Sunday, May 7, H-E-B announced statewide winners of the 16th annual H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards during an awards ceremony at the Hilton Hotel in Austin, Texas. During the ceremony, H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt personally handed out $430,000 in cash awards and grants, and congratulated eight educators, two school districts, one early childhood agency and a public school board for being among the best in Texas.

Rhonda Pena, a teacher at Bryan Elementary School was selected for the Lifetime Achievement Award for elementary teachers. This award salutes teachers with more than 20 years of experience. Pena received $25,000 in cash. Bryan Elementary School will also receive a $25,000 grant.

This marks the fourth year in a row that a Mission Consolidated Independent School District (CISD) teacher has been a finalist in the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards and the second time a teacher has been given the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2014, Rosbel Pena from Alton Memorial Jr. High School earned the honor for secondary schools. Other Mission CISD teachers who have been finalists in the H-E-B awards program are: Jesus Razo, Mission Jr. High School, 2015; Yvette Nevarez, Alton Memorial Jr. High School, 2016. Alton Memorial Jr. High School Principal Sylvia Garcia was a semi-finalist in the principal category in 2015.

H-E-B launched the Excellence in Education Awards program in cooperation with the Texas Association of School Administrators in 2002 as a positive way to support public education in Texas. It has become the largest monetary program for educators in the state, spotlighting best practices and celebrating the passion and creativity of Texas educators.

H-E-B asks customers, partners, and community members to nominate teachers, principals, district, early childhood facilities and school board in Texas. Each nominee is sent an invitation to complete an application online and is asked about their professional experience, educational philosophies and achievements both in and out of the classroom.

A team of judges reviews the applications, narrowing the field to semi-finalists. From that pool, five regional judging panels comprised of former winners, administrators, and university and community leaders not affiliated with H-E-B select 40 teacher and principal finalists. Finalists and their schools receive a cash prize of $1,000 to $2,500, depending on category.

Three separate panels select eight school district and five early childhood facilities as finalist, awarding $2,500 to $5,000 in cash prizes. Teacher and principal finalists are invited to compete on a statewide level for larger cash prizes totaling more than $400,000. A statewide panel of judges, not affiliated with H-E-B, conducts a personal interview with each finalist to select winners.

Eight winners, two principals and six teachers, are announced along with two school districts, one large and one small, a public school board and an early childhood facility, at a celebratory dinner.