David Orona

Manuel Jara Elementary School, Fort Worth ISD

Teaches: Art
Education: Bachelor’s, Graphic Design, TCU
Experience: Five years

David Orona took the long way around to teaching: about 30 years.

Orona worked in advertising for three decades after graduating TCU with a graphic design major. Then he retired.

“I had always wanted to teach, so I went and got my teaching certification,” he says. He showed up at a Fort Worth schools hiring event and met Marta Plata, principal at Manuel Jara Elementary, which sits on the site of the former Circle Park Elementary, where Orona went to school on the city’s historic North Side.

“She looked my credentials, and she hired me on the spot,” Orona says.

Why not just enjoy retirement?

“I wanted to do something for the kids in my neighborhood,” says Orona, who won one of the Fort Worth school district’s Teaching Chairs of Excellence this year. “I was able to retire early. I want these kids to have a chance to prosper and have a better life and succeed.”

“Mr. O,” as students refer to him, calls his students “champions” and uses his own money to buy them medals and trophies. At the school district’s annual art show, Orona enters a piece for every student. He calls every student’s parents, invites them to the show, and lets them know their child will receive an award.

“The teachers and staff, all 62 of us, will show up to his big art show every year, just to be inspired,” Plata says. “He uses his love for art to inspire success in all children. Not every child will be a top reader or on A/B Honor Roll, but every child in this school will shine through their creations in art class.”

Off the clock, Orona says he spends a lot of time foraging for supplies for his students, spending his own money.

“I’m very fortunate to have that,” he says. “We never get enough supplies. The public school finances are very tight.” Orona also collects books. “I love to read, I do my art, I work on my garden.”