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Bel Elementary third-grade teacher Angie Davis (facing camera) celebrates with fellow teacher Sandy Howard after receiving holiday stipend checks from Athens ISD. The district kept the plans secret until a surprise announcement was made to employees on Friday.

Friday was a happy day at Athens ISD. A surprise meeting of all employees was called just before noon, where it was announced by School Board President Alicea Elliott that all employees would be receiving holiday stipends.

“I’m blown away,” said Bel Air Elementary third-grade math and science teacher Angie Davis. “And I’m ecstatic to work for a school district that is never afraid to do the right thing.”

“We’ve wanted to do this for the last four or five years,” said AISD Deputy Superintendent Dr. Janie Sims. “In fact we modified employee contracts last year to clear the way for us to give a holiday stipend whenever the means to do so arose.”

That opportunity came in the form of House Bill 3. Passed earlier this year by the Texas Legislature, the bill provided public school districts with the financial resources to benefit classroom teachers.

“We wanted everyone to get something, with classroom teachers receiving the lion’s share since that was the intent of House Bill 3,” explained AISD Superintendent Blake Stiles. In fact, the only employees of Athens ISD not receiving a holiday stipend are the top administrators — by their own choice.

State Rep. Keith Bell, whose district includes Athens, sits on the House Public Education Committee and was instrumental in crafting the bill that released the additional funds to public schools.

“Today was a great day for AISD,” said Elliott. “We were able to show our entire staff how much they are valued and appreciated. I also want to personally thank Dr. Sims, [HR Director] Ginger Morrison, and especially [CFO] Randy Jones and his staff for all the hard work and hours they put in getting these checks ready and for keeping it a secret. I don’t know how they did it.”

District Elementary Librarian Deidre Pool said the administration and school board have always been generous with words of encouragement and affirmation. “Knowing, however, that they have been working behind the scenes to provide such a tangible expression of appreciation brings me to tears,” she said. “I truly love working for this district.”

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