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Fort Bend’s Homegrown Educators

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Local educators establish careers in their alma mater school districts

Written by Taylor McLaughlin | Photography by Sylvia Garza

Sugar Land, TX News - For Fort Bend ISD and Lamar CISD educators and school staff, a connection to their home district runs deep, and for those returning to their alma mater, the meaning of community and school pride resonates. These staff members love their schools both past and present and are eager to help build their students into the community’s strong leaders of tomorrow.

Lilian Mason
Head Dance Director
Stephen F. Austin High School
Class of 2008
It wasn’t that long ago when Lilian Mason graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School where she was a captain on the Austin Angels Dance Team. Her love for dancing began when she was 3 years old. She fondly remembers her senior year and their last performance alongside the band. “That final performance was absolutely incredible, and the feeling of dancing right next to my best friends is one that I will treasure for the rest of my life,” Mason shares. She briefly studied elementary education at the University of Texas, but quickly transferred to the University of Houston to pursue a degree in dance. While studying, Mason returned frequently to teach, choreograph, and hold clinics for the Angels.

 

Becoming the Director
In 2012, Mason followed in the footsteps of her most influential teachers, Betsy Heathcock and Kristina Tarman, replacing Heathcock after her retirement. It was no question that Mason would apply for the position once it opened. She explains that she “already loved everything about AHS – the faculty, the dance program, the traditions, and the students.” It was her first choice.

Now as the director, Mason collaborates creatively with other Fort Bend ISD dance directors. Although she loves to channel different aspects of the job, getting to know her students personally is what ultimately keeps her driven. “As their dance teacher, I get to know them in a more relaxed setting. They can talk to me about real life issues.”

“Every time the dance team takes the field now, I remind them that this opportunity is unique and special.” – Lilian Mason

 

Rhett Gray
Administrator for Truancy/Dropout Prevention
Lamar CISD
Class of 1978
For Rhett Gray the phrase “no place like home” is not just an old saying, but a daily reminder of why he chose to return to Lamar CISD after his 1978 graduation from Lamar Consolidated High School. Thirty plus years ago, Gray “saw a great opportunity to make a difference in young people’s lives.” He returned to the community that in his opinion “cares about one another and [provides] opportunities for all of us to be successful.” Although other offers came his way, none were as good of a fit as Lamar CISD.

All for the Kids
As with every job, there are days that are more trying than others, but the end goal makes it all worthwhile. For Gray, it is no different. With Lamar’s philosophy, “It’s all about the kids,” Gray focuses on getting students to graduation. He says, “Knowing the struggles and pain many of them overcame to get to that point and be successful makes seeing those kids walking across the stage during graduation that much more rewarding.”

“With hard work and willingness to be successful, you will be just that at Lamar CISD.” – Rhett Gray

 

Daniel Perez
Physical Education Teacher/Coach
George Junior High School
Class of 2002
On Daniel Perez’s first day of high school he sensed that he was being watched, and sure enough his dad, the assistant principal of Terry High School at the time, was standing outside the classroom giving him that famous father-knows-all stare.

With both his mother and father serving the community as educators, and his father a coach, Perez grew up around both education and school sports. At age 12, Perez knew he would follow in his parents’ footsteps and explains that today he “love[s] coaching and helping student athletes improve in all aspects of life.” He adds, “I think everyone has the ability to be good at something.”

Coaching for Life
While attending the University of Houston, Perez worked alongside the Cougar’s track team and former head coach Tom Tellez. It was one memorable experience that gave him the confidence to finally pursue a career in coaching. Tellez came to Perez and told him, “I don’t think you realize this, but you have what it takes to be a very successful track coach.” From that moment on Perez pursued his education and coaching career full force. He understands that not every student will continue to participate in college sports, but explains that if “I can teach them the rewards of a strong work ethic and can instill the mentality of a winner, then I have done my job.”

“As long as I can teach them the rewards of a strong work ethic and can instill the mentality of a winner, then I have done my job.” – Daniel Perez

 

Stephanie McDowell
U.S. History Teacher and Social Studies Department Chair
Stephen F. Austin High School
Class of 1997
In high school, Stephanie McDowell was considered one of the “top dawgs” since she was a member of the first group of students to graduate from Stephen F. Austin High School in 1997. Her class selected the school colors, chose the mascot, and started the traditions celebrated today. In her junior year, McDowell made the decision to become an educator. Having always loved history, it was the “amazing teachers, counselors, and principals in high school who guided me along the way,” McDowell explains. She believed it was her duty to be there for kids like her teachers were there for her.

Establishing a Relationship
With 13 years of teaching at Austin High School under her belt, McDowell has seen her fair share of students come and go. Each year, her students become like her children. “I try [to] not only teach them U.S. history, but also give them life lessons that I was taught while here [or] learned the hard way,” she says. McDowell remembers experiencing Sept. 11 with her students in 2001. The classroom watched as the towers came down, and McDowell attempted to explain what was going on even though she was also confused. Living everyday life together and going through important events side-byside has allowed friendships to form in her classroom. To this day, McDowell speaks to students from each former graduating class. SLM

“Every day I not only teach my students, but they teach me.” – Stephanie McDowell

TAYLOR MCLAUGHLIN is part of Stephen F. Austin High School’s 2008 graduating class and formerly taught English in Namibia, Africa.

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