Jack student proud to share talent with education official

Texas Education Agency/Courtesy Jack Elementary School fifth-grader Thomas Pitonak, 11, on Friday stands with Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams while holding a portrait of the official he drew.

A Jack Elementary School fifth-grader got to share his artistic talents with the top education official in the state.

Thomas Pitonak, 11, created a portrait of Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams and it was presented to the official during his visit to Jack on Friday.

Williams visited three Tyler ISD campuses as part of a statewide tour of public schools.

Thomas' portrait — completed with the use of color sticks, which are similar to pastels — is based on a photograph of the commissioner on the Texas Education Agency website.

It features Williams standing with his arms crossed and a smile on his face with his attire accented by his trademark bow tie. The U.S. and Texas flags along with a bookshelf are in the background.

Williams praised Thomas for the piece and commented that he got the bow tie right. He said he would find a place to display the artwork in his Austin office.

After the presentation, a photo of Williams, Thomas and the portrait was posted on the Texas Education Agency Facebook page.

Thomas had about a day to work on it after learning about the opportunity from his art teacher.

He said they looked up the commissioner's picture on the Internet, printed it out and he used that as a guide for his drawing.

"The hardest part was probably the mouth and cheeks, maybe," he said.

Thomas started the drawing Wednesday afternoon, worked on most of it at home and incorporated suggestions from his art teacher the next day.

He said he felt pleased with the finished product.

"It made me very proud and it made Ms. Hittle (the Jack principal) even more proud … because she started going around the whole school" to show it to everyone, he said.

Although Thomas has long enjoyed and had a gift for drawing and other art forms, he doesn't see that as a future career. Instead, he wants to become an orthopedic surgeon.

"I've broken my arm twice, and I thought it was pretty interesting how they put it back because I kind of dislocated it, too," he said.

School Principal Shauna Hittle said campus educators strive to find out what students are good at and what their "native genius" is. Thomas' is definitely, among other things, art, she said.

"It is something he is able to contribute to others," she said. "We all have strengths and gifts, and we need to use those strengths and gifts for the goodness of other people."

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