teachers who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in teaching. Click here to read more about the program.