Educator of the Year

In March, we recognize educators who have made a difference in the lives of school-aged members. These educators are nominated by our members each year.

Lori Tullos Barta Educator of the Year Award​

Lori Tullos Barta (1971-2010) was a shining star of light, hope, and love for people with Down syndrome in Central Texas and their families. Through her tireless efforts Lori launched numerous Educational Programs that directly benefitted the lives of individuals with Down syndrome including the DSACT Learning Program, Back to School Tools, Parents and Schools in Partnership, Inclusion Solutions and the Educator’s Manual.

She was intently focused on DSACT’s mission of including people with Down syndrome in all aspects of our community and ensuring each individual realizes his or her potential. Her energy and legacy continue to be a driving force as DSACT works to provide Programs, Resources, and Services to individuals with Down syndrome, their families, professionals, and the community.

The Lori Tullos Barta Educator of the Year Award is typically presented to a deserving person or team to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day on March 21. With this award, DSACT offers members the opportunity to recognize the person or team that has had an undeniable impact on your child and provided support to you. Nominees are those educators who go beyond expectations and stand out above the crowd. After reading through all the nominations, DSACT’s committee selects a truly deserving person. All educators, including teachers, paraeducators, therapists, and principals can be nominated. You can also nominate teams if you prefer.

This award gives DSACT members the opportunity to say “thank you” to outstanding educators. DSACT notifies all nominees and their principals of your, and our, appreciation for their outstanding contributions to students. Let’s recognize those outstanding individuals.

Nominations for 2024’s Educator of the Year are now open.  

Please submit all nominations by February 21, 2024.

2023 Lori Tullos Barta Educators of the Year and Education Team of the Year

In 2023, DSACT is pleased to recognize two Educators of the Year!

2023 Educator of the Year - Nicki Smith

Nicki Smith was selected as a recipient for the 2023 Lori Tullos Barta Educator of the Year Award for her passion for inclusion, her high expectations of all students, and for her incredible dedication to her classroom. She was nominated by The Pollard Family for her support of their daughter at Forest Trail Elementary. 

The Pollard’s stated that Ms. Smith is an expert at supporting students with Down syndrome by providing appropriate supports, ensuring meaningful inclusion, and understanding the importance of working as a team with her student’s families. Additionally, Ms. Smith helped start a Best Buddies chapter on their campus and she also frequently attends DSACT events such as our annual Holiday Party and our Education Conference. Ms. Smith’s dedication to her students is obvious each and every day.

2023 Educator of the Year - Valerie Kalish

Ms. Valerie Kalish was selected as a recipient for the 2023 Lori Tullos Barta Educator of the Year Award for her outstanding efforts as a general education teacher at Regina Mater. She was nominated by the Kirsch and Murray family.

Both families had many amazing things to say about Ms. Kalish. They both describe her as a compassionate, patient, understanding, and loving teacher who treats every student with the same dignity and curiosity. Ms. Kalish approaches each student as individuals and readily identifies her student’s strengths and areas of need while ensuring that all of her students are supported in meaningful ways. Ms. Kalish thinks outside of the box to motivate her students and due to her outstanding efforts, is able to promote inclusion within her school.

Other 2023 Educator Award nominees were: Ms. Nicole Hellebreckers (Harmony School), Ms. Valerie Gomez (Hays ISD), Ms. Brownwyn O’Jack (Pflugerville ISD), Ms. Theresa Wedekind (Leander ISD), Mr. Jack Shepherd (Rise School), Heidi Armendariz (SLP at Speak Freely), Dana Rust (Cibolo ISD), and educational team: Ms. Cory Matheny, Ms. Suzanne Hoelzel, Ms. Maria Cuchillo, Ms. Shay Johnson, Ms. Alexia Turenne from Kiker Elementary.