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Press Release

State Finalists Named for 2023 Superintendent of the Year Award

Austin— The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) is pleased to announce that five public school superintendents have been selected as state finalists for the annual Superintendent of the Year (SOTY) award, a program that has been recognizing exemplary school leaders since 1984.

“Our goal with the Superintendent of the Year program is to honor the outstanding talent we have leading our Texas public schools,” said TASB Executive Director Dan Troxell. “Serving as a superintendent is one of the toughest yet most rewarding jobs in the world, and we’re thrilled to be able to celebrate these accomplished and committed leaders who do so much for our students.” 

The five finalists were selected by a TASB committee made up of school board members who interviewed 19 regional nominees put forward by Education Service Centers (ESC) across the state. The candidates were evaluated on their work in improving student outcomes, developing a strong team-of-eight relationship, advocacy, and their ongoing commitment to innovation and leadership. 

Kerrville ISD Trustee Rolinda Schmidt, who chaired the TASB selection committee, thanked all of the superintendents who participated in the interview process, which took place Aug. 25-26 in Austin.

“On behalf of the committee, we are grateful to all of the boards that submitted nominations on behalf of their superintendents and all of the work by the ESCs and their regional selection committees to put forward such outstanding regional finalists,” Schmidt said. “It was extremely difficult to come up with a list of five finalists among such exceptional leaders, and we’re grateful to all of them for everything they do to advance educational excellence among Texas public schoolchildren.”    

The five state finalists are:   

  • Martha Salazar-Zamora, Tomball ISD, Region 4
  • Wade Stanford, Westwood ISD, Region 7 
  • Jim F. Chadwell, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD, Region 11
  • Sheri Blankenship, Hereford ISD, Region 16
  • Jose Rafael Lopez, Kermit ISD, Region 18

Related: Regional Nominees Announced for Superintendent of the Year Award

Those named as state finalists will advance to the next stage of the Superintendent of the Year competition, which will take place at the Texas Association of School Administrators | TASB Convention being held Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Dallas. The winner will be announced Friday, Sept. 29, and will receive an award underwritten by program sponsor Balfour.

Below are short bios of each state finalist:

Martha Salazar-Zamora, Tomball ISD

Martha Salazar-Zamora has served as superintendent of Tomball ISD, located about 30 miles northwest of Houston, since 2017 and brings more than 36 years of education experience to the role. Prior to joining Tomball ISD in 2014 as chief academic officer, she served in leadership positions in Round Rock, Houston, Spring, and Kingsville ISDs. 

Salazar-Zamora was recognized on Aug. 25 as one of the Houston area’s 30 most influential women and is the first female and Hispanic superintendent of Tomball ISD, which includes more than 22,000 students across 23 campuses, most of which are rated A campuses under the state accountability system. Salazar-Zamora’s accomplishments include implementation of Tomball Star Academy, the district’s early college high school; Tomball ISD’s Two-Way Dual Language Academy; and the district’s first P-TECH focused on healthcare. 

She received a doctorate in education at Texas A&M University, a master of education in educational administration and a master of education in special education at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, and a bachelor of science at Texas A&I University. 

Wade Stanford, Westwood ISD

Wade Stanford joined Westwood ISD, located in Palestine, as superintendent in 2016. Prior to that role, he served as the assistant superintendent of Marble Falls ISD for four years and has more than 38 years of education experience including 24 in leadership roles. 

Under Stanford’s leadership in Westwood ISD, the district passed a bond program in 2021, the first in more than 40 years. He also developed a program to include student voice in district decisions known as the Panther Council. Over the past year, he developed the district’s first police department to improve safety and security for Westwood ISD’s 1,387 students. He also established a mentorship program for first-year educators and increased the district’s accountability score to a B. 

Stanford earned his bachelor’s degree from East Central University and holds a master’s in educational administration from The University of Texas at Arlington.  

Jim F. Chadwell, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD

Jim Chadwell has served as superintendent of Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD, located in Tarrant County, since 2010 where he serves more than 23,000 students across 31 campuses.

His career in education spans nearly 30 years and includes time in both the classroom and as an administrator in districts including Northwest and Grapevine-Colleyville ISDs. His education leadership experiences also include a teaching internship in Hamburg, Germany, and a Fulbright Scholarship in Altötting, Germany.  

A Fort Worth native, Chadwell earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and doctorate all from Texas Christian University. Among his accomplishments at Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD was implementing a strategic planning process to guide the district’s decisions and practices. During his time as superintendent, he has overseen the opening of a career and technology campus, two high schools, one middle school, and four elementary schools. Other notable accomplishments include establishing a district police department, expansion of the EMS Education Foundation, and development of a community road infrastructure safety initiative. 

Sheri Blankenship, Hereford ISD

Sheri Blankenship has served as superintendent of Hereford ISD, located in the Texas Panhandle, since 2016. Prior to being named superintendent, she served the district of 3,840 students since 1996 in the roles of assistant superintendent, executive director of personnel, personnel director, curriculum director, assistant principal, and classroom teacher. 

Under Blankenship’s leadership, Hereford ISD was able in 2018 to pass its first bond in more than 40 years bringing improvements to eight of the district’s schools, as well as other campus facilities. She is active in the Hereford community through organizations such as Leadership Hereford Board, Hereford Cancer Coalition, Hereford Chamber of Commerce Board President, and Amarillo College, Hinkson Memorial Campus Advisory Board Member. She also participates statewide on boards, committees, and education-related organizations, including on the executive committee of the Texas Association of School Administrators. 

Blankenship received her associate degree from Clarendon College, her bachelor’s from Midwestern State University, and a master’s from West Texas A&M University. She completed her superintendent certification through West Texas A&M University. 

Jose Rafael Lopez, Kermit ISD 

Jose Rafael Lopez has served as superintendent of Kermit ISD, located in West Texas, since 2019, where he serves more than 1,200 students across three campuses. Over his 23-year career as an education leader, Lopez has worked in four districts, including serving as superintendent of Taft ISD for four years. He began his career as a middle school teacher in Alief ISD and also served as a principal and executive director for state and federal programs in Mission CISD. 

During his time in Kermit ISD, Lopez has improved the district’s accountability rating to a B in 2022. He also developed a five-year strategic plan and created new career pathway programs and curriculum supports to boost student achievement. 

Lopez holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Houston Baptist University as well as bachelor’s degrees in political science and public management with a minor in English from Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri. Lopez earned his doctorate in education. with a specialization in educational leadership and management through Capella University.

About TASB

TASB is a nonprofit organization established in 1949 to serve local Texas school boards. School board members are the largest group of publicly elected officials in the state. The districts they represent serve more than 5.4 million public school students.