Today@Sam Article

Six Recognized For Distinguished Service In Education

Feb. 25, 2015
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

Romney Thomas and Aubrie Walker contributed to this article. 

Gen. Sam Houston is quoted as having said, “A leader is someone who helps improve the lives of other people or improve the system they live under.”

While Houston could have been referring in that statement to leaders in politics and war—two places where Houston earned his recognition—he easily also could have been referring to leaders in education, a position he also once held.

Six Sam Houston State University alumni and administrators who have lived by those words, helping to improve lives, and for several the system as well, have been recognized by the College of Education for the 2015 Distinguished Educator of the Year awards.

Meghan Zigmond, “Distinguished Elementary Teacher;” Cara Moreland, “Distinguished Secondary Teacher;” Tiffany Woods-Simon, “Distinguished Support Professional;” Pamela Wells, “Distinguished Administrator;” Steve Johnson, “Friend of Education;” and Jack Staggs, “Legacy Award” recipient, will be honored on March 7 during a dinner and ceremony in the Lowman Student Center Ballroom for their excellence in the field.

For more information on the COE Distinguished Educator of the Year awards or the dinner, contact Sherry Hirsch at

Meghan Zigmond

In this age of rapidly evolving technology, many teachers’ comprehension of that technology may fall beneath that of their students.

Meghan ZigmondIn the case of H.G. Olsen Elementary School first grade teacher Meghan Zigmond, this assertion could not be farther from the truth. It is Zigmond’s zest for innovation and passion for sharing her knowledge with students, teachers and parents, alike, that make her deserving of this year’s “Distinguished Elementary Teacher” award.

An elementary teacher since 2006, Zigmond has shared her passion for educational technology with the small community of Port Aransas Independent School District by helping to secure iPads for the pre-K to second-grade classrooms. The iPad program under Zigmond’s guidance became so successful that it has expanded to a 2:1 iPad-to-student ratio across the entire school.

Zigmond assists in helping Olsen Elementary to constantly connect, create, and collaborate, placing emphasis on student achievement. By sharing her student’s accomplishments through her blog, Zigmond connects achievements in the classroom to the entire world.

She earned her master’s degree in library science from SHSU in 2010.

“Teachers of 2015 need to be willing to research new ideas, share experience and knowledge, create, collaborate, and communicate with students, families, colleagues and the community,” said Gina McKeever, principal at H.G. Olsen Elementary. “I feel she embraces change and enthusiastically shares what she has learned so others can be successful in their role.”

According to another colleague, Zigmond is constantly researching and sharing her findings in order to better integrate technology with the curriculum.

“Learning never stops within Ms. Zigmond’s classroom. Children are always working cooperatively in groups under her gentle instruction. I find it hard to think of a candidate more worthy of this honor than she.”

Cara Moreland

Educators are often lauded for their accomplishments within the classroom, and for Cara Moreland, those accomplishments are vast. However, Moreland’s achievements outside of the classroom catapult her above and beyond the definition of excellence, and as a result she has been named “Distinguished Secondary Teacher of the Year.”

Cara MorelandA graduate of Sam Houston State University’s academic studies program (2005) and recipient of a master’s degree in instructional technology (2012), Moreland tackles challenges within her classroom head on. While teaching technology classes at Navasota Junior High School, she has helped implement a project-based learning approach that helps students quickly find confidence and independence in a competitive and rapidly changing world.

Her colleagues commend and admire her tenacity and involvement in her students’ lives, and she is notorious in her community for being available to step in and assist with any responsibility—no matter the size.

In addition to her classes, Moreland serves as a sponsor for three organizations, coaches UIL academic events every year, and teaches math skills to students who struggle to pass their state assessments.

She also has undertaken the added responsibility of fostering two children. The relationship she built with these students allowed them to grow and succeed in a way that would not have been possible had she not intervened and changed their situation forever, according to colleagues.

“She is a true leader for our students,” a colleague said. “She leads by example, and the qualities that radiate through her are plentiful. She lives according to strong principles and morals that are evident in all that she does.”

“My praise for Moreland is the highest that any principal could give,” said NJH principal Charles Lester. “She is good for the students at Navasota Junior High, both as an exemplary educator and as a model of an adult guided by strong principles.”

Tiffany Woods-Simon

Tireless dedication to her students and fellow educators sets SHSU’s counselor education alumna Tiffany Simon apart from her peers and earns her the distinction of “Distinguished Support Professional.”

Tiffany Woods-SimonSimon works hard as a high school counselor in Klein ISD to stay abreast of the ever-changing trends that have a tendency to impact adolescent behavior.

In particular, she is recognized for her work concerning teen dating violence, something that one in every four teens report being a victim of, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She works, first, within her school, to create an atmosphere of openness in order to make students feel comfortable about coming forward with issues in both their academic and personal lives.

Simon also takes the opportunity to expand her knowledge in other secondary schools within her district and helps other counselors to benefit their communities, as well as positively impact teens’ lives.

In collaboration with St. Monica’s Catholic Church, Simon has found another opportunity to create a positive impact within her community. Her volunteer work at St. Monica’s affords students and parents to receive vital information relating to scholarship searches, academic planning, college visits, and more. Simon also mentors aspiring school counselors and counselor educators concerning key topics in today’s high schools.

Simon’s professionalism and commitment to the success of her students, as well as her attitude toward her work, places her far above the level of the average educator. Of her work within her community, colleagues and mentors are both supportive and optimistic.

“She is a leader and an expert in her professional work setting,” said Judith A. Nelson, acting chair of educational leadership at SHSU. “She has presented at conferences and conducts workshops for professional school counselors. As teen dating violence becomes a national social problem for youth, her expertise is relevant to healthy adolescent development.”

Pamela Wells

The College of Education “Distinguished Administrator” Pamela Wells has held many positions in the educational field, has been a part of the growth in several districts, and has successfully managed the improvements to each school she has overseen.

Pamela WellsAnd in those 39 years of involvement and leadership—including 33 years of teaching and administration—she has touched more than a million lives.

“I am committed to my profession because of my firm belief that providing equal access to a high-quality public education for all students is the only way to preserve our democracy,” Wells said.

Wells now is the executive director of Region IV Education Service Center, where she overseas the largest of the 20 education service centers in Texas, offering support to more than 1.1 million students and close to 87,000 professional staff in 50 school districts and 45 public charter schools across the seven-county greater Houston area.

The center assists districts and charter schools to increase student performance, to operate efficiently and effectively, and to implement Texas Education Agency and legislative initiatives.

“By serving as an advocate for public education, as well as a willing resource for business and community leaders, I have been able to broaden my contribution to public education,” Wells said.

Her impact has gone well beyond that of public education, according to one nominator.

“Pam devotes countless hours to her work, but still retains her family as highest priority,” he said. “She is the consummate servant leader.”

In addition to being an adjunct professor at Sam Houston State University, where she received both her master and doctoral degrees, she has traveled to and conducted research in schools in Japan, Denmark, Canada and Costa Rica.

“I am determined to continue learning and growing in my chosen field of education and hope to continue to make whatever contributions I can,” Wells said.

Steve Johnson

During his 41 years of service in and dedication to education, Steve Johnson has worked to impact each part of the system. For his work, Johnson was named the SHSU College of Education’s “Friend of Education.”

Steve JohnsonJohnson, a 1982 and 1999 College of Education alumnus, currently works with the Region VI Education Service Center as the coordinator of leadership and development.

He served 10 years as superintendent for both Huntsville and College Station Independent School Districts and also served in many additional roles in school settings.

His work in Huntsville came in the midst of retirement, when Johnson learned that Huntsville Independent School District had hit a rough patch due to funding cuts in Texas districts. This need spurred Johnson to leave retirement and accept a full-time job as the HISD superintendent, according to one nominator.

During his tenure, Johnson led the completion of various building projects and other improvements to HISDs campuses that recognize “that students and staff here deserve more than ‘good enough,’” said one HISD a board member.

“He has brought healing to the district, inspiring trust through consistency, and refusing to engage in the past,” she said.

“Over the last three years, I have learned what leadership really is by watching Dr. Johnson at work,” the member said. “He is a ‘gifted and talented’ leader who has distinguished himself here by bringing to pass a transformation that our board, administrative team, and staff can see and feel every day.”

Johnson said he feels deeply for the Huntsville community and sees the potential of the school system’s ability to change lives.

“As a school leader, either in the role of teacher or superintendent it has been my priority to be actively engaged in the community where I lived and worked,” Johnson said. “Schools both reflect and represent the communities they serve. They are often considered the cornerstone of a community schools serve the most precious of all community assets the children.” 

Jack Staggs

A World War II veteran whose passion for education has driven him to help others succeed, Jack Staggs is recognized with the College of Education’s first Legacy Award.

headshot Jack StaggsThe Legacy Award honors outstanding college community members whose contributions and service have left a legacy of distinction and impact on the field of education.

What would become a 34-year career at SHSU was spurred during Staggs’s military experience.

“When I was in high school, I associated with the top students,” Staggs said. “I didn’t know about these kids who were dropping out of school. I had my eyes opened in the military.”

This experience helped Staggs decide to become a teacher, which evolved into a fascination with education that would lead him to get his bachelor’s degree from State College of Arkansas, his master’s degree from George Peabody College for Teachers, and his doctorate in educational leadership and counseling from the University of Houston.

In 1960, recruited by then-SHSU student union director Elliott T. Bowers, Staggs came to SHSU, where he taught and was director of the education department.

During this time, Staggs’s legacy on the profession and on SHSU began to take shape.

He came to be considered one of the founders of counseling in the State of Texas and his work, both as administrator and scholar, helped transform the education department—he was instrumental in expanding the education programs in both scope and size, helped create the Counseling Center on campus, and began teaching in the counselor education program.

After retiring in 1992, Staggs continued to have a lasting impact on the College of Education by endowing multiple scholarship funds in elementary education, reading, and Spanish; establishing the outstanding dissertation award endowment; and donating equipment to create a state-of-the-art counseling clinic (that now bears his name) that provides free counseling services to the community, while also preparing counseling students in one of the most outstanding training facilities in the nation.

Following his retirement, Staggs was named “Professor Emeritus of Education” by the Texas State University System Board of Regents.

The legacy he leaves on the counseling profession, the students whose lives have been changed by his philanthropic generosity, and the students, faculty, and community members who continue to benefit from his lifetime of servant leadership to improving education is immeasurable, according to COE Dean Stacey Edmonson.

- END -

This page maintained by SHSU's Communications Office:

Director of Content Communications: Emily Binetti

Communications Manager: Mikah Boyd
Telephone: 936.294.1837

Communications Specialist: Campbell Atkins
Telephone: 936.294.2638

Please send comments, corrections, news tips to