Salazar Elementary School teacher Norma J. Longoria was among 40 Texas educators and superintendents that competed in Houston recently for more than $380,000 in cash prizes in the 2008 H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards.

Longoria, a gifted and talented teacher for kindergarten through second-graders, was one of five candidates for the Lifetime Achievement Elementary award for teachers with more than 20 years of experience, with the winner receiving $25,000 personally, and a $25,000 grant for his or her school.

Longoria did not win, but she was honored as a finalist at the conference held May 2 through May 4 in Houston.

"I think it was a beautiful tribute to educators in Texas, especially teachers," Longoria said. "We don't always get recognized the way teachers deserve to be and this awards ceremony was a wonderful experience for me. It was a very big honor. It was just amazing the way they treated us."

Longoria has taught at Salazar her entire teaching career, 27 years. She started at the school in 1980 after receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in education from Texas A&I Kingsville.

"This is a wonderful campus to work in and I have a great support staff and supportive administrators that are always receptive to any ideas I may have," said Longoria, the daughter of Julia and Jesus DeLeon of Robstown.

Longoria comes from a family of educators. Her sister Diana DeLeon is a second-grade teacher at Salazar; her sister Hilda Emanuel teaches special education at Hattie Martin Elementary School and her oldest brother, Arnoldo DeLeon, is a professor at Angelo State University.

Norma J. Longoria is married to Mario Longoria of Robstown, and the couple has three children, Gabrielle, Tarah and Ernest.

The 10 H-E-B grand prize winners consisted of two principals, six teachers and two school districts, one large and one small, that epitomize the best in Texas public school education.

H-E-B created the Excellence in Education Awards program in 2002 in cooperation with the Texas Association of School Administrators as a way to support public education in Texas.

A major objective of the awards is to make a statement about the outstanding practices occurring at Texas public schools and celebrate the work of Texas educators.

The program has grown to become the largest monetary recognition program for educators in the state, and one of the largest in the nation.