Hillarie Swanner is secondary teacher of the year

Hillarie Swanner, KISD secondary teacher of the year, holds her crystal apple at her desk in her eighth-grade classroom at Hal Peterson Middle School. She says the award has made her step up her game, making sure all her lessons are teacher-of-the-year quality.

Hillarie Swanner says her eighth-grade algebra class at Hal Peterson Middle School is "Pre-A.P.", preparing students to take advanced placement algebra in high school.

She says, "In eighth grade we graph lines, solve equations, study geometry, and learn financial literacy."

Financial literacy is real-world, she says. Students learn about simple and compound interest, how to plan and save for college, and investing. They play a game where they "invest" in a stock. They track the stock through the year, and students who "earn" the most get prizes. The class partners with Centennial Bank, which offers presentations about making financially responsible decisions.

Last June, Swanner was honored as the "KISD Secondary Teacher of the Year."

She says the teacher of the year process starts when each school principal has the school's teachers vote to nominate campus teachers of the year. The top three teachers on the ballot write essays, present a resume, and appear before a committee composed of administrative staff of the school and a parent, and that leads to the award of the campus teacher of the year.

As the HPMS campus awardee, Swanner says the Kerrville Public School Foundation videoed 15 minutes of her classroom teaching, she had to explain her philosophy of teaching in another essay, and she was interviewed by a KPSF committee. She competed with the teachers from B.T. Wilson Sixth Grade and Tivy High School.

"This year it was neat," she says. "The three top teachers were all math teachers." The primary and secondary teachers of the year were announced at the end-of-school convocation last June, where Swanner received a monetary award and a crystal apple.

"It feels strange to be in the spotlight," she says. "I was recognized in the newspapers, and parents congratulated me, and even people who aren't parents would stop me in places like H-E-B. It keeps me on my toes, and I've had to step up my game. I think, 'Is this teacher of the year quality?' when I prepare a lesson."

Swanner says she was born in McCamey, in West Texas, but her parents, Robert and Verna Smith, moved to Lubbock when she was in junior high. She graduated from Coronado High School in 1998.

But she says while she was in high school her family moved to Medina to work there, only the job didn't pan out and after six months they returned to Lubbock. But during her short time at Medina High School, she says she met Gary Swanner. After she returned to Lubbock, so did his parents, Reba and Ronald Swanner.

Swanner says, "My mom always said God led us to take the job in Medina just so I could meet Gary." They married after she graduated, in July of 1998.

She says she went to Lubbock Christian University, and earned her bachelor of arts in mathematics and her teaching certification. She taught math in grades nine through 12 at Richard Milburn Academy, a charter school, for a year. But she and Gary liked the Hill Country, so she took a position in Hondo, teaching eighth grade for a year, before coming to HPMS in 2006.

She says now they have four children. Cody is a junior at University of North Texas, Stephen is a junior at Tivy High School, Haley is in the fourth grade at Starkey Elementary School, where Ashley is in kindergarten.

Swanner says her family is active at Riverside Church of Christ, where she teaches pre-k and kindergarten Bible classes, and an adult class for ladies. Gary is a deacon, and both of them are involved with Leadership Training for Christ, working with students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Swanner says her favorite quote is by Larry Martinek, founder of Mathnasium; "Children don't hate math. What they hate is being confused, intimidated, and embarrassed by math. With understanding comes passion, and with passion comes growth - a treasure is unlocked."

She says. "My mission is to teach kids not to be afraid to try. I tell them when they fail, to recover and learn from it." There's a sign behind her HPMS desk that says, "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

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