Awards Gala

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 and of the unique bonds that educators and students share.


Kristy Corbett

La Tercera Elementary School, Petaluma, CA
Grades K-5, STEM
2015, Fall

Mrs. Corbett and colleagues will design three Project Based Learning units per grade level, focusing on the Next Generation Science Standards as the foundation for their units. The units will create a grade-to-grade alignment of all standards. Each unit will include ... more »

Cynthia Larson-Faragalli

View Ridge Elementary School, Bremerton, WA
Grades K-5, English
2015, Fall

Through “Researching Habitats,” English Language Learners will be partnered with highly capable students for research and inquiry project-based learning. Students will observe small habitat enclosures within the classroom, explore habitats in their natural ... more »

Julie Wickersham

Lincoln Middle School, Clarkston, WA
Grades 6-8, Education Support Professional
2015, Fall

By producing videos that feature Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) scenarios, students at Lincoln Middle School will embark on mini lessons that will foster wellness. Students will write scripts, analyze and produce lessons, and share their films with ... more »

Georgeanne Lavery

Radford City School, Radford, VA
Grades 6-8, STEM
2015, Fall

Through “A Living Roof,” students will learn of the importance of clean water and ways to protect finite resources. Mrs. Lavery and Mrs. Rehak will work with students as they construct a green roof shelter. Students will design, test, and create the roof and ... more »

Wendy McMillan

Ervinton Elementary School, Nora, VA
Grades K-5, Language Arts
2015, Fall

To increase students’ mastery of writing and critical thinking skills and enhance their cultural awareness, Ms. McMillan and Mrs. Lee will partner with foreign teachers to create virtual classrooms. Through the use of tablet technology, students will learn about peers ... more »

Karen Ciotta

Epes Elementary School, Newport News, VA
Grades K-5, STEM
2015, Fall

Through “Classroom on Wheels,” Mrs. Ciotta and Mrs. McEaddy will integrate a science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) program at Epes Elementary School. Students will visit several museums and theaters to engage in experiential learning. The ... more »

Amanda Varney

Vance Middle School, Bristol, TN
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2015, Fall

Through “Project 3D: Dream, Design, Develop,” students will improve their understanding of mathematical concepts, including proportional relationships and problem solving involving scale drawings and geometric constructions. Students will apply math skills to ... more »

David Brian Lasher

Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, Erie, PA
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2015, Fall

Mr. Lasher and Mr. Luthringer will enhance Collegiate Academy’s International Relations class. The class will combine current events with theory and use discussion, Socratic Seminars, and gaming scenarios to promote critical thinking, collaboration, and problem ... more »

Diane Ward

Clearmount Elementary School, North Canton, OH
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2015, Fall

Mrs. Ward and Ms. Donley will set up math work stations in portable boxes and utilize various math manipulatives and games. Students will work with partners, independently, and with teachers to solve problems and practice math concepts. The project will also incorporate ... more »

Cale Garber

Gahanna Middle School South, Gahanna, OH
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2015, Fall

Students at Gahanna Middle School South will use tablets to investigate the social studies curriculum, engage in historical research, and become active participants in ongoing formative assessment. Students will examine primary source documents that have been digitized, ... more »

Erin Simons

Vaughan Elementary School, Macon, NC
Grades K-5, Special Education
2015, Fall

To increase parental involvement, Ms. Simons and Ms. Konicki will work in partnership with the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project team to train teachers in bi-annual home visits. Through the home visits, teachers will create partnerships, develop trust, and identify common ... more »

Nancy Kaplan

Edward B. Shallow JHS 227, Brooklyn, NY
Grades 6-8, Language Arts
2015, Fall

Mrs. Kaplan and Mrs. Dinkins will have their grammar students use investigative techniques to compose writing pieces, including oral histories, memoirs, interviews, and essays. The program will enhance and enrich the educational experiences of the school’s large ... more »

Karen Kennely

North Babylon UFSD High School, North Babylon, NY
Grades 9-12, Arts
2015, Fall

To address the implementation of the National Core Arts Standards at North Babylon High School, Mrs. Kennely and Mr. Lombardo will create a professional art gallery. Students will create works and build levels of understanding that will allow them to gain insights into the ... more »

Dena Wagner

Norris Middle School, Omaha, NE
Grades 6-8, Language Arts
2015, Fall

Mrs. Wagner and Mrs. Moore will provide middle school students with the motivating tools necessary to become critical thinkers and writers. Within a writer’s workshop setting, students will explore, analyze, and reflect on mentor texts, create writer’s ... more »

Stacey Whitwood

Edgerton Elementary School, Maplewood, MN
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2015, Fall

Through “We Code, What’s Your Superpower?,” Ms. Whitwood and Mrs. Mittelbrun will attempt to close the gender and diversity gap in computer science. All of their students will use Chromebooks to learn computer science concepts and coding. Students will be ... more »

Sherry Kempf

St. Paul Public Schools, Saint Paul, MN
Grades 9-12, History
2015, Fall

“Through Dakota Eyes” will allow students to experience familiar places through a Dakota lens. Students will study local history and culture and understand multiple perspectives of the native peoples of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The project will culminate with ... more »

Katie Squires

Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Higher Education, Literacy
2015, Fall

To address the language and literacy needs of preschool children in a low socioeconomic area of Michigan, a universal screening will be utilized to determine the tier of differentiated instruction each child will receive. Students in all three tiers will participate in ... more »

Erin Feldpausch

Messalonskee High School, Oakland, ME
Grades 9-12, Language Arts
2015, Fall

To engage students in reading and collaborative conversations, Mrs. Feldpausch and Mr. Podey will implement literature circles in their classes. Students will be exposed to free choice reading assignments that will lead to improved literacy skills. Reading activities will ... more »

Melanie Ramey

Meade Memorial Elementary School, Williamsport, KY
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2015, Fall

To adopt a flipped classroom with blended instruction of online content and small group instruction, Mrs. Ramey will implement “Flipping with QR Codes and Screencasts.” Students will use quick response (QR) codes to view content and answer questions about ... more »

Nancy Smith

Bentwood Elementary School, Overland Park, KS
Grades K-5, STEM
2015, Fall

Through “Engineering Explorations” Mrs. Smith will enhance her science curriculum with the Next Generation Science Standards of engineering. Different engineering concepts will be introduced each month, and students will design challenges, participate in outdoor ... more »

Jordana Scher

Gallatin County Community Unit School District #7, Junction, IL
Grades K-5, Literacy
2015, Fall

“Learning Literacy Through Lyrics” will engage students in an in-depth study of music through the use of computers, books, and apps that will enhance both music and reading curriculum.  Students will bolster their mastery of music and reading while ... more »

Janet Key

Lowell Elementary School, Milwaukee, WI
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

Key will attend the Category 1, 2, and 3 Primary Years Program Workshops, where she will learn methods of Action and Assessment that will enable her to fully implement the Primary Years Program in her classroom. Key will work with teachers in her school to align their six ... more »

Dr. Donna Pasternak

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Higher Education, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

Pasternak and Peterson will create a professional learning community in which participants will increase their pedagogical knowledge of writing instruction. Participants will strengthen their writing instruction skills to improve their work with instructional staff within ... more »

Veronica Cook

Shorecrest High School, Shoreline, WA
Grades 9-12, Special Education
2015, Spring

To expand her skill set for working with students with Autism, Cook will attend the 2015 Autism Society International Conference. While there, Cook will examine the unique characteristics of students with Autism and ways to address specific learners within this population. ... more »

Katrina Moreno

Wheatley School of Early Childhood Programs, Port Arthur, TX
Grades K-5, Education Support Professional
2015, Spring

To improve the communication skills of struggling learners, Moreno, Young-Jones, and colleagues will introduce an Art and Photography workshop in their Early Childhood Program. Conducting action research, the group will observe students as they are encouraged to use cameras ... more »

Christina Mendenhall

Gilcrease Elementary School, Tulsa, OK
Grades K-5, Language Arts
2015, Spring

To become familiar with other societies, cultural norms, educational systems, and curriculum, Mendenhall will attend seminars offered through the National Consortium of East Asia Studies. Mendenhall will learn Mandarin Chinese and complete classes through the Global ... more »

Nancy Kunsman

Gore High School, Gore, OK
Grades 9-12, English
2015, Spring

Kunsman will attend the Smithsonian Art Institute’s “Teaching Humanities through Art,” where she will learn to develop ways to provide a fuller learning experience in her classroom. During the institute, Ms. Kunsman will work with art experts and education ... more »

Melanie Byers

Kettering Middle School, Kettering, OH
Grades 6-8, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

To better understand how to use cognitive science to improve and inspire student learning, Mrs. Byers will attend a “Learning and the Brain Conference” centered around educating world-class minds. While there, Byers will learn from distinguished faculty how to ... more »

Cathy Frastaci

Edon Northwest Schools, Edon, OH
Grades 9-12, Music
2015, Spring

To provide her students with authentic musical experiences, Frastaci will travel to Ghana’s Dagbe Cultural Institute and Arts Center to participate in an intensive cultural immersion. While there, Frastaci will study the traditional African arts of drumming, dancing, ... more »

Wendi Pillars

Jordan-Matthews High School, Siler City, NC
Grades 9-12, English
2015, Spring

Pillars will attend the International Forum of Visual Practitioners to improve her use of visual note taking in the classroom. At the Forum, Pillars will attend workshops and sessions focused on the art and science of engaging learners with visual note taking and graphic ... more »

Julia Vaughan

Koontz Intermediate School, Asheville, NC
Grades 6-8, Science
2015, Spring

To improve her knowledge of ecological and global issues, Vaughan will attend a climate change seminar at Glacier National Park. While there, Vaughan will participate in a learning seminar focusing on climate change and its effects on glaciers. Upon completion, Vaughan will ... more »

Karen Cook

PS 77 Lower Lab, New York, NY
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

To enhance her role as a leader in her school and district, Cook will become a National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) Certified Coach. Cook will attend the NSRF summer institute, where she will learn methods to empower educators by providing professional development that ... more »

Dr. Christopher Schmidt

LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City, NY
Higher Education, History
2015, Spring

Schmidt and Miller will facilitate a study group of LaGuardia Community College faculty to examine the United States’ role in the world in the 20th century. The study group will address LaGuardia Community College’s Global Learning core competency by developing ... more »

Michelle Myers

Sterling High School, Somerdale, NJ
Grades 9-12, Language Arts
2015, Spring

Myers will enhance interdisciplinary collaboration on human rights by travelling to China and South Korea on a Peace and Reconciliation Study Tour to increase her understanding of the cultural and historical background of China, Korea, and Japan during World War II. Myers ... more »

Lourdes Villacis

Kearny High School, Kearny, NJ
Grades 9-12, Science
2015, Spring

To obtain the necessary tools and skills to successfully implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Villacis will attend PRISM workshops at Montclair State University. The workshops will be geared toward developing and implementing NGSS in lessons and unit ... more »

Paul Creager

Saint Paul Public Schools, St. Paul, MN
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2015, Spring

Creager will research with the Video Volunteers program in Goa, India and observe the organization’s leadership and instructional process. During his research, Creager will study the processes that support media activism and civic engagement within India’s ... more »

Jackie Smith

Cooper High School, New Hope, MN
Grades 9-12, English
2015, Spring

Smith will work with a team of U.S. educators to develop a professional development conference for teachers in rural Bolivia. The cohort will identify effective practices, refine and develop classroom strategies, and develop presentations to share with other teachers. Upon ... more »

Dr. Raymond Martens

Towson University, Towson, MD
Higher Education, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Spring

Martens and Doyle will investigate children’s storying through “Storying Studio.” The project will be a re-conceptualization of writing workshops that value multi-modal composing, particularly in writing and art. A Literacy Community of teachers and ... more »

Amy Sherman

Forest Knolls Elementary School, Silver Spring, MD
Grades K-5, English
2015, Spring

Sherman will partner with the Fujian Institute of Education in Fuzhou, China to participate in a teacher exchange program. During the program, Sherman will share expertise in best practices for teaching English Language Learners. Throughout the program, Sherman will improve ... more »

Jennifer Monday

South Creek Elementary School, Indianapolis, IN
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

To strengthen her knowledge of differentiated instruction, Monday will attend the Teach K! Conference and National Differentiated Instruction Conference. In both settings, Monday will attend sessions on differentiation, best practices, technology, Common Core standards, and ... more »

Carla Elliff

Collinsville High School, Collinsville, IL
Grades 9-12, School Counselor
2015, Spring

Elliff will improve her professional practice by attending the American School Counselor Association Annual Conference. While there, she will learn how to develop and implement a school-wide college application process and enhance college and career readiness skills among ... more »

Daniel Noia

Henry J. Kaiser School, Honolulu, HI
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

Noia and colleagues will lead a school-wide professional development program that will measure students’ metacognition. Educators will use learning logs to measure students’ metacognitive abilities and their abilities to apply their learning to other classes. ... more »

Nancy Hoehn

Kaiserslautern High School, Kaiserslautern, Germany,
Grades 9-12, Science
2015, Spring

To address student achievement gaps in chemistry and physics, Hoehn will attend the Modeling Chemistry Workshop. Through the program, Hoehn will be exposed to classroom management strategies, labs, problem solving methodologies, insights, and experiences aimed to improve ... more »

Lisa Martinez

Cotton Creek Elementary School, Westminster, CO
Grades K-5, Arts
2015, Spring

Martinez will participate in a month-long Spanish language cultural immersion course at Hablal Ya Spanish School in Bocas del Toro, Panama. While there, Martinez will learn about local culture and how to work with non-native English speaking students. Upon returning, ... more »

Steven Flanagan

Sunnyside Elementary School, San Francisco, CA
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Spring

Flanagan will improve his professional practice by attending the Teachers College Writer's Workshop Summer Institute at Columbia University. While there, Flanagan will attend sessions focused on implementing the Writer's Workshop in his classroom. Upon completion, Flanagan ... more »

Elizabeth Mora

Los Angeles High School of the Arts at RFK Community, Los Angeles, CA
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2015, Spring

To enhance her cultural geography curriculum, Mora will visit Heifer International’s project sites in Honduras. While there, Ms. Mora will examine how livestock gifts, education, and training in responsible farming practices help impoverished communities.  Upon ... more »

Kimberly Lewis

Los Angeles County Office of Education, Downey, CA
Higher Education, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

To learn about current policy development in deaf education, Lewis will attend the International Congress on Education of the Deaf. Upon returning, Lewis will create a curricular unit focusing on deaf education policy in action. The unit will contain learning modules that ... more »

Dr. Timothy Gallahar

Charles R. Drew Middle School, Lincoln, AL
Grades 6-8, Science
2015, Spring

To learn practical and effective strategies for improving his teaching practice, Dr. Gallahar will attend the National Differentiated Instruction Conference. While there, Dr. Gallahar will address relevant contemporary issues, including how to most effectively incorporate ... more »

Sara Fenn

Eufaula High School, Eufaula, AL
Grades 9-12, Library Media Specialist
2015, Spring

Fenn will attend the International Society for Technology in Education’s national conference to explore technologies that will allow her to lead her district in implementing a successful one-to-one program. After the conference, Fenn will share her experience with her ... more »

Erika Bell

Saks Elementary School, Anniston, AL
Grades K-5, English
2015, Spring

To improve her professional practice, Bell will complete the National Board Certification process for English as a Second Language.  She will use her learning to master both instruction and family advocacy. Throughout the certification process, Bell will positively ... more »

Join us on February 10, 2017!

Educators from across the country traded their classrooms for a night on stage, where they were honored by more than 850 national education leaders and supporters in Washington, D.C.


Did you attend? Now, you can purchase photos from the evening.



Celebrating 42 educators from across the country

It is our pleasure to distinguish these extraordinary educators with the 2016 California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence. These prestigious awards recognize, reward, and promote excellence in teaching and advocacy for the profession. All deserve our recognition and sincere thanks, but we had to choose one for our highest honor.


And the award goes to...

Photo: Esai Morales, award-winning actor and gala host; Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation; Debra McDonald; Gary Phoebus, President and CEO of NEA Member Benefits.














In the evening’s finale, Debra McDonald, an early childhood education instructor at Wayne County Schools Career Center in Smithville, Ohio, took home the top honor: the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and $25,000! 


Watch Debra McDonald’s acceptance speech below.



Five educators receive top awards

Photo: Dirk Andrews, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipient (WY); Pam Wells, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipient (SD); Debra McDonald, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipient (OH); Crystal Brown, The NEA Foundation Board Chair; Lily Eskelsen Garcia, NEA President; Heather LaBarbara, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipient (KY); Mohsen Ghaffari, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipient (UT)





Of the 42 educators honored that night, five also accepted the 2016 Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence and $10,000, as finalists for the evening’s top honor. Their students could not be more proud of them!


Watch all five videos, which premiered during the gala, that students created using iPads to honor their award-winning educators.


Harriet Sanford shares story of hearing from former student—40 years later

Watch Harriet Sanford, the NEA Foundation's President and CEO, share a heartfelt story about a blast from her past — a text message she received from a student she taught 40 years ago — below.



Hispanic Scholarship Fund honored

Photo: Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation; Esai Morales, award-winning actor and gala host; Crystal Brown, NEA Foundation Board Chair; Fidel A. Vargas, President and CEO of  the Hispanic Scholarship Fund; Stephen Eulie, Executive Vice President of Consumer Banking, First National Bank of Omaha










The NEA Foundation also presented the Hispanic Scholarship Fund with the First National Bank of Omaha Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education, paying tribute to their distribution of more than $470 million dollars in scholarships Latino college-bound students since 1975.


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.


Watch Fidel A. Vargas, President and CEO, accept the award of the behalf of Hispanic Scholarship Fund below.



With host, actor and activist Esai Morales

Photo: Esai Morales, award-winning actor and self-described "actorvist," reads tweets from the audience live on stage: "@MarkMautone: @Esai_Morales you rocked it! Thank you for supporting educators."














This year, Esai Morales, an accomplished actor who appeared in the biopic “La Bamba,” the HBO Series, “The Brink,” and the television series “NYPD Blue” and “Criminal Minds,” served as charismatic emcee and host. Morales cofounded the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, following in the activist footsteps of his mother, who was an organizer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.


That night, he led guests and those watching the live stream from home or at viewing parties in cheering on the night’s biggest stars.


Special guests take the stage

Photo: Students from the Young People's Chorus of New York City, which now has 1,400 students from New York, ages 7 to 18, participate annually.















With students at the center of public education, a group of English Language Learner students, who participated in a NEA Foundation-funded, high school theater program in Annandale, Virginia, also took center stage to perform Shakespeare. The Young People's Chorus of New York City wowed audiences with renditions from "The Sound of Music," and audiences also enjoyed the music and dance of Furia Flamenca and Torcuato Zamora, an accomplished flamenco guitarist from Spain.


Watch the Young People's Chorus of New York City perform the evening's finale below.



A special thank you to all who helped us celebrate the best in public education! Save the date for next year’s gala on February 10, 2017.