Waco and Belton ISD Educators Named Region 12 Teachers of the Year
07/18/2017

2018 Region 12 Teachers of the Year, Elementary Teacher of the Year Deborah DeGraff of Waco ISD and Secondary Teacher of the Year, Craig Sullivan of Belton ISD

Out of 76 school districts across the 12-county education service area of Region 12, two outstanding, community-oriented educators have been selected for the top regional teaching award — 2018 Region 12 Teacher of the Year. 

Deborah DeGraff of Bell’s Hill Elementary in Waco Independent School District is the Region 12 Elementary Teacher of the Year and Craig Sullivan of Belton High School in Belton Independent School District is the Region 12 Secondary Teacher of the Year.

Waco ISD's Deborah DeGraffDeborah DeGraff has taught for eight years and serves as the Science Lab Teacher for 800 Pre-K through 5th graders at Bell’s Hill Elementary in Waco ISD. She chose to enter the teaching field after her husband’s career in the United States Air Force took her around the world while raising her three children. Her teaching style focuses on innovative, hands-on lessons to make science relevant and meaningful to her students. 

“My focus is on providing authentic learning experiences for each Pre-K through 5th grader walking in my lab door,” said DeGraff. “Teaching all students at every grade level demands that every lab experience be adequately prepared, delivered and executed to create a lasting impression on each student.”

In addition to her lab classes, DeGraff oversees:

  • An award-winning garden club for 4th and 5th graders which grows and sells plants at the Downtown Waco Farmer’s Market
  • Large-scale recycling projects at her school which gained them recognition as 2017 Recycler of the Year in Waco from the Keep Waco Beautiful program
  • The Bell’s Hill Greenhouse, which provides a living laboratory for students to observe the natural environment, plant life adaptations and life cycles

She was named the Waco ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year and will go on to represent Region 12 as a semifinalist in the Texas Teacher of the Year awards program. 

Her principal, Bevil Cohn, said, “Mrs. DeGraff is the kind of teacher that every child needs. She is dedicated and committed to her job 24/7.”




Craig Sullivan of Belton ISDCraig Sullivan has taught for 31 years and serves as a Construction Science Teacher at Belton High School in Belton ISD. He graduated from Belton High School as the senior class president in 1982 and returned to teach there after pursuing his degree and teacher’s certification. His teaching focus is on training students to meet the labor skill gap by learning hands-on construction skills for projects in the school and around the community.

“It is very rewarding to teach a concept in the classroom setting, take students to the shop and have them apply that concept to build a structure,” Sullivan said. “I believe that hands-on learning and preparing students for work in the industry is vital to the construction trade, the community and our nation’s workforce.”

In addition to his construction technology classes, Sullivan oversees:

  • Five industry certification courses for students (OSHA, Craft, Construction Technology, CNC and Level 5 Forklift)
  • A nationally ranked SkillsUSA team of students who have placed number one in Texas four years running
  • Classes of students who work on projects at the school district, including a digital media studio for the school’s Jumbotron, a greenhouse for the Agriculture department, wood flooring for the Culinary Arts dining room and more
  • Students working as apprentices and interns for local businesses and contractors
  • A service project where students build playhouses for disadvantaged children to give back to the community

He was named the Belton ISD High School Teacher of the Year and will represent Region 12 as a semifinalist in the Texas Teacher of the Year awards program.

Belton ISD Career and Technical Education Director Amanda Necessary described Sullivan as a teacher who connects with his students.
 
“Craig inspires his students to perform at an exceptional level,” Necessary said. “Even kids who might struggle in other areas excel, in his class. Craig is never opposed to a challenge. He fosters relationships with his kids and with community partners. Those partnerships open doors for students when they’re ready to start their careers.”

The Texas Association of School Administrators facilitates the state-level selection process for the Texas Teacher of the Year finalists. A panel of judges will review the applications of the 40 regional semifinalists and select three finalists for Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year and Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year.

The final judging occurs in September. The six finalists will be invited to Austin to interview with a panel of judges, which is typically composed of representatives of educational administrator associations, a member of the State Board for Education Certification, a member of the State Board of Education, and the most recent Texas Teachers of the Year. 

The panel chooses the two state winners and designates one to represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year program. The winners are announced at the Texas Teacher of the Year Awards Ceremony in September.

About Texas Teacher of the Year

Facilitated by the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA), the Texas Teacher of the Year

Program annually recognizes and rewards teachers who have demonstrated outstanding leadership

and excellence in teaching. Every fall, the Texas State Teacher of the Year Program honors 40 regional teachers of the year, among which are two State Teachers of the Year - one in elementary education and one in secondary education- and four state finalists. These regional teachers represent each of the 20 Education Service Center regions in Texas.