LHES names Dungan ‘Teacher of the Year’

Jima Dungan made the most of her first year in the Liberty Hill ISD by being named Teacher of the Year at Liberty Hill Elementary School. She teaches kindergarten. (Dana Delgado Photo)

Jima Dungan made the most of her first year in the Liberty Hill ISD by being named Teacher of the Year at Liberty Hill Elementary School. She teaches kindergarten. (Dana Delgado Photo)

By Dana Delgado

Jima Dungan’s eyes filled with tears as she reflected on the completed 2015-16 school year that enriched her with some surprising memories and unexpected honors.

After passing on a job offer from the Liberty Hill Independent School District eight years ago, Mrs. Dungan made the most of her debut in the district by being named the 2015-16 Teacher of the Year at Liberty Hill Elementary School. But unlike her previous 11 years in teaching, she was tasked with grooming her very first class of kindergarteners.

“I interviewed specifically for the kindergarten position,” Mrs. Dungan said. “I knew I wanted a change in grade level so when Mrs. Melanie Bowman (Principal) called and offered me the job, I was very happy and excited to start a new adventure.”

The lofty honor bestowed by her colleagues, however, was totally unexpected.

“It was a surprise and an honor to be named Teacher of the Year,” said the Angelo State University graduate who completed her first two years at Texas A & M University in College Station. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher; played school at home with my brother, and just have always loved kids.”

The award announcement sparked a resounding response from Dungan’s students.

“My kiddos were very excited about it,” she said. “Many cheers and hugs went on!”

Mrs. Dungan said that her smooth transition to kinder from the upper elementary grades was the result of all the support she received on the elementary campus. In the classroom, Dungan found her teaching aide, Lea Szczerba, to be “a life saver.”

“Lea and I both were new at Liberty Hill Elementary this year and having her in my classroom just felt like a natural thing,” said Mrs. Dungan. “She was such a great backup and was always more than happy to work with any students or fill any roles I asked her to. Being in a new grade level is always interesting, so having her there with me and being able to count on her was an added bonus to my classroom.”

The Teacher of the Year also had high praise for her 12-person kindergarten teaching team, especially her campus mentor Joyce Milam, whom she found to be “amazing” and always there for her.

“Each one of them is an excellent teacher and I was blessed to be able to work alongside them this year,” Dungan said. “All of them were more than willing to help in any way and give ideas and share experiences. There are many good things going on at LHES and I don’t think I have ever worked with a group of people who are more dedicated to doing what is right for students. I feel blessed to be where I am.”

Her kindergarten team included Marsha Hood, Joyce Milam, Morgan Adams, Crystal Giddens, Amanda Little, Cindy Gatlin, Tara Gray, Laurie Houston, Emily Menke, Lisa Pavia and Emily Newman.

In addition, the energy of the students sparked her enthusiasm and motivated her.

“I loved the grade change from third grade to kinder,” she said. “It made me excited because the kids were so excited.”
Dungan said one of her most favorite things to teach was reading.

“Teaching them how to read was fun and I got to see so many light bulbs go on,” she said. “From beginning to the end of the year, they really became readers. Hearing them read and watching them read, was amazing. I expect a lot from my kids. They don’t know they have limits.”

While she saw her students gain confidence and trust in their individual skills, the newly named Teacher of the Year experienced some personal and professional growth herself.

“I learned a lot from my kids,” she reflected as her eyes welled-up. “They taught me to slow down and have fun. Learning should be fun. There was never a dull moment and their giggles and smiles would always bring a smile to my face. I love to watch them sing and dance and just be excited about learning in general. You get so attached to them that they become yours.”

Before embarking on her teaching career, the Brady, Texas native did her student teaching or internship in her hometown where she was influenced by her cooperating teacher, MaryBeth Lewis who also happened to be her best friend’s mother.

“She was a first grade teacher who was a great example for me – patient and loving and had a heart for the students.”

Dungan said she had an “eye-opening experience her first year as a fourth grade teacher with Northside ISD in San Antonio before returning to Brady for her second year as a first grade teacher. From 2007-2015, she taught third and fourth graders while working with Georgetown ISD. After relocating to Liberty Hill in 2012, Dungan eventually decided to seek a position with LHISD.

Dungan also was Teacher of the Month last September and was heralded by an area radio station for her life-saving efforts on a student who was choking at a Georgetown school a few years ago.

In high school, Dungan was a cheerleader, played basketball, was a member of the National Honor Society, showed steers with 4-H, and participated in the Heart of Texas Pageant where she was the Area’s first runner-up.

In her leisure time, Dungan relishes reading all types of books, from Dr. Seuss, to mysteries, to non-fiction. She also enjoys spending time on the water and watching her children, Noah Long and Aidynn Dungan, participate in all their sports activities along with her husband, Jeff Dungan.

Already scheduled for another kindergarten class next year, Dungan says she wants to continue to build relationships and incorporate more technology.

“I loved teaching the upper grades but I knew I wanted to give kinder a try and I am so glad I did,” she said. “I love how everything we did in class was so new and exciting to them. It really gave me a renewed perspective of my job. I loved seeing how much growth they made throughout the year. I also needed to amp up my energy to keep up with five and six year olds and they reminded me what it is like to see the world through the eyes of young ones!”