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.


Jennifer Fontana

Alder Creek Middle School, Milwaukie, OR
Grades 6-8, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Winter

Ms. Fontana will attend the "Tribes Training for District Trainers," which will enable her to train and support teachers to use the Tribes process to examine adolescent development and implement research-based teaching practices that create a caring and inclusive ... more »

Diana Pierson

Sheffield Middle School, Sheffield Village, OH
Grades 6-8, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Winter

To improve her knowledge of behavior management, classroom management, bullying, and economic and social issues, Mrs. Pierson will attend the Character Development Seminar. Upon completing the seminar, Mrs. Pierson will share her newfound knowledge with her colleagues and ... more »

Dr. Theresa Capra

Mercer County Community College, West Windsor, NJ
Higher Education, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Winter

To acquire insights into ways to better prepare future educators for rigorous teacher preparation programs, Dr. Capra will attend “Journey into the Future of Community College Education Programs,” a conference sponsored by the National Association of Community ... more »

Dr. William Roweton

Chadron State College, Chadron, NE
Higher Education, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Winter

To assist classroom teachers in rural schools, Dr. Roweton and Dr. Brown will produce six self-paced instructional modules that will examine fundamental program assessment concepts. The web-based modules will reinforce psychometric knowledge and skills and emphasize ... more »

Susan Irion

Billings Public Schools, Billings, MT
Grades 9-12, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2014, Winter

Mrs. Irion and Ms. Martin will extend professional development opportunities within Billings Public Schools by incorporating effective tools for reflecting on instructional practices and student engagement and learning. Participants will film themselves teaching lessons and ... more »

Brad Ollmann

Saint Anthony Park Elementary School, Saint Paul, MN
Grades K-5, Music
2014, Winter

Mr. Ollmann will spend eleven weeks in central Mexico conducting choirs, studying Spanish, learning Mexican folk dances, and observing elementary music classes. While in Mexico, Mr. Ollmann will work with a music teacher who utilizes popular music to meet state and national ... more »

Jacqueline Walker

John F. Kennedy School, Holbrook, MA
Grades K-5, Nurse
2014, Winter

To improve student health and wellness, Mrs. Walker will attend a professional yoga training program. Upon returning, she will implement relaxation and behavioral control practices with students that will assist them in meeting their education goals. The practice of yoga ... more »

Mark Ashe

Cape Elizabeth High School, Cape Elizabeth, ME
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2014, Winter

Mr. Ashe will lead a team of educators in the design of a teacher evaluation system that will incorporate student growth measures, teaching standards, and peer review. The group will research evaluation models, assess the school’s current evaluation system, and design ... more »

Melissa Jordan

Woodrow Wilson Middle School, Terre Haute, IN
Grades 6-8, Science
2014, Winter

Mrs. Jordan will attend the 2014 Educator Academy in Iquitos, Peru. While there, she will work with scientists, researchers, and fellow educators on citizen science projects and field work. Mrs. Jordan will use the strategies, ideas, and understandings gained at the academy ... more »

Gary Simonian

Stuart R. Paddock School, Palatine, IL
Grades K-5, Physical Education / Health
2014, Winter

To improve his ability to create, implement, and evaluate programs that promote lifelong wellness, Mr. Simonian will attend the Spark P.E. Summer Institute. Upon returning to the classroom, Mr. Simonian and his colleagues will incorporate information and insight gathered ... more »

Robbie Kline

Kansas Elementary School, Kansas, IL
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2014, Winter

To engage students in writing, each teacher in the Kansas School District will attend a professional development seminar presented by the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Teachers will spend time in group settings and work hands-on with guided instruction. On the final ... more »

Laurie Dupree

Salmon Pioneer Primary School, Salmon, ID
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Winter

Through training and curriculum provided by the Leader in Me Foundation, Pioneer Elementary teachers and staff will develop a culture at the school in which children learn leadership habits and discover within themselves personal strengths that will be used to demonstrate ... more »

Karen Chun

James Campbell High School, Ewa Beach, HI
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2014, Winter

To strengthen Campbell High School’s global literacy program, Ms. Chun will take part in a service learning project in Viet Nam. While there, Ms. Chun will interview government and non-government groups, visit historic monuments, and converse with citizens of Viet ... more »

Mickey MacDonald

P.K. Yonge DRS, Gainesville, FL
Grades 9-12, Science
2014, Winter

Mrs. MacDonald and Ms. Garison-Gabbard will lead a professional learning community that will engage in lesson study to examine elements specific to teaching biology and English language arts as a cross-curricular experience. Educators will engage students in a unit that ... more »

Kristy Corbett

La Tercera Elementary School, Petaluma, CA
Grades K-5, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
2014, Winter

To assist faculty and staff with La Tercera Elementary School’s transition to a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Magnet School, Mrs. Corbett will attend the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference in Washington, DC. While at the conference, Mrs. Corbett ... more »

Debra Kruger

School District of Laona, Laona, WI
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2014, Winter

To improve student achievement and enhance teacher effectiveness, Mrs. Kruger and her colleagues will implement the use of a Student Response System in middle and high school science classes. The system will provide educators immediate feedback and show which students are ... more »

Tabatha Brownschidle

Yorktown Middle School, Yorktown, VA
Grades K-5, Science
2014, Winter

Through “One Way Ticket to Mars,” Mrs. Brownschidle and Mrs. Fox’s students will design and build modules to be used in the first Mars colony. Student will interview experts in the fields of space exploration, space technology, and energy production in ... more »

Kayleigh Zinkham

Cougar Elementary School, Manassas Park, VA
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2014, Winter

Ms. Zinkham and Ms. Urban will introduce “Kids Integrating Technology Everyday (K.I.T.E.)”, a program that will utilize tablets to enhance learning opportunities by integrating technology into the curriculum. Any array of leveled texts will allow educators to ... more »

Danelle Moser

Catoctin Elementary School, Leesburg, VA
Grades K-5, History
2014, Winter

Through the “Living Wax Museum” project, students at Catoctin Elementary School will learn about prominent figures in Virginia’s history. Each student will be tasked with researching a different historical Virginian and then representing that person ... more »

Dr. Leslie Chekin

Annandale High School, Annandale, VA
Grades 9-12, English
2014, Winter

Through “Teaching Vocal Techniques to English Language Learners,” Dr. Chekin and Mr. Liacopoulos will introduce voice instruction to develop students’ acting and public speaking skills. Working with professionals at Synetic Theatre, students will ... more »

Natalie Mew

George Middle School, Portland, OR
Grades 6-8, Service Learning
2014, Winter

In beautifying the George Middle School courtyard, students will be provided an opportunity to work with professional artists, promote the visibility of student art, and develop a sense of community pride and purpose. Pupils will create panels of fused glass and learn about ... more »

Stacey Johnson

Junction City High School, Junction City, OR
Grades 9-12, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
2014, Winter

Through the “Robotics Challenge,” Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Buenau will increase student achievement in math and science through the use of robotics. Students will design, build, and test a fully functioning robot with the goal of successfully completing a series of ... more »

Jason Miller

Kelly Middle School, Eugene, OR
Grades 6-8, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Winter

To help foster leadership skills, Mr. Miller and Mrs. Cohen will train 8th grade students to act as mentors and role models for incoming 6th grade students. The program will allow educators at various levels to boost academic performance, social awareness, and positive ... more »

Jodi Gwin

John Clem Elementary School, Newark, OH
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2014, Winter

To increase individualized interventions and enrichment, Ms. Gwin and Mr. Kemmenoe will incorporate a set of iPads into their classrooms. Multiple applications will be used to help meet the widely varied instructional needs of individuals and small groups. Ultimately, ... more »

Michelle Creech

Montgomery County Educational Service Center, Dayton, OH
Grades 9-12, Special Education
2014, Winter

To address the unique learning needs of students with emotional and learning disabilities, Ms. Creech and Mr. Johnson will introduce tablet technology to their students. Educators will provide students applications that have been demonstrably successful in assisting ... more »

Amanda Zullo

Saranac Lake High School, Saranac Lake, NY
Grades 9-12, Science
2014, Winter

Ms. Zullo and her colleagues will allow students to design, market, and construct plans to build an outdoor classroom. Once built, teachers will integrate science topics within the outdoor classroom while guiding students to apply knowledge learned within the traditional ... more »

Gauri Kolhatkar

Ithaca High School, Ithaca, NY
Grades 9-12, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
2014, Winter

Ms. Kolhatkar and Mrs. Perl will introduce LEGO Education sets and software in the Academic Intervention Services math lab at Ithaca High School. Students will work in groups of three and spend the spring building a robot. Students will be encouraged to actively gain a ... more »

Alyssa Bartosh

Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN
Grades K-5, Arts
2014, Winter

Through “Parkview Elementary and Stepping Stone Theatre Create a Play,” students will engage in a two month performing arts program. Students will use theater arts to develop cultural competence and a deeper understanding of both community and fictional story ... more »

Kelly Oltman

Seward Montessori School, Minneapolis, MN
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2014, Winter

To assist students struggling with reading fluency, decoding, and comprehension, Ms. Oltman and Ms. Andries will introduce Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) systems. Reading interventionists will work with struggling students and look to make ... more »

William Edwards

Poplar Bridge Elementary School, Bloomington, MN
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2014, Winter

To increase student participation in multiple subject areas, Mr. Edwards will train students with emotional and behavioral disabilities in puppetry and performing arts techniques. Students will collaborate with teachers in writing, rehearsing, and performing an ... more »

Cari Smith

Fulton Middle School, Middleton, MI
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2014, Winter

Mrs. Smith and Mr. Sherrik will use the ALEKS program to find and address learning gaps in 7th and 8th grade math students. Student strengths and weaknesses will be identified and progress will be monitored bi-quarterly.  Educators will compile data and look for a ... more »

Mary Ann Giasson

Oceanside High School, Rockland, ME
Grades 9-12, English
2014, Winter

Through “March Community Read,” a common book title will be read by all students and staff at Oceanside High School. Students will enhance their communication skills by working in small groups to create student run blogs and participate in weekly group ... more »

Elizabeth Jackson

Takoma Park Elementary School, Takoma Park, MD
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2014, Winter

To encourage collaboration and creativity and to improve student learning, Mrs. Jackson will introduce iPads into the classroom, with an emphasis on the evaluation of mathematics. Educators will use feedback, work samples, application data, and anecdotal notes to assess ... more »

Laurah Jurca

Prince George's County Public Schools, Adelphi, MD
Grades K-5, English
2014, Winter

Mrs. Jurca will implement “Our Lives, Our Words,” a project that will assist in improving the writing scores of elementary English language learners throughout the district. The project will provide coaching, support, materials, and guidance to ESOL teachers and ... more »

Airyell DeFord

United West Elementary School, Monmouth, IL
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Winter

To increase engagement in the classroom by enabling all students to build models to illustrate their understanding of various curriculum concepts, Ms. DeFord will introduce LEGO Education’s “BuildtoExpress.” Students will learn to actively listen, think ... more »

Diane Abraham

Kualapuu School, Kualapuu, HI
Grades K-5, Science
2014, Winter

Through “Discovering Disciplines of Tropical Marine Science,” Mrs. Abraham and Mr. Link’s students will learn that the planet’s oceans support a variety of ecosystems, organisms, shapes, and landforms. Students will collect sea waters and analyze its ... more »

Deborah J. Rose

Crystal Lakes Elementary School, Boynton Beach, FL
Grades K-5, Gifted and Talented
2014, Winter

To aid in the implementation of Common Core Standards, Mrs. Rose and Mrs. Stanislawski will create a leveled library of high-interest literature, science, and social studies books. Educators will work with individual and groups of students to provide explicit instruction in ... more »

Joanne Grant

J. A. DePaolo Middle School, Southington, CT
Grades 6-8, Special Education
2014, Winter

To enhance student understanding of argument and persuasive essays, Mrs. Grant and Ms. Laudati will introduce “Book Trailers.” After learning about advertising and persuasive writing, students will create a video trailer for their favorite book and attempt to ... more »

Brenda Grueneberger

Mira Loma High School, Sacramento, CA
Grades 9-12, Arts
2014, Winter

To teach students to be curious, informed, and empowered, Ms. Grueneberger and Mr. Cox will introduce new architecture lessons in their classrooms. Students will correspond with architect mentors from across the nation to redesign an area of Mira Loma High School. By ... more »

Dianne Roberts

Dahlia Heights Elementary School, Los Angeles, CA
Grades K-5, English
2014, Winter

Using a multidisciplinary approach, students will explore the world by reading Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Common Core standards will be brought to life as the text of the play becomes a gateway into astronomy, botany, social science, ... more »

Sarah Johnson

Fresno County Office of Education, Fresno, CA
Grades 9-12, Special Education
2014, Winter

Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Wilkerson will introduce iPads to increase student participation, improve collaboration among educators, and enhance student learning. Educators will use the technology to introduce lessons focusing on community safety, vocational training, independent ... more »

Vanessa Arevalo de Fuente

Vineland Elementary School, Baldwin Park, CA
Grades 6-8, Science
2014, Winter

Ms. de Fuente and Ms. Lazaro’s students will learn about the Earth’s resources through gardening, cultivating, and understanding scientific concepts. Students will be provided with hands-on opportunities to examine soil, its elements, and observational skills. ... more »

Lisa Martin

DeGrazia Elementary School, Tucson, AZ
Grades K-5, Librarian
2014, Winter

Through “Reading to Write to Publish,” Ms. Martin and Ms. Williams will increase student interest and enthusiasm for reading and writing by creating a library publishing center. Authors, editors, and librarians will teach lessons on interviewing, the writing ... more »

Sarah Bartosch

West Allis Central High School, West Allis, WI
Grades 9-12, Special Education
2013, Fall

To more effectively serve students on the autism spectrum, Mrs. Bartosch will attend a “Social Thinking” clinic. After completing the clinic, Mrs. Bartosch will use her newly acquired knowledge to develop a course that will be offered in her school district to ... more »

Jennifer Darrow

Hyde Park Elementary School, Hyde Park, VT
Grades K-5, Special Education
2013, Fall

To improve her understanding of new policies in the field of special education, Mrs. Darrow will attend the Council for Exceptional Children Conference. While there, Mrs. Darrow will attend expert-led sessions on current research and evidence-based practices. Upon ... more »

Carrie Kauffman

State College Area School District, State College, PA
Grades 6-8, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2013, Fall

Mrs. Kauffman and Mrs. Taptich will lead the “Centre Teacher Writers,” a group consisting of elementary, middle, and high school educators, as well as two Penn State University professors. The team will work collaboratively to develop strategies to teach writing ... more »

Ann-Marie Young

Bay Middle School, Bay Village, OH
Grades 6-8, Special Education
2013, Fall

Mrs. Young will travel to Australia in a “Culture to Culture” experience to develop enticing, meaningful, and realistic learning opportunities for students needing intensive intervention at Bay Middle School. While there, she will gain a deeper understanding of ... more »

Dr. Elyse Zucker

Hostos Community College - CUNY, Bronx, NY
Higher Education, English
2013, Fall

To improve the quality of writing courses available to ESL students, Drs. Zucker and Dicker will lead a series of workshops for adjunct faculty. Participants will learn how to implement more inclusive, student centered writing classes and respond to the needs of struggling ... more »

Jennifer Ortiz

Espanola Public Schools, Espanola, NM
Grades K-5, Gifted and Talented
2013, Fall

To learn how to best serve the under-identified, low income, and diverse gifted students in her district, Ms. Ortiz will attend the National Association for Gifted Children’s Conference. While there, Ms. Ortiz will experience seminars on brain based learning ... more »

Ann Moody

Bertha Ronzone Elementary School, Las Vegas, NV
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2013, Fall

Mrs. Moody will attend the National Conference of Teachers of Mathematics, where she will present research on hidden assessments. While there, Mrs. Moody will also attend presentations on innovative concepts and strategies for teaching English Language Learners and students ... more »

Register today at!


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.