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Award-Winning Staff, Students Honored During Fantastic 49

Marcia Case, Principal at EES, makes remarks during Fantastic 49.

District 49 kicked off Fantastic 49 festivities for the ’23-24 school year on Aug. 10.  District leaders and the Board of Education congratulated several students and staff members who received state and national awards during summer break.

The editing staff of last year’s “Vista” yearbook from Vista Ridge High School was first to receive accolades. The team including Xiao Jonas, Kayanah Duran, Jake Amaya, Yunessa Rodriguez, Madison Billingsley, Shelby Cronce, Ayla Wise, Autumn Ehlers, Sydney Parker and Lily LeVake won a national competition for the second time in six years. To enter the contest, the students submitted an essay explaining their process, along with favorite photos and pages from the yearbook. “I am so lucky with this program … I tell the kids some deadlines are hard, but we nailed it,” said Andrea Adams, Digital Photography and Yearbook Teacher at VRHS. “This award is all about theme and pride of the school, and that is what they did with last year’s book.”

Educators from Evans Elementary School including Gracee Liggett, Cindy Webb, Jennifer Braitman, Becky Lentner, Erin Cox and Marcia Case were honored for earning recognition as a Jostens Renaissance School of Distinction—Gold Level. Their implementation of the nationwide Renaissance Program promotes a positive school culture ultimately to impact student achievement. “This summer they had the opportunity to share the initiatives they’ve started at Evans that have made an impact on families and staff,” Marcia Case, Principal, shared. “It has made me proud, and I’m excited to set the stage for academic achievement this year.”

Brandy Larson receives a Fantastic 49 Award on Aug. 10.

Horizon Middle School staff including Whitney Apodaca, Courtney Hutchinson, Jackie Ornelas, Mary Wikoff, James Sweeney, Toni Lunden, Jamie Candelaria and Elizabeth Dalzell also took the spotlight for excellent work with the Renaissance Program. The school was named a Jostens Renaissance School of Distinction—Platinum Level for the third year in a row. “Last year our student achievement was the highest to date with 68% of our students achieving a 3.0 GPA or higher each quarter,” said Elizabeth Dalzell, Assistant Principal. “Our faculty pour into our students every day in and out of the classroom because they know it is so vital for student success … our culture is reinforced daily one interaction at a time.”

Transportation Team members were congratulated for winning awards at the State Road-E-O Contest that tests school transportation staff with hands-on activities, problem-solving challenges and a written test. The special education team of Pam Page, driver, and Kayla Herniak, paraeducator, won First Place Special Education Team and Best Rookie Team. Adrian Ionita, certified bus technician, won Second Place Overall and First Place in the Inspection Station Category. “These three people are the epitome of our mission to ‘Learn, Work and Lead,’” Jack Pietrallo, Director of Transportation said. “I know they’ll represent D49 and our department very well at the national events. I am so proud of all of them.”

The evening wrapped up by applauding an employee from the department that is responsible for recruiting and retaining fantastic staff in D49—Brandy Larson from the Human Resources Department. Brandy works directly with the licensed substitute workforce, and was nominated by one of them, Shantelle Schneider. “Brandy goes above and beyond to help substitutes understand not only their role, but also offers clarification for their job duties,” Schneider wrote in her nomination. “She is quick to respond to emails, she is humble when she speaks to you in person, and makes you feel at ease … she makes substitute employees feel like they are part of the D49 team.”

Peter Hilts is thanked for 10 years of service in District 49.

In his final remarks, John Graham, President of the Board of Education, presented a special award to Peter Hilts, Superintendent, commemorating his 10 years of service in District 49.

Fantastic 49 is the district's recognition program that celebrates fantastic staff, students, parents, and community members before Board of Education meetings. A sincere thank you to Air Academy Credit Union, Dion's, and Texas Roadhouse for donating gift cards for honorees.


Transportation staff are honored during Fantastic 49.. HMS staff are thanked during the Fantastic 49 presentation.. VRHS Yearbook editors receive awards during Fantastic 49.

Amy Matisek