Awards Gala

Known as the Academy Awards of public education, the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala is an annual celebration of the men and women who work in America’s public schools.


Michael Steins

Shenandoah St. Elementary School, Los Angeles, CA
Grades K-5, Gifted and Talented
2011, Fall

Mr. Steins will complete the nine unit Gifted and Talented Education (G.A.T.E.) Certification courses at the University of California Irvine Extension so that he can effectively differentiate instruction for his school's gifted learners. Upon completion of the program, Mr. ... more »

James "Chip" Fraser

Pacific High School, Ventura, CA
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2011, Fall

Through It’s My Life, Mr. Fraser and colleagues will amass data predicated on studies and research that examine whether high school students are more likely to succeed in school and adult life if they receive daily life skills instruction and are given a “road ... more »

Louise Mongeon

Integrated Arts Academy at H.O. Wheeler School, Burlington, VT
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

To help provide students and staff at The Integrated Arts Academy with the most current, professional school nursing knowledge and skills in the specialty practice of school nursing, Mrs. Mongeon will attend the National Association of School Nurses' Annual ... more »

Mark Williams

Potomac Senior High, Dumfries, VA
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

To better communicate with an increasing Spanish speaking population at Potomac Senior High, Mr. Williams will travel to Guatemala to participate in The Casa Xelaju’s three week Spanish Immersion Program.  The program will require five hours of daily classroom ... more »

Bruce Borgelt

Clackamas Web Academy, Clackamas, OR
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2011, Spring

Mr. Borgelt and his colleagues will form a study group to explore how to better prepare students for the academic rigors of Algebra I. The study group will evaluate the effectiveness of the current math curriculum and identify, implement, and evaluate assessments, ... more »

Brian Wetzel

Licking Heights Central Middle School, Pataskala, OH
Grades 6-8, Computers / Technology
2011, Spring

Mr. Wetzel will attend a SMART Certified Training to gain an understanding of the full capabilities of the interactive whiteboards at Licking Heights Central Middle School.  Post training, Mr. Wetzel will train colleagues on effective whiteboard use and will ... more »

Wendy Wright

R.C. Buckley Elementary School, Lansing, NY
Grades K-5, Science
2011, Spring

Ms. Wright will participate in an Earthwatch Institute expedition, studying Trinidad's leatherback sea turtles.  As a member of the scientific research team she will participate in satellite tracking and collect data about migration patterns and habitat to predict ... more »

Christopher Yonitch

Washington School, West Orange, NJ
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

Mr. Yonitch will attend a cultural and language program in Peru, where he will live with a host family and attend Spanish language classes.  Upon completion, Mr. Yonitch will return to Washington School and share his knowledge with colleagues and students, sixty-five ... more »

Tami Kissell

Anaconda High School, Anaconda, MT
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2011, Spring

To reduce student risk factors and promote student achievement, Mrs. Kissell will implement the “Teachers Teaching Teachers” project at Anaconda High School.  Mrs. Kissell will lead a collegial study within the math department with the goals of improving ... more »

Dawn Holtz

West Elementary School, Hutchinson, MN
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

Mrs. Holtz will participate in four brain based education courses at the University of St. Thomas.  Upon completing the courses, Mrs. Holtz will assist in advancing brain based research and teaching strategies in her school and district.  Additionally, Mrs. Holtz ... more »

Rebecca Mecikalski

Rebecca Mecikalski, Rochester, MN
Grades K-5, English
2011, Spring

Mrs. Mecikalski will attend the International Reading Convention in Orland, Florida.  At the workshop, Mrs. Mecikalski will study ways to improve the reading scores of students at Pinewood Elementary, particularly Hispanic and African American populations.  Upon ... more »

Jacob Givand

New Hope Learning Center, New Hope, MN
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

Mr. Givand will investigate the use of technology in several school districts in Minnesota in an attempt to understand its relationship to student achievement.  In addition to examining the best practices of effective technology integration, Mr. Givand will examine ... more »

Christie Nutkins

Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Rapids, MI
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

Four members of the Grand Rapids Public Schools staff will attain certification as behavior analysts, requiring intense training in effective instruction for students with autism.  In obtaining this certification, the colleagues will provide ongoing training and ... more »

Kerrin Stewart

Luther Conant School, Acton, MA
Grades K-5, Arts
2011, Spring

Ms. Stewart will travel to Ghana for three weeks to study the musical traditions of the Ewe people.  As a result of her research, Ms. Stewart will revise her music curriculum to include an in depth unit for the upper elementary grades exploring West African music, ... more »

Joanne Freimuth

Linganore High School, Frederick, MD
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2011, Spring

Teachers in the World Languages professional learning community will learn how to create highly interactive lessons using Livescribe Smartpens.  The pens will then be introduced to classrooms, where students will be able to use them to record lectures and word ... more »

Kazimiera Dewese

Gower Middle School, Burr Ridge, IL
Grades K-5, English
2011, Spring

Mrs. Dewese will attend the Science Education for Public Understanding (SEPUP) Academy in Silverthorne, Colorado.  While there, she will study literacy strategies that support reading comprehension as well as written, oral, and media literacy; technology tools; ... more »

Julie Vanhoose

Norcrest Elementary, Pompano Beach, FL
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

Norcrest Elementary School educators will implement the International Baccalaureate/Primary Years Programme (IBPYP) in all grade levels and with all students.  The IBPYP aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people.  Educators at Norcrest ... more »

Elizabeth Montano

Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, Los Angeles, CA
Grades K-5, English
2011, Spring

Ms. Montano will attend the Columbia Teachers’ College Summer Workshop to improve her classroom practice so that she can provide her predominantly Latino student population with culturally relevant stories.  Upon returning from the workshop, Ms. Montano’s ... more »

Kathryn Grimble

Sunnymead Middle School, Moreno Valley, CA
Grades K-5, English
2011, Spring

Mrs. Grimble and Ms. Hines will study several books and professional articles on differentiated instruction for middle schools and will apply what they learn to lessons for the upcoming school year.  They will share this information with the language arts department ... more »

Amanda Hoggle

Vance Elementary, Vance, AL
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2011, Spring

Teachers at Vance Elementary will receive training in fundamental conceptual mathematics instruction.  A team of five educators will work together to strengthen the current math program by increasing students’ abilities to reason and solve problems ... more »

Leah Wendt

Prospect Elementary School, Lake Mills, WI
Grades K-5, English
2011, Spring

Ms. Wendt and Mrs. Collins will foster creative, constructive writing through the use of twenty first century technology tools.  “From Pen and Paper to Mouse and Keyboard” will use innovative web 2.0 technologies, including blogs, wikis, webinars, podcasts, ... more »

Heidi McNitt

School District of Osceola, Osceola, WI
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2011, Spring

Educators within the School District of Osceola will be provided with interactive whiteboards for classroom instruction.  This technology will promote high quality, equitable instruction while improving student achievement in language arts and mathematics.  ... more »

Keyunda Wilson

Van Asselt Elementary, Seattle, WA
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2011, Spring

Students at Van Asselt Elementary will increase math proficiency through hands on exercises.  Scales will be used in math classes at all grade levels for measurement practice, with an emphasis on algebra understanding at the intermediate grade levels.  Students ... more »

Kyle Niekamp

Yale Elementary, Ariel, WA
Grades K-5, Science
2011, Spring

Students at Yale Elementary and community volunteers create and maintain an outdoor organic learning center.  The center will allow students to view and interact with numerous living systems.  The hub of the learning center will be a greenhouse, which will promote ... more »

Richard Rigby

Birch Creek Elementary, Smithfield, UT
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2011, Spring

Mr. Rigby and Mrs. Cox will improve students’ mastery of technology by introducing Smart Boards and clickers in the classroom.  Students will work in groups to compile materials for use in multimedia classroom presentations.  Additionally, the less ... more »

Andrea Tejada

Columbia Heights Elementary, San Antonio, TX
Grades K-5, Science
2011, Spring

Mrs. Tejada and Mrs. Root will lead students in the expansion of a school garden.  By planning and cultivating the garden, student will observe the life cycle of plants and will understand the origins of the vegetables they eat.  Additionally, rain barrels will be ... more »

Maria Ann Geffers

East Stroudsburg Area High School, East Stroudsburg, PA
Grades 9-12, Science
2011, Spring

Mrs. Geffers and Ms. Huffman will offer students an understanding of environmental science careers and public policy by encouraging them to consider the issues and debates surrounding energy and the environment through the lens of local, state, and global economies.  ... more »

Jennifer Keene

Legend Elementary, Newark, OH
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2011, Spring

To bridge the gap between special and general education students, Mrs. Keene and Mrs. Herrmann will introduce iPads in their classrooms as a way to enhance lessons through the use of technology.  The project will enable Mrs. Keene and Mrs. Herrmann to create innovative ... more »

Jillian Baker

Springfield Middle School, Holland, OH
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2011, Spring

Through “Virtual Book Buddies,” eighth grade students at Springfield Middle School will create digital storybooks.  Students will record themselves reading the books aloud and the recordings will be used as learning tools to assist kindergarten ... more »

Renee Snyder

Goshen Lane Elementary, Gahanna, OH
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2011, Spring

To address the necessity of technological literacy in successful twenty first century learners, Ms. Snyder and Ms. Stoll will provide students with interactive multimedia technology via iPads and laptops.  The devices will be used to support academic needs, provide ... more »

Paula Tate

Draughn High, Valdese, NC
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2011, Spring

In a collaboration of language arts and social studies classes, Draughn High students will conduct oral history projects based on student interests and class assignments.  These projects will require students to identify subjects, create questions, conduct interviews, ... more »

Kathy Green

Carroll T. Overton Elementary School, Salisbury, NC
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2011, Spring

Mrs. Green and Mrs. Rutherford will expose students to nineteenth century culture through a visit to the historic Biltmore Estate and Grounds.  Through hands on interactive lessons, students will discover the rich history that exists within the walls of the estate and ... more »

Melissa Hamlin

Meadowview Middle School, Mount Airy, NC
Grades K-5, Science
2011, Spring

Through “Water Quality, Water Quality, What’s Your Location?,” students will use technology, the school campus, and the community to develop real world understanding of the importance of water.  The project will integrate language arts, science, math, ... more »

Kristine Ackerman

Skoi Yase Primary School, Waterloo, NY
Grades K-5, English
2011, Spring

To address a growing student population in need of additional reading support, faculty at Skoi Yase Primary School will create a leveled library.  The use of leveled books will enable Mrs. Ackerman and Ms. Cotter to provide differentiated guided reading instruction and ... more »

Katrina Macht

Hillside Intermediate School, Bridgewater, NJ
Grades 6-8, Arts
2011, Spring

Mrs. Macht and Mr. Sgro will introduce “Youth Engaged in Service through the Arts (YES A+),” a unit that will use the core principles of service learning to bring youth voice and choice into the school day.  The project will guide students in the ... more »

Scott Kukan

Farms Intermediate School, Brighton, MI
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2011, Spring

Mr. Kukan and Mrs. Markby will implement the “Global Perspective Project,” which will provide students with a hands on approach to social studies learning.  Students will focus on the “where” and “why” of the world and on the people ... more »

Arthur Andres

Aliamanu Middle School, Honolulu, HI
Grades K-5, Science
2011, Spring

Through the “Cleaner Energy Project,” Mr. Andres and Mrs. Young will work collaboratively to engage students in proper research skills and inquiry based science labs focused on the topic of renewable energy.  After completing preliminary labs and research, ... more »

Carla Kabwatha

DeKalb Elementary School of the Arts, Atlanta, GA
Grades K-5, Science
2011, Spring

Through “The World of Engineering,” DeKalb Elementary students will be exposed to a comprehensive instructional unit on engineering fields.  Students will then use engineering concepts to design and build robots to compete in the school wide “Robocup ... more »

Shenell Collier

J.L. Newbern Middle School, Valdosta, GA
Grades 6-8, English
2011, Spring

To help students develop advanced writing, research, critical thinking, and presentation skills, Mrs. Collier and Mrs. Almond will engage students in a production that incorporates rap, singing, and dramatic presentations based on their social studies and language arts ... more »

Christine Carter

Chestnut Elementary School, Kissimmee, FL
Grades K-5, Science
2011, Spring

Mrs. Carter and Mr. Berrios will introduce their third grade students to an integrated curriculum focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  In this construction challenge, students will design and test scale roller coasters and study the ... more »

Candice Stotz

Carlton Hills Elementary, Santee, CA
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2011, Spring

Ms. Stotz and Ms. McCurdy will enhance reading and math lessons through the use of the TeacherMate system, a technology designed for differentiated and individualized instruction in elementary classrooms.  Students will work in teams of six and partake in small group ... more »

Deborah Polhemus

Wakefield High School, Arlington, VA
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Winter

In order to increase the Latino graduation rate at Wakefield High School, teachers will develop relationships with Latino families through the Wakefield Home Visit Project.  Teachers of English language learners, special education students, and ninth grade students ... more »

Ruston Roberts

Morgan Elementary School, Morgan, UT
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Winter

The entire Morgan Elementary School faculty will study the book How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students by Susan Brookhart.  Collaborative teams will review the text, the research, and student and classroom data over the course of the year to support ... more »

Jimmie Walker

Cambridge Elementary School, San Antonio, TX
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Winter

Mrs. Walker will attend the Connecting the Mind, Brain and Education Institute on brain research at Harvard University.  At the institute, Mrs. Walker will work with experts in the area of brain research to design and plan specific ways to use cutting edge research to ... more »

Caroline Hay

Tualatin High School, Tualatin, OR
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2011, Winter

Ms. Hay will attend the White Privilege Conference, hosted by the Minnesota Justice Collaborative.  Knowledge acquired through the conference will be applied to Ms. Hay’s curriculum in her course Race in 21st Century America, in which students study issues of ... more »

Christina Hargaden

Gordon Russell Middle School, Gresham, OR
Grades 6-8, English
2011, Winter

Ms. Hargaden will attend Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in the summer of 2011.  Upon returning, she will lead a team reading and writing workshop at her school to implement and refine an approach to literacy instruction.  ... more »

Danette Narron

Edgewood Community Developmental School, Goldsboro, NC
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Winter

Ms. Narron and Ms. Sanders will establish a yearlong induction program for paraprofessionals at Edgewood Community Developmental School.  To help new paraprofessionals become more effective in classrooms, learning communities will use reflection, skill enhancement, and ... more »

Deborah Alcorn

Northern High School, Durham, NC
Grades 9-12, English
2011, Winter

Ms. Alcorn will study language and literacy learning in the lives of urban youth by taking the Hip Hop, Youth Culture, and Critical Pedagogy course at Middlebury College.  Through her work, Ms. Alcorn will develop a better understanding of the powerful oral and written ... more »

Sara Oaks

Baldwinsville Central School District, Baldwinsville, NY
Grades K-5, English
2011, Winter

Ms. Oaks will attend the five-day Summer Reading Institute at Columbia University's Teachers College Reading and Writing Project to gain the tools needed to implement a successful reading workshop model in her classroom.  Upon completion of the institute, Ms. Oaks will ... more »

Kris Caulfield

Waterside Children's Studio School, PS 317, Rockaway Parke, NY
Grades K-5, English
2011, Winter

Ms. Caulfield will attend Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP), a leading educational institute in advancing teaching techniques that align with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  After attending the seminar, Ms. ... more »

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Did you miss the live webcast on the Salute to Excellence in Education Gala on February 7, 2014?


Now, you can watch the entire program and catch all of the best moments-- from host and Tony Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad to student performers from Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools and the 36 educators from across the country who were celebrated on stage.  




The 2014 NEA Foundation Salute to Excellence in Education Gala, featuring host Phylicia Rashad

More than 800 national leaders in education, philanthropy, and business gathered at the National Building Museum in the nation’s capital on February 7, 2014 to celebrate excellence in public education.

Phylicia Rashad, the Tony Award-winning actress best known as Claire Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” hosted the event and helped celebrate the work of exceptional public school educators alongside student performers from Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools.

In addition to the 36 educators honored with the California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence, the following top honors were presented.


California educator Kimberley Gilles receives the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence

Kimberley Gilles, an English teacher at Monte Vista School in Danville, CA and member of the California Teachers Association, received the evening's top honor: The NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and $25,000. This award recognizes, rewards, and promotes excellence in teaching and advocacy for the profession.


Gilles and four other educators also received the Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence. These five educators were finalists for the evening's top award.


(Left to right: Harriet Sanford, President & CEO of The NEA Foundation; Gary Phoebus, President & CEO of NEA Member Benefits; Kimberley Gilles, NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence recipient; Mark Chichester, Chair of The NEA Foundation Board of Directors)


“He was my son who happened to be gay,” his father states. His mother is grateful that “he was surrounded by friends—the sun, the wind, and the smell of sage brush” as he died, badly beaten and tied to a fence. In between these statements and others made by local residents interviewed by the playwrights, a Tibetan singing bowl mournfully chimes.

With this choral reading of The Laramie Project, students in Kimberley Gilles’ class learn what happened to Matthew Shepard on the day he was murdered. Afterwards, she invites them to share their thoughts and the comments are honest and profound. One student simply asks, “Why?” Gilles shares her passion for social justice and inclusion with her students with this lesson that intentionally provokes and, she hopes, invokes in them a love of reading and writing. She tells them that the purpose of writing is to communicate their inner truths and encourages each student to find his or her unique voice.

Gilles has taught high school since 2003 and was previously a humanities and leadership teacher at the middle school level. In June of 2014, Rethinking Schools will publish her work, “Bringing LGBT Issues Out of the Curricular Closet: Teaching The Laramie Project.” She was awarded a B.A. cum laude from the University of California at Los Angeles and a M.Ed. in Instruction and Curriculum, Specialization: Integration of the Arts in 2012 from Lesley University.

As an active member of the Hayward Education Association, she played an integral part in leading a strike and then afterwards helped mend the fences and bind the wounds that had been created. Gilles currently serves as a union representative at her school in the San Ramon Valley Education Association and is a regular advocate for educators at school board meetings and community events. She is a State Representative to the California Teachers Association and currently serves on the Civil Rights in Education Committee. She received the CTA Members Human Rights Award in 2012.

Five educators receive the Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence

Five extraordinary educators from across the country received the Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence. Their students have already benefitted from the award. Each class received digital arts training from Pearson Foundation to produce a video, which premiered at the gala, to honor their award-winning teachers. Watch the videos below.


(Left to right: Harriet Sanford, President & CEO of the NEA Foundation, Christopher Stone (CT), Kathleen Sims (MN), Kimberley Gilles (CA), Marita Zuraitis, President & CEO of Horace Mann Educators Corporation, Eileen Sheehy (MT), Brian Sites (WA), Dennis Van Roekel, NEA President)



Student-made videos honoring their teachers premiere at the 2014 Gala

Timothy Shriver accepts the Security Benefit Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education on behalf of Special Olympics

The NEA Foundation presented the 2014 award to Special Olympics. Dr. Timothy Shriver, chairman of the orgazination, accepted the award on its behalf. Watch Dr. Shriver's speech.


This award recognizes individuals and organizations for their lifelong commitment to advancing public education and is typically presented to those who work outside the field. Awardees have included former President Bill Clinton, Title IX advocate Billie Jean King, and Sesame Workshop.


 Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.


This gives them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.







Students of Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools take the stage for cultural performances













The gala began with an original piece titled, "This is what my teachers said," by Blessed Sheriff, an eleventh-grade student at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD, and an award-winning poet. Watch her performance above.


In the evening's finale, host Phylicia Rashad joined Sheriff on stage. Watch Sheriff perform her original poem titled, “On the definition of hope," with the help of Rashad above.


Nearly 80 students from Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools took us on a virtual world tour through the performing arts— from salsa dancing and madrigal singing to African drumming.


Thank you to all who helped celebrate the best in public education. Save the date for next year’s gala on February 13, 2015.



Original poems written and performed by Blessed Sheriff:


Be bold. This classroom will be a womb 
And it will deliver courage
And it will deliver voices
And it will deliver your courage
And it will deliver your voices

Strive. These books are a pedestal
They will lift you beyond your potential
And you will know things worth knowing
And see things worth seeing
They will teach you how to spell words like believe,

(Remember the “i” comes before the “e” except after “c”)
So that you will one day believe in a higher cause beyond yourself.

Listen, to me. This classroom will be the silence you need,
A worthy citadel for your thoughts
So let them roam free
And when you find one worth catching
Bring it back to me.
I want to see.


This is something they cannot steal.
The mind, like a thunderstorm
Stands dignified as the only God-sent instrument amidst humanity
And we
Each of us
With our own minds…
Our own eternal infinity.
Ideas don’t die, people do.

Understand that courage, kindness, wisdom, and love transcend time and when we go
What we made of them will still be here.
Make something of them
And this is how:

(This is what my teachers said to me:)
One day you will rise and I may be a distant memory
But for now
Take your seat.
Class is in session.

One syllable.
Four letters:
Noun. A feeling of expectation and desire. Derived from Old English hopa or hopian meaning to wish, expect, to look forward to. A word of German origin, connected as well to the Dutch language.
A word with so many sounds, so many souls, it doesn’t get by on just one syllable.
It’s the words of a man, a King, with a dream. It’s attached to the faces of the one’s who are screaming
For freedom.
Four letters? More like six – and it’s spelled like

And do you see now what I mean?
Where there is no vision the people perish-
we are a species defined by our progress-
from the moment we climbed up off our knees and onto our feet…
and we’ve been doing it ever since.
Off our knees and onto our feet.

Hope. A noun in action,
And whether we are shuffling, mumbling, or running at breakneck speed it makes
sure that we are moving.

Hope. Derived from the one who makes all things new -
a spirit that lives on the inside,
like a wish waiting to come true. It’s true,
we are made of stardust. So the next
time you see a shooting star turn around and look inside you:
You’re on fire.
Know that the only things that burn are the things that last forever.
Know that fire ignites, and we’re called to leave this world in ashes more
beautiful than the icebergs before.

Hope. A word which has its origins in the smile of a newborn child, and in the spark of
a newborn mind which has the power to change a generation.

And if there’s one thing important enough to remember about what hope is,
It’s that H.O.P.E stands for one thing W.E: and that is WE.
We are hope.