Flipping the Script on HCDE’s November Employee of the Month

This month, Harris County Department of Education’s Communications team, the division responsible for the Department’s storytelling, is in the rare position of celebrating someone from its own ranks. Despite being the driving force behind the scenes, diligently working the camera to bring HCDE’s visuals to life, Multimedia Manager Debra “Debbie” Sanchez-Treese doesn’t appear in any HCDE videos. That is, until now. With the honor of being named HCDE’s November Employee of the Month, she is front and center.

“When we were going over the nominations for Employee of the Month, I just thought there could not be a more deserving person,” said Chief Communications Officer Danielle Clark. “Debbie is a light-hearted, beautiful, loving, kind, generous, and incredibly talented woman who does everything with heart. That’s part of what makes her so special.”

After working at Houston Independent School District (HISD) for 30 years, Sanchez took a leap of faith and joined HCDE in March 2020, at the behest of former colleague, and then HCDE Director of Communications Dave Einsel. She started right as the COVID-19 lockdown began.

“My first assignment here at HCDE was about COVID,” said Sanchez. “I went to a Head Start center to cover Head Start staff as they distributed ‘Because We Care’ food boxes to Head Start families. That’s where I first met our superintendent.”

“I think it’s ironic that I requested to do the very thing I hate to do just to tell her how much I appreciate her,” said Colbert. “Debbie exemplifies the talent-rich environment that HCDE is, and I value her ability to help convey this organization’s passion for improving our society through public education. She is a critical piece in us being able to put that on display.”

“Oh, gosh, I’m so honored to have Mr. Colbert be part of this video. I was like, ‘The superintendent wants to say something?’ Because usually, he says ‘no,’” Sanchez laughed.

Though she was surprised to hear she was selected as employee of the month, Sanchez says she couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and validation for her extensive resume.

“I’ve been working since 1978, when I was 16 years old,” said Sanchez. “I drove to our TV station in Victoria, Texas, in my parent’s station wagon and asked if they needed any help with the cameras. I started doing camera work for the 6 o’clock newscast that same day. I couldn’t believe it.”

Employee of the Month Debbie Sanchez-Treese at a promotional shoot for Head Start, Sept. 25, 2023.

The experience became the first stepping stone in a 45-year career. Sanchez has worked as a reporter, photographer, and news producer for various Texas television stations; captured the miracle of birth on film during her time at Baylor College of Medicine; traveled the world to exotic locations producing promotional videos for travel agencies; and spent 30 years at the HISD where she developed educational television programming and met her husband Gary, also a video journalist. Their two sons are what they term “our best productions yet.”

“I feel like I became a better producer once I had my own kids because I felt much more comfortable working with children,” Sanchez said.

Clark said Sanchez brings that personal touch to every story she produces, noting that the best stories are forged from true human connections.

“She’s the one that makes our stories really come to life,” said Clark. “She gets to know the characters and makes them feel like they’re the only person in the world when she’s talking to them. And they are at that moment.”

Known equally for her visual storytelling chops and optimistic, cheerful outlook on life, it is often her nurturing, calm, and steady presence that makes people gravitate to her and feel safe.

“Debbie is the heart of our division. I mean, who doesn’t love Debbie?” laughs Web Content Coordinator Oliver Dyke, a longtime colleague and friend who nominated Sanchez for the recognition. “She’s our mother, psychologist, advisor, confidant, mentor, and just a good friend. She’s so empathetic toward everybody. There’s a kindness and warmth there that you don’t see every day. People feel that warmth and are drawn to her because it’s authentic.”

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Since this award is turning the spotlight inward on someone who is used to being behind the scenes, it is not a surprise that Sanchez is a bit uncomfortable with the attention.

“Danielle told me with the biggest smile because I could tell she was taking great pleasure in the look on my face. I said, ‘No, no, no, no,’ and they said, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes,’” chuckled Sanchez, recalling when Clark and Human Resources Executive Director Natasha Truitt told her she was selected as employee of the month. “I was just completely overwhelmed, and I didn’t know what to say. It was so kind of Oliver to nominate me. I love him, and I love my teammates. They’re my friends. I just love who I’m working with. I feel beyond blessed.”

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