Greenville ISD recently announced its elementary and secondary teachers of the year, with the honors going to fifth-grade ESL reading and writing teacher Kristal Lopez and seventh-grade reading teacher Mary Miller.

“Kristal was nominated almost unanimously by her fellow faculty and staff, and rightfully so,” Carver Elementary School Principal Stacie Wilson said of Lopez. “She gives her students her true, genuine care, and it’s powerful to see.

“She’s also just so fun in the way that she creates adventures for the kids, and in her, her students are going to have one of those teachers that they will remember for always her positive outlook.”

Similar to Wilson’s high opinion of Lopez’s work, Greenville Middle School Principal Courtney Baker had kind words to say about Miller’s devotion to her students.

“I call her a ‘quiet storm,’” Baker said of Miller. “Her classes are quiet, but you can just see the rigor and that she’s pushing her students.”

While most would consider teaching to already be hard work, the second semester of this school year threw teachers a curveball with COVID-19, forcing them to adapt to teaching their classes remotely. On this matter, both Lopez and Miller stressed the importance of forming positive relationships with students and their families from the beginning.

“I’ve always prided myself in developing strong relationships with my students,” Miller said. “And I believe the importance of those relationships was evident, when we had to adapt to all the changes.

“I honestly believe that if the kids didn’t know my heart, then it would have been a lot harder. For instance, over the weekend a student reached out to me through email about problems they were having doing their work, so we worked it out over Zoom for a few minutes. Later, one of their parents texted me back, saying that their kid was ‘walking on clouds,’ after they completed their work.”

In addition to going that extra mile to form relationships with students, one of the decisions that led to Lopez’s class staying productive amid COVID-19 precautions was that she did some pre-planning while reactions to the virus were still in their earlier stages of development.

“I’ve been having a lot of success with distance learning, because … that first week after spring break, when the students had their ‘second week off,’ I sent a survey out to learn about their internet needs at home, and that helped me to prepare,” Lopez said.

“Then, at first, when I only had about 11 kids participating in my online classes, I sent out notes with little pieces of candy attached. Soon, I had all 30 students in the class participating.

“I also play different games with them to keep them interested. One of them is where I make a deal that if they do their work, they get to pick a dance for me to learn. So, if they do their work, they get to watch their teacher do a dance, and they think it’s really funny.”

While Lopez and Miller were GISD’s two finalists for teacher of the year, earlier in the semester, each campus presented its own teacher of the year. They are:

• L.P. Waters Early Childhood Learning Center’s Josie Luna

• Bowie Elementary School’s Katrina Row

• Carver Elementary School’s Kristal Lopez

• Katherine G. Johnson STEM Academy/Crockett Elementary School’s Susanna Berrones

• Lamar Elementary School’s Mikel Rios

• Travis Elementary School’s Taylor Kinney

• Sixth Grade Center’s Jelesa Washington

• Greenville Middle School’s Mary Miller

• New Horizons High School’s Becky Kirst

• Greenville High School’s Joan Nelson

Now, both Miller and Lopez will be considered for Region 10’s teacher of the year.

Travis Hairgrove is a news reporter and features writer at the Herald-Banner and covers city government for many municipalities in Hunt County. To reach him outside of business hours, email

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