Purple Heart Elementary principal Jennifer Parker was named the Texas 2018 National Distinguished Principal by the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA).
Parker was chosen for her commitment to lifelong learning and consistently seeking creative ways to serve the needs of her students, staff and community.
“She is an incredible leader,” said Superintendent José Espinoza. “There are hundreds of elementary principals in Texas, so it was awesome when Ms. Parker was named a top five finalist. But now she is No. 1 in the state. That is double awesome.”
In early April, Parker and the district learned she was chosen one of five Texas finalists for the distinguished award. Shortly after, a team of educators visited Purple Heart Elementary to observe Parker in action taking on her daily work with students and staff.
In a surprise ceremony, including district administrators, TEPSA officials, Purple Heart teachers and students, Parker learned she was Texas’s top elementary principal. She next will travel in October to Washington, D.C. and be honored alongside other national winners.
“This award validates all the work we do as educators,” Parker said. “We have a big charge today in preparing students academically. When they walk in the doors, I want everybody to feel this is their home. I want it to be engaging. I want it to be motivating. I want it to be challenging. The bottom line is when they walk in these doors, we are preparing them to be our future. And I take that responsibility very seriously.”
Parker, an educator for more than 20 years, took on the role of principal for the new Purple Heart Elementary School in September 2015. It fulfilled her lifelong dream to begin implementing her innovative vision, making the elementary school a leading 21st century learning facility.
Many of her out-of-the box methods cited by TEPSA, include the Tech-E program, a collaborative with the University of Texas at El Paso, to help students develop skills in (STEAM) Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, and another partnership with UTEP that utilizes Purple Heart as a teaching campus for the university’s student teachers.
Her creative and innovative approach is apparent in Purple Heart Elementary classrooms. The teachers follow a Project Based Learning model, a dynamic classroom approach that gives students the opportunity to actively explore real-world challenges and problems. Each year, every grade must complete two projects, such as working with community members and a real-world excursion to support program outcomes.
“Jennifer and her leadership team have put strong systems into place that provide safety nets for students as well as learning opportunities for the entire school community,” said TEPSA Executive Director Harley Eckhart. “She has a proven track record of motivating students to high levels of engagement and consistent academic gains.”
Those who work for Parker are not surprised she is receiving national recognition. Their loyalty to her is so strong because of her belief, dedication and support of her team and her students.
“For me, she has always been the principal of the year,” said Christina Luna Castaños, the 2017 SISD Elementary Teacher of the Year and the new State Compensatory Education Intervention (SCEI) coach at Purple Heart Elementary. “She is the innovator of our district. She brings in many ideas that our district has used. She loves children and believes in all of her students and teachers. She shows and teaches us to always do whatever is best for kids no matter what.”
One of her former students, Stephanie Flores, an El Dorado High School junior, said Parker made a huge difference in her life. Her long-term goal is to be an attorney, something she would have never considered without her former principal.
“Ms. Parker always pushed me to be the best I could be,” Flores said. “She encouraged me to keep my mind set on what I want to do with my life. I am so proud of her for receiving this award. Of all the people I know, she deserves it the most.”