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.


Catherine McCabe

Mantua Elementary School, Fairfax, VA
Grades K-5, Special Education
2014, Spring

To improve her knowledge of number sense, Mrs. McCabe will attend the Math Recovery Conference. While there, she will gain knowledge and resources that will allow her to improve math instruction with her special needs students. Upon completing the conference, Mrs. McCabe ... more »

Candice Belt

Ooltewah Middle School, Ooltewah, TN
Grades 6-8, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Spring

Mrs. Belt will lead a book study for Ooltewah Middle School educators that will allow staff to learn about growth and fixed mindsets. In reading “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Mrs. Belt and her colleagues will investigate how students learn and how to ... more »

Lisa Albert

Elizabethtown Area School District, Elizabethtown, PA
Grades K-5, Nurse
2014, Spring

To improve her knowledge of health promotion, leadership and legal issues, school nurse practice, and research, Mrs. Albert will attend the National Association of School Nurses Conference. After attending the conference, Mrs. Albert will expand her school nurse practice by ... more »

Jody Yoxthimer

North Ridgeville High School, Ridgeville, OH
Grades 9-12, Science
2014, Spring

Through Earth Expeditions, Mrs. Yoxthimer will embark on a ten day field assignment in the Valle de los Cirios Biological Reserve in Baja, Mexico. During the assignment, Mrs. Yoxthimer will learn about unique desert and marine flora and fauna, medicinal plants, endangered ... more »

Sara Thorburn

Lexington High School, Lexington, OH
Grades 9-12, Language Arts
2014, Spring

Ms. Thorburn will attend the National Council of Teachers of English Convention to engage with forward thinking educators and experts in the field. While there, Ms. Thorburn will listen to speakers and participate in interactive sessions and workshops in which she will ... more »

Kathryn Haughney

Progressive Education Program, Asheville, NC
Grades K-5, Special Education
2014, Spring

To improve her ability to teach a print-based assistive technology, Mrs. Haughney will attend a series of workshops hosted by the Cerebral Palsy Education Centre. The workshops will allow her to develop and implement personalized books that suit the varying communication, ... more »

Heather Klug

Osseo Senior High School, Osseo, MN
Grades 9-12, Foreign Language Teacher
2014, Spring

To examine available mindfulness curricula, Ms. Klug will attend the Way of Mindful Education Level Two Training in Costa Rica. While there, she will participate in exercises and activities that will be used in the classroom and spend time learning how to lead teacher ... more »

Patricia Keck

Riverview East High School, Marine City, MI
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Spring

To gain a better understanding of the implementation of Project Based Learning (PBL), Mrs. Keck will attend the Buck Institute for Education’s PBL World conference. While there, Mrs. Keck will attend workshops that will provide information and resources to impact her ... more »

Deborah Dubord

Mt. Vernon Elementary School, Fayette, ME
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Spring

Mrs. Dubord and Mrs. Hatt will convene a study group to deepen their ability to understand and effectively respond to the growing number of children entering school with a history of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The cohort will act as critical interventionists and ... more »

Jessica Powell

Henderson County Schools, Henderson, KY
Grades K-5, Special Education
2014, Spring

To improve her ability to engage with and support preschool children with special needs, Ms. Powell will participate in the Reggio Emilia study tour in Italy. Through the study, Ms. Powell will learn to use arts-based activities to support development and explore the design ... more »

Delena McGuire

Am Yealey Elementary Schoo, Florence, KY
Grades K-5, Language Arts
2014, Spring

Ms. McGuire and Mr. Eppley will take part in the Ron Clark Academy teacher training program. The experience will provide an in-depth look at a model school environment and introduce opportunities to witness innovative instructional strategies. The team will study new ways ... more »

Donna Bohlmann

Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont Community School District, Eddyville, IA
Grades K-5, Gifted and Talented
2014, Spring

To improve the practice of enrichment-based differentiated teaching within multiple regional school districts, Mrs. Bohlmann will attend the Confratute Institute at the University of Connecticut. Upon completing the institute, Mrs. Bohlmann will lead a consortium of small ... more »

Abbey Evans

Culver Family Learning Center, Evansville, IN
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Spring

Mrs. Evans will participate in the North American Study Group in Reggio Emilia, Italy. While there, she will visit preschools and infant toddler centers, form relationships with other early childhood educators, and experience research exhibitions at the Loris Malaguzzi ... more »

Robert Kuhn

Centennial High School, Roswell, GA
Grades 9-12, Science
2014, Spring

To strengthen his teaching practice and ensure that students learn biology more meaningfully, Mr. Kuhn will attend the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study/National Association of Biology Teachers AP Biology Leadership Academy. While there, Mr. Kuhn will learn to analyze ... more »

Dr. Marva McClean

City of Pembroke Pines Charter Middle School, Pembroke Pines, FL
Grades 6-8, Language Arts
2014, Spring

To expand her capacity to teach multicultural and culturally relevant pedagogy, Dr. McClean will attend the Mississippi Freedom Summer Conference. While there, Dr. McClean will attend seminars and present a paper on integrating themes of historical empowerment in classroom ... more »

Gretchen Wall

Vilseck Elementary School, Vilseck, Germany (Armed Forces),
Grades K-5, English
2014, Spring

Through the “Vilseck Elementary Literacy Initiative,” Mrs. Wall and colleagues will support a diverse group of students in becoming avid readers and writers. Mrs. Wall will participate in a summer reading and writing institute that will provide the foundation ... more »

Jeanette Scotti Millar

Columbine Elementary School, Boulder, CO
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Spring

Through Mindfulness training, Ms. Millar and her colleagues will learn how to reduce stress in their lives, which will allow them to become more effective in the classroom. Teachers will practice and then share with students multiple stress reduction and natural conflict ... more »

Lisa Okikawa

Huntington Beach Union High School District, Huntington Beach, CA
Grades 9-12, Special Education
2014, Spring

To better understand the skills individuals with disabilities (specifically those who are blind or visually impaired) need for viable employment, Ms. Okikawa will attend the Kennedy Center’s Leadership Exchange in Art and Disability Conference. Ms. Okikawa will ... more »

Chandra Friend

Irvington High School, Fremont, CA
Grades 9-12, Language Arts
2014, Spring

Ms. Friend, Mr. Mintey, and colleagues will revitalize Irvington High School’s arts-integrated curriculum and incorporate new pedagogical methods through training and collaboration time for both new and experienced educators. The project will support staff in ... more »

Amanda Umphrey

Springville High School, Springville, AL
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2014, Spring

To investigate and explore the tools, strategies, and innovations related to cutting-edge technologies, Mrs. Umphrey will attend the Campus Technology Education Conference. While at the conference, Mrs. Umphrey will familiarize herself with tools that will enrich student ... more »

Dr. Karen Foster

Alabama A&M University, Normal, AL
Higher Education, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Spring

To strengthen her skills as Alabama A&M University’s director of field experiences and school partnerships, Dr. Foster will attend the Leadership and Decision Making Conference at Harvard University. Upon returning from the conference, Dr. Foster will use the ... more »

Alyson Berg

Highland Elementary School, Highland, WI
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2014, Spring

Through “Item Not Found,” Ms. Berg and Ms. Doyle will encourage students to use technology to deepen their understanding of content and work towards becoming independent self-motivated learners. Students will develop 21st century skills by posing their own ... more »

Marc Abe

Petersburg High School, Petersburg, WV
Grades 9-12, Science
2014, Spring

Mr. Abe and Ms. Clay will bolster their biology lessons with hands-on applications of dissections. The lesson will provide students with a better understanding of body systems and how systems work in relation to one another in a variety of species. Students will dissect ... more »

Shannon Root

Cheney High School, Cheney, WA
Grades 9-12, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
2014, Spring

Cheney High School students will explore the concepts of energy types, transfers, production, and engineering in a series of hands-on inquiry activities. Each activity will be guided by a set of criteria, and within that range students will have the freedom to design and ... more »

Denise Wilson

Fairview Elementary School, Roanoke, VA
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2014, Spring

Mrs. Wilson and Ms. Altizer will use tablets to introduce students to quick response (QR) codes. The codes will initially be developed by teachers for student use of a self-checking activity in reading and math lessons. As students become familiar with the process, they ... more »

Matthew Rickard

Walter Hines Page High School, Greensboro, NC
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2014, Spring

Mr. Rickard and Ms. Hackney will introduce “Life in Pictures,” a project in which students will use a video camcorder and computer software to embed movies into photographs. Students will use the principles of photography, film, and journalism to create videos ... more »

Melissa Hamlin

Central Middle School, Dobson, NC
Grades 6-8, Science
2014, Spring

Through “Up Next, The Weather,” students will become junior meteorologists by utilizing weather testing equipment and designing their own prototypes of tools to predict the weather. Students will work with community experts and gain 21st century skills as they ... more »

Karen Orchowski

Jean Nuzzi Intermediate School 109, Queens Village, NY
Grades 6-8, Science
2014, Spring

Ms. Orchowski and Mrs. Oneal-Suber will start a forensic science class that will partner with an after-school forensic science club. Students will distinguish between direct and circumstantial evidence, identify methods of crime scene documentation, construct and analyze ... more »

Melissa Seigel

P.S. 116M, New York, NY
Grades K-5, Arts
2014, Spring

A team of P.S. 116 educators will collaborate with NYChessKids to grow the implementation of curricular chess instruction in every kindergarten and first grade classroom. Each classroom will have a weekly period with a chess instructor who will provide students with lessons ... more »

Marisa Landy

Lenox School, Pompton Lakes, NJ
Grades K-5, Special Education
2014, Spring

To improve student writing fluency, Ms. Landy and Ms. Hennessey will introduce individual technology in the classroom. Students will use Google Drive to plan, draft, revise, edit, and share writing with multiple audiences. Peer-to-peer collaboration will prepare students ... more »

Guy Wadas

James Cashman Middle School, Las Vegas, NV
Grades 6-8, Science
2014, Spring

To stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and boost the enrollment of highly qualified girls in accelerated science classes, Mr. Wadas and Mrs. Radef will introduce the “Summer STEM Academy for Girls.” Students will ... more »

Barbara Bade

Highwood Hills Elementary School, Saint Paul, MN
Grades K-5, Special Education
2014, Spring

To address the technological needs of Highwood Hills Elementary School students, Ms. Bade and Mrs. Stern will introduce white boards, document cameras, and computers in their classrooms. Teachers will work with special needs students to introduce technology as an ... more »

Sarah Fritzke

Jordan Elementary School, Jordan, MN
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2014, Spring

Through “It Adds Up: A Math Resource Room,” Mrs. Fritzke and Mrs. McMahon will provide opportunities for growth in math learning for low and high achieving students. Jordan Elementary School students will have access to hands-on, engaging math materials through ... more »

Vicki Graham

Reeths Puffer/Central School, Muskegon, MI
Grades K-5, Education Support Professional
2014, Spring

Through “Reeths Puffer Links,” students will gain leadership and problem solving skills that will enable them to achieve new levels of compassion and understanding for their peers with special needs. Mrs. Graham and Mrs. Hoffman will encourage peer-to-peer ... more »

Erinn Hess

Mattawan Consolidated Schools, Mattawan, MI
Grades K-5, Special Education
2014, Spring

To assist special education students in meeting the demands of the Common Core Curriculum, Mrs. Hess and Mrs. Ludwig will introduce laptops and tablets in the classroom. Students will learn technology skills that will assist them in accessing employment opportunities, ... more »

Juliane Lally

Curran Early Childhood Education Center, Dedham, MA
Grades K-5, Science
2014, Spring

To provide early childhood learners with a hands-on science experience, Mrs. Lally and Mr. Sullivan will introduce “Savvy Scientists.” The project will help young children learn about numerous scientific topics through journal writing, garden and compost ... more »

David Hughes

West Middle School, Andover, MA
Grades 6-8, Physical Education / Health
2014, Spring

Mr. Hughes and Mr. Deschene will introduce “Warrior Wake-Up,” a fitness program that will include workouts and nutritious breakfasts three times a week before school starts. Students will wear heart monitors and track their progress. Ultimately, students will ... more »

April Thompson

South Street Elementary School, Opelousas, LA
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2014, Spring

Third and sixth grade students at South Street Elementary School will work together to create stories and poems using digital storytelling applications. Sixth grade students will act as mentors for the third grade students throughout the creative process. The students will ... more »

Heather Anderson

Cowles Montessori School, Windsor Heights, IA
Grades K-5, Science
2014, Spring

Through “School to Farm,” Ms. Anderson and Mrs. Parmerlee will expose urban students to agriculture. Students will be provided with hands-on learning opportunities by visiting small organic farms, large production farms, historical farms, and the Iowa State ... more »

Joanna Sierka

Waterbury Elementary School, Roselle, IL
Grades K-5, English
2014, Spring

Mrs. Sierka and Ms. Wazydrag will implement a research based Response to Intervention program to improve students’ reading abilities, language proficiency, confidence, and academic success. The project will provide the most struggling readers, mostly English Language ... more »

Melissa Hickey

Steele Elementary School, Galesburg, IL
Grades K-5, Language Arts
2014, Spring

Through “Readers are Leaders,” Mrs. Hickey and Mrs. Mowen will expand upon Steele Elementary School’s first grade reading centers by introducing them to second and third grade classrooms. The team will create a leveled library that will aim to increase ... more »

David Evans

Richard Yates School, Chicago, IL
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2014, Spring

Mr. Evans and Mr. Liberto will address the need for proper printing instruction by introducing “Printing for Success.” The team will create a manuscript curriculum that will detail the mechanics and detail of putting word to print. Through the use of tablets, ... more »

Julie Adams

Birch Elementary School, Nampa, ID
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2014, Spring

To improve technology access for students with mild to moderate disabilities, Ms. Adams and Mrs. Englund will introduce iPads in their classrooms. Tablet use will support the development of reading fluency as well as mathematical reasoning and problem solving ... more »

Ruth Goodwin

Burbank Elementary School, Merced, CA
Grades K-5, Science
2014, Spring

Through “Science for the Next Generation,” Mrs. Goodwin and Mrs. Gonzalez will enhance the Next Generation Science Standards for each of their grade levels with experiences in visual and performing arts and various technology applications. The project will be ... more »

Tandra Ericson

Mount Diablo Unified School District, Concord, CA
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2014, Spring

Through “Literacy for All,” Ms. Ericson and Ms. Conable will ensure that all students have the opportunity to express themselves through writing. The team will create a model literacy program for students with complex instructional needs that will develop ... more »

Judy Duke

Fairview High School, Cullman, AL
Grades 9-12, Special Education
2014, Spring

Ms. Duke will introduce tablet technology in her classroom of special needs students to introduce them to the skills needed to take online courses and prepare for the workforce. Students will learn through direct instruction via the tablets’ assistive technology. The ... more »

Beth Smith

Frank Elementary School, Kenosha, WI
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2014, Winter

Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Neumaier will lead a collegial study that will transform math instruction at Frank Elementary School from a whole group focus to a workshop approach. The new approach will encourage whole group instruction, guided and independent practice opportunities, ... more »

Douglas Ferguson

Martin Sortun Elementary, Kent, WA
Grades K-5, Science
2014, Winter

To increase faculty knowledge of the Next Generation Science Standards, Mr. Ferguson and Mrs. Rudolph will lead a book study of Betsy Fulwiler’s “Writing in Science” and Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey’s “Common Core ELA.” The project will ... more »

Nichole Calkins

Mount Rainier High School, Des Moines, WA
Grades 9-12, Physical Education / Health
2014, Winter

Mrs. Calkins and Mr. Sundblad will lead a team of elementary, middle, and high school teachers in designing a K-12 Physical Education curriculum map and professional development plans for a newly adopted PE curriculum and software system. The curriculum map will allow ... more »

Dr. Sue Rieg

Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA
Higher Education, Special Education
2014, Winter

The Indiana Area School District and Indiana University of Pennsylvania will collaborate to design a partnership to improve early elementary learning and teaching and simultaneously improve the Early Childhood with Special Education program. A study group will be formed to ... 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.