Levinia Lara, principal at Hoffmann Elementary School, was expecting McGruff the Crime Dog to visit her school Wednesday afternoon for a presentation about Safeline, Northside ISD's anonymous tip line. Instead, H-E-Buddy showed up bearing flowers, money and good news.
Lara, who opened Hoffmann last school year, is a finalist in the 2011 H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards, the state's largest monetary recognition program for educators and one of the largest in the nation.
Once Lara realized the Safeline presentation was a ruse, her eyes welled with tears.
"I'm so humbled by this," said Lara, who has been an educator for 25 years - 24 of them in Northside. "I just try to do my job and do the best I can."
As a finalist, Lara received a $1,000 check for herself and a $2,500 check for her school. In May, she'll head to Austin to compete for the grand prize - $10,000 for herself and $25,000 for her school. There are a total of 40 principal and teacher finalists statewide.
Lara's colleagues - and bosses - gush about her leadership skills and her ability to connect with students, staff, and parents.
"When I come to Hoffmann, I always see the love the kids and the staff have for her," Deputy Superintendent for Administration Brian Woods said. "You don't get that just by being a good principal. You also have to be a good person to get that kind of love and respect from the people you work with every day."
Hoffmann Vice Principal Carrie Squyres said Lara is the kind of leader who makes you want to be a better educator.
"She sets an example for what a leader should be," Squyres said. "She's professional and caring and she always puts the students' needs first and foremost."
Superintendent John Folks said he looks to the District's best principals when it's time to open a new school because it's so challenging to bring diverse group of staff and students together. Lara previously has served as principal of Westwood Terrace and Elrod elementary schools.
"She has absolutely done an outstanding job here at Hoffmann," Folks said. "She is completely focused on her students and staff."