Shaping lives at Northside ISD

Posted on Thursday, September 26, 2013

Maricela Alarcon

The boy did not read. He did not want to read. He could not be motivated or made to read. 

He had failed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test and didn’t care. 

Ezekiel’s reputation followed him into fifth-grade at Burke Elementary School. His bilingual education teacher, Maricela Alarcon (MEd 2007), asked one question that changed his life: “What is your passion?” 


George Lynn Britton, Jr.

Ezekiel replied, “Skateboarding.” 

Soon, a skateboarding magazine appeared on Ezekiel’s desk. Articles about star skateboarders followed. Ezekiel began to read. He read during lunch. He read during recess. He passed the TAKS test. 

Under Alarcon’s creative classroom approach, many students in the Northside Independent School District have been transformed like Ezekiel. To teach the difference between prime and composite numbers, she turned students into game-show contestants and had them compete against one another. For a lesson on the Civil War, she brought in a coin from 1865, dressed in a costume from the era and played a tape-recorded interview of a former slave. 


Susan R. Hernandez

Innovative teaching has earned her numerous awards. In 2010, Alarcon was a finalist for Texas Teacher of the Year. Today, she is a vice principal at Dr. Martha Meade Elementary School. 


Kent Page

“I had the opportunity to attend graduate school at Harvard but chose Our Lady of the Lake instead,” she says. “Growing up near the Westside of San Antonio, it was important for me to stay connected to the community.” 

Alarcon is one of many OLLU graduates who are shaping a future generation at NISD, the city’s largest school district. More than 420 Lake alumni serve NISD in a variety of positions – from administrators and teachers to counselors and social workers. One graduate, George Lynn Britton, Jr., (MEd 1980) serves on the NISD school board. Multiple alumni have won Teacher of the Year awards. Four graduates are members of the superintendent’s cabinet. A half dozen serve as principals. 


Pascual Gonzalez

Susan R. Hernandez (BA Math 1999) won the MIT Inspirational Teacher Award last year. Kent Page (MEd 2008) has been named Northside Educator of the Year twice and was a finalist for the 2012 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) program. 


Cassandra Miranda

Under Page’s instruction at Carnahan Elementary, low-achieving students blossomed and recorded some of the highest science scores in NISD. During one outing, Page showed students how to plant native trees and improve the environment. From the plantings, students learned about restoring habitats, conserving water and soil and improving air quality. He credits the Lake for his teaching success. 

“I joined the graduate program as a special education teacher, but graduated to become our school’s science specialist as a direct result of the academic and leadership skills developed at OLLU,” Page says. “I have never felt more qualified for my job than after graduating from OLLU.” 


Lynda Reyes  

As executive director of communications, Pascual Gonzalez (MEd 1985) serves in the cabinet of Superintendent Brian Woods. Other cabinet members include Cassandra Miranda (MBA Management 2010), director of School-Business-Community Partnership; Lynda Reyes (BA History 1972, MEd 1979), executive director of elementary instruction; and Levinia Lara (MEd 1992), executive director of elementary education. 


Levinia Lara  

“I truly believe that OLLU empowered me with the knowledge and insight and, most importantly, the necessary skills needed to be successful in my career,” says Reyes, now in her 41st year at NISD. 

Adds Lara: “I always felt I was getting the ‘personal touch’ at OLLU. What I appreciated most about the University was its understanding of the adult learner.” 


Linda Gail Burke  

OLLU graduates who serve as principals include Linda Gail Burke (BS Special Education 1994, MA Special Education 1996) at Health Careers High, Irene Chavez (BA Spanish 1973) at Excel Academy and Tommy Garcia (BS Secondary Education 1982, MEd 1987) at Taft High School. 

“The Lake provided me with my first opportunity to really collaborate with fellow educators from throughout the area,” Garcia says. “Professional collaboration is essential in today’s educational system.” 


Tommy Garcia  

Alarcon grew up in an educational system 25 years ago that marked her as “at risk.” The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Alarcon spoke only Spanish when she started school. Though she did not become fluent in English until fifth grade, Alarcon managed to graduate from Brackenridge High as valedictorian. 

After graduating from Rice, she enrolled at OLLU. “I feel I was positively challenged in Dr. Jerrie Jackson’s course,” Alarcon says. “From start to finish, she framed the course in such a way that placed theory into practice. It was a monumental project to create an entire grade level unit within one semester, but upon completion, I was prepared to become a change agent in the classroom.”