Cy Woods Recognizes Key Influencers in “The Defining 10″ Celebration

Cypress, TX (January, 25, 2016) In honor of the 10-year anniversary of Cypress Woods High School, Principal Gary Kinninger hosted “The Defining 10” celebration on Jan. 19 to recognize 10 adults who shaped the culture and climate of the campus.

The 10 honorees are:

  • Sue McGown, former principal
  • Candace Tannous, retired English department chair
  • Dirk Heath, associate principal
  • Kelly Ellis, director of instruction and former assistant principal
  • George Villamagna, social studies department chair
  • Kim Sempe, former associate principal and current Hamilton Middle School principal
  • David Jones, former athletic coordinator and head football coach
  • Lucy Gooden, head custodian
  • Walter Kase, late Holocaust survivor, speaker and No Place for Hate advocate
  • Laura Stivers, campus secretary

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Each recipient was awarded acrylic and glass keepsakes created by industrial technology students. Guests ate a meal created and served by culinary students, and interior design and floral design students made table arrangements and decorations. The school-produced event also featured food donations from the agricultural department, participation by the symphony orchestra and numerous clubs and organizations. Video technology students created recipient reflection videos, and Kinninger credited Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS) and community members for other generous donations.

After Kinninger praised each honoree’s contributions to Cypress Woods, each of “The Defining 10” members addressed the audience.

McGown, who opened Cypress Woods in 2006, returned with a heart full of nostalgia and praise for the school.

“It’s overwhelming; it’s a culmination of a lot of hard work,” said McGown, affectionately known as Mama Wildcat. “It really is wonderful when people take the time to say ‘thank you,’ so I would like to say ‘thank you’ to the community because it was a team effort. Through the community, the spirit lives on.”

Tannous worked as an English Teacher at Cypress Woods until her 2015 retirement, and reflected on a long career working with students and teachers.

“I feel spectacularly honored and it is beyond my wildest dreams to be here tonight in this happy setting and this beautiful celebration,” she said. “Cy Woods has made my life rich and full and fun. Working with students is just the greatest joy. Every day is a different day with young kids and their ideas. They are thinking, becoming, striving, and dreaming big. High school students work harder than many people do who are out there in careers. I love being in the trenches rooting them on.”

Dirk Heath, the current associate principal, was referred to as Papa Wildcat by Kinninger for embodying the “212” spirit.

“I feel a little overwhelmed about being honored,” Heath said, “I have such great pride in Cy Woods High School and all that it stands for and the culture. It’s just an incredible honor. I am overwhelmed. I can’t just walk the walk; I have to talk the talk and in every facet of my life. I try to lead by example and do the right thing.”

Gooden has been the head custodian at Cypress Woods since the school’s inception.

“Tonight was a very successful night,” Gooden said. “I appreciate it because now I know that all the hard work I’ve done throughout the district has paid off. This one night means so much to me.”

Villamagna, a history teacher, worked alongside Tannous for many years.

Cy Woods is a very special place,” he said. “It’s very unique. I did quite a bit of teaching before I came here and I have enjoyed every place I have been, but this is a very special place for me.”

Stivers was the inaugural secretary to the principal at Cypress Woods.

“I have the best job in the world,” she said. “When Sue asked me in March of 2006 if I would be her secretary, I was truly honored and at the same time scared to death. I’m so grateful that I said yes to her and had the opportunity to be under her leadership, not only at Hamilton but at Cy Woods as well. When she left I asked Gary if I would get to be his secretary and I was so excited that he said yes. There are so many awesome teachers here and so I feel humbled that they would give me this honor.”

Sempe, the inaugural associate principal at Cypress Woods, thanked her colleagues for her time at the school.

“Whatever task was put in our way while putting together the school,” Sempe said, “[the AP staff] will always be my heart and soul because they quietly smiled and nodded and made things happen, and so I appreciate you guys. There are many memories and funny stories that ultimately brought the staff together. My hat’s off to all of the staff that started and have kept the spirit alive. I love you guys.”

Kase, a Holocaust survivor who spoke at Cypress Woods for many years, influenced countless people at the school. His daughter, Risha Dozark, accepted the award on his behalf.

“With a grateful and humble heart,” Dozark said, “I accept this in my father’s name, honor and memory. My father would be extremely proud today. We all know how he felt and what he said to us: ‘I am here to tell my story so that no one will forget.’ The ultimate success for any person is to make an impact in the world around us. He tried to make a positive difference in this world. I hope that we can all benefit from his wisdom and while we are living there is always hope.”

Jones was the athletic coordinator at Cypress Woods before accepting the head coaching position at Tivy High School in Kerrville.

“I don’t have enough words to express the gratitude and the feeling I have standing in front of you tonight,” he said. “I have to thank Mr. Kinninger so much. This is probably the greatest honor I’ve ever received in my life. It was great being here and I appreciate everything.”

Ellis wrapped up the night and the way the honorees felt about Cypress Woods.

“Cy Woods has made me a better person,” she said. “I now look at these kids and realize that each student has a story. I’ve learned to always look beneath the surface and try to see all sides. It’s made me a better human being to look at things this way.”

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