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.


Dr. Kristen Wells

San Diego State University, San Diego, CA
Higher Education, Lecturer
2015, Winter

Dr. Wells will attend a series of professional development courses through local and online universities which will enable her to build advanced skills in mental health, supervision, and the delivery of mental health services. Upon completion of training, Dr. Wells will ... more »

Sarah Breyer

Mesa View Middle School, Huntington Beach, CA
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2015, Winter

Beyer will participate in a “Where Everybody Belongs (WEB)” training, in which she will learn methods to assist students transitioning into middle school. Beyer will use the knowledge gained to create a support system and welcoming team for all new students. The ... more »

Debbie Maki

Pleasant Valley School District, Camarillo, CA
Grades K-5, Resource Specialist
2015, Winter

To address the implementation of Common Core State Standards, Maki will spearhead the creation of a district-wide writing leadership team. Members of the team will learn about implementation models and will in turn mentor and support educators at their respective schools by ... more »

Megan Swanson

Calabasas High School, Calabasas, CA
Grades 9-12, Science
2015, Winter

To gain knowledge of inquiry-driven, community-based learning for the benefit of the environment, Swanson will complete a global field studies course through Miami University of Ohio's Earth Expeditions Program. Swanson will use her new knowledge to collaborate with ... more »

Dr. Leslie Chekin

Annandale High School, Annandale, VA
Grades 9-12, English
2015, Winter

Through the continuation of the “Theatre Without Borders” program, Dr. Chekin and her colleagues will strengthen the communication skills of English Language Learners through reading and performing Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” Additionally, ... more »

Marian Kelley

Lucie E. Campbell School, Memphis, TN
Grades K-5, Special Education
2015, Winter

To increase mastery of specific math skills, Kelley and Harris will create a study group that will target third and fourth grade students. During weekly discussions students will utilize the abacus, which they will use to solve rigorous problems regarding place value and ... more »

Cathy Whitehead

West Chester Elementary School, Henderson, TN
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Winter

To improve literacy skills across all Common Core Standards, Whitehead and Cloud will introduce “Reading A to Z” in their classrooms. The program will enable students to use the interactive “RAZ Kids” student learning portal to drive reading ... more »

Krista Williams

Sam Case Primary School, Newport, OR
Grades K-5, Special Education
2015, Winter

Williams and Bernardi will collaborate to provide authentic learning opportunities for special education students in general education classrooms. The students will use 21st Century technology to engage in hands-on activities focused on ocean literacy. The activities will ... more »

Caitlin Arendt

Vermilion High School, Vermilion, OH
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2015, Winter

Through Arendt’s broadcast journalism class, students will use field cameras to create a series of news stories. The hands-on experience will enhance student learning and endow them with essential digital skills. Students will analyze, evaluate, and create digital ... more »

Belinda Adams

Higher Education, Music
2015, Winter

Through “World Wide Music,” students with disabilities will have access to technology that will allow them to create original compositions. Students will use tablet and projector technology to compose and perform songs. Additionally, the technology will be used ... more »

Denise Leonard

P.S. 15, Brooklyn, NY
Grades K-5, History
2015, Winter

Leonard and Pantuliano will work with a local nonprofit to host a series of puppetry workshops that focus on local history and government. The workshops will aim to improve the literacy and oral language skills of English Language Learners by linking language and content ... more »

Jennifer Choate

Nizhoni Elementary School, Shiprock, NM
Grades K-5, Gifted and Talented
2015, Winter

To help gifted and general education enrichment students advance their artistic, storytelling, and problem solving skills, Choate and Harvey will introduce digital storytelling in their classrooms. Students will use technology to submit stories describing the lasting mark ... more »

Tamika Withers

Park Avenue School, Orange, NJ
Grades K-5, Arts
2015, Winter

Through the “True Youth Fashion Design Institute,” Park Avenue School students will acquire knowledge of the fundamentals of sewing and fashion design through experimental learning. The program will empower youth through the development of self-expression, ... more »

Heidi Rivard

Highland-Goffe's Falls School, Manchester, NH
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Winter

Rivard and Towne will introduce a leveled book library, in which they will curate leveled reading materials with a keen focus on young students with reading deficits. Classroom, special education, and English Language Learner teachers will provide intervention to students ... more »

Dr. Nancy Males

Twin Bridges High School, Twin Bridges, MT
Grades 9-12, Science
2015, Winter

Through “Fishing for Community Involvement,” students will design and conduct inquiry investigations that examine factors in their community that affect the health of local rivers and riparian areas. Students will use modern data collection equipment as part of ... more »

Ryan Werdon

Watertown-Mayer Public Schools, Watertown, MN
Grades 9-12, Music
2015, Winter

Through the “World Music Drumming” project, Werdon’s students will improve teamwork, concentration, cultural understanding, and musical comprehension. Students will study the drumming and songs of different cultures as well as technique and movement using ... more »

Cristina Benz

Washburn High School, Minneapolis, MN
Grades 9-12, Arts
2015, Winter

Through “Art in the Community,” Washburn High School will offer students an art course that will encourage students to examine relevant social issues. Students will work with artists from throughout the Twin Cities to create artwork and theater projects and ... more »

Robert Zbikowski

Hibbing Community College, Hibbing, MN
Higher Education, Science
2015, Winter

Zbikowski will work with educators at Lincoln Elementary School to help introduce a hands-on science lesson in third grade classrooms. Students will have access to optics demonstrations and experiments that will help them understand reflection, refraction, color mixing, and ... more »

Susan Schmidt

Somerville High School, Somerville, MA
Grades 9-12, Science
2015, Winter

To improve student inquiry skills in the laboratory, Schmidt and colleagues will incorporate the use of Vernier probeware in chemistry experiments. A series of inquiry lab exercises will be designed that allow students to ask questions and design procedures to answer their ... more »

Christopher Stone

Pond Hill Elementary School, Wallingford, CT
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2015, Winter

Stone and Colonese will work with community members to enhance the CT Stem Academy. This innovative enrichment program will extend the learning day for middle grade and secondary students interested in deepening their knowledge of STEM concepts. The Academy’s programs ... more »

Deborah LeAnce

School of Extended Educational Options, Pomona, CA
Grades 9-12, Science
2015, Winter

Through “Healthy Communities and Food Justice,” LeAnce’s students will participate in an interdisciplinary class in which they investigate healthy food choices. Students will explore food science, sustainability, and the path food takes from farm to table. ... more »

Jennifer Dickinson

Solano County Office of Education, Fairfield, CA
Higher Education, Computers / Technology
2015, Winter

To support exceptional learners, enable differentiated instruction, and provide whole group, small group, and individual instruction, Dickinson and her colleagues will deliver content through web-based multimedia learning tools. Using white boards and a number of ... more »

Holly Whitt

Walnut Grove Elementary School, New Market, AL
Grades K-5, Librarian
2015, Winter

Through the “Robots for the Real Word” math program, Whitt and Brandon will introduce hands-on robotics lessons in their classrooms. Using Sphero robotic balls, iPad minis, and Common Core aligned curriculum modules, students will strengthen their understanding ... more »

Holley Tullis

Hillcrest High School, Evergreen, AL
Grades 9-12, Library Media Specialist
2015, Winter

Hillcrest High School students will use technology to create a seamless digital montage representing a self-chosen theme. Tullis and Williams will act as collaborative partners and facilitators and will infuse lessons with creativity, critical thinking, decision making, ... more »

Nicole Peterson

West Fargo High School, West Fargo, ND
Grades 9-12, Physical Education / Health
2014, Fall

To improve the variety of dance offerings in her physical education classes, Mrs. Peterson will attend the National Dance Education Organization’s National Conference. While there, Mrs. Peterson will work with colleagues to improve her collaboration with other ... more »

Colleen McDonald

Cambridge Central School, Cambridge, NY
Grades 9-12, Language Arts
2014, Fall

Ms. McDonald and Ms. Goss will create a diverse library that will support continued learning by providing accessible resources and targeted study topics. Teachers will be empowered to lead change through the development of professional learning communities, embrace ... more »

Joanne Szegedi

Lowell Elementary School, Bellingham, WA
Grades K-5, Education Support Professional
2014, Fall

Through “iPads as Instructional Tools,” elementary school para-educators will train middle school para-educators to use tablets as instructional tools. This model of learning and leadership will provide strong professional development for staff and continuity ... more »

Whitney Stafford-Najibi

Westmoore High School, Oklahoma City, OK
Grades 9-12, Foreign Language Teacher
2014, Fall

Mrs. Stafford-Najibi will improve her professional practice by attending the American Council on Teaching Foreign Language Convention. While there, Mrs. Stafford-Najibi will attend sessions focused on integrating global competence into curriculum. Upon completion, Mrs. ... more »

Adam Kinory

The School of the Future, New York, NY
Grades 9-12, Language Arts
2014, Fall

Mr. Adam Kinory, New York

10th Grade Language Arts Teacher, The School of the Future

Partner: Mr. Joshua Hurley-Bruno

Grant Amount: $5,000

To directly address achievement gaps, Mr. Kinory and Mr. Hurley-Bruno will develop a school-wide culture of teacher-led professional ... more »

Susan Kellner

H.O. Brumsted Elementary, Holland, NY
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2014, Fall

To learn strategies to assist struggling readers, Mrs. Kellner will work with a Fellow from the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. Mrs. Kellner will use the Orton-Gillingham method of learning with her first grade students, particularly those who ... more »

Filomena Vine

Ed W. Clark High School, Las Vegas, NV
Grades 9-12, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
2014, Fall

Ms. Vine will attend the iNACOL Blended Online Learning Symposium, at which she will learn methods to individualize instruction. Ms. Vine will attend workshops that will enable her to implement competency-based learning programs that provide equity through innovative ... more »

Daniel Boster

Ralston High School, Ralston, NE
Grades 9-12, Language Arts
2014, Fall

Mr. Boster and Mr. Jensen will work with educators in language arts classrooms in middle schools, high schools, and community colleges to study and develop mindful writing pedagogy. The cohort will create and maintain humane pedagogy that will prepare students for required ... more »

Jeanne Wiley

Miami R-I School District, Amoret, MO
Grades K-5, Special Education
2014, Fall

Ms. Wiley will attend a Comprehensive Orton-Gillingham training, which will enable her to train and support teachers to implement research-based instructional practices. Upon completion of the training, Ms. Wiley will share the process with colleagues and ensure fidelity of ... more »

Dr. Marlena Bravender

Saginaw Valley State University, University Center, MI
Higher Education, Lecturer
2014, Fall

Dr. Bravender and Ms. Martin will explore effective ways to integrate virtual simulations in Spanish foreign language lessons to mimic authentic foreign language experiences. Through this action research, the cohort will create and distribute lessons that engage middle ... more »

Kara Clayton

Thurston High School, Redford, MI
Grades 9-12, Language Arts
2014, Fall

To learn about models that allow students to use digital tools to improve literacy skills, Mrs. Clayton will attend the Institute in Digital Literacy at the University of Rhode Island. Mrs. Clayton will participate in seminars focusing on how to assist students in choosing ... more »

Tod Wolfgram

New Haven High School, New Haven, MI
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2014, Fall

To explore the civic mission of schools in the 21st century, Mr. Wolfgram will join social studies educators from around the world at the National Council for Social Studies Annual Conference. While at the conference, Mr. Wolfgram will learn about the College, Career, and ... more »

Jennifer Espinoza

Banneker Middle School, Burtonsville, MD
Grades 6-8, Arts
2014, Fall

Ms. Espinoza and Ms. Holmes will develop leadership training and professional learning opportunities for Montgomery County Public Schools visual arts teachers. The program will support academic excellence, creative problem solving, and social emotional learning for all ... more »

Laura Brino

Wiley H. Bates Middle School, Annapolis, MD
Grades 6-8, Arts
2014, Fall

Ms. Brino, with the assistance of a group of highly qualified teaching artists, will lead a school-wide professional development program. Educators will use various arts techniques in their classrooms to provide natural, meaningful connections between art forms and other ... more »

Andrew Hirshman

Mundelein High School, Mundelein, IL
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2014, Fall

Mr. Hirshman and Mr. Anderson will lead an interdisciplinary team of educators in developing a “Future Selves” curriculum intervention and train fellow educators on its potential classroom uses. The training will focus on enabling educators to encourage students ... more »

Dr. Sandy Cameli

West Hawaii School District, Kailua Kona, HI
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2014, Fall

Through “iMentor,” veteran educators will use tablet technology to work with first-year teachers to record evidence and collect classroom data. The project will bridge generations of educators and allow them to collaborate to improve learners’ futures. ... more »

Valerie Ledford

Lake Nona High School, Orlando, FL
Grades 9-12, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
2014, Fall

Mrs. Ledford will lead a collaborative team of elementary, middle, and high school teachers in the use of lesson study to practice and analyze differentiated small group strategies in mathematics. Student data will be analyzed throughout, with the goal of seeing an overall ... more »

Karen Dipres

Olive B. Loss Elementary School, Bear, DE
Grades K-5, Special Education
2014, Fall

Mrs. Dipres, Mrs. Barnett, and their colleagues will plan, create, reflect, and revise lessons in accordance with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The group will align Smarter Balanced vocabulary, formatting, and depth of knowledge to increase instructional ... more »

Katherine Franssen

North Arvada Middle School, Arvada, CO
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2014, Fall

Mrs. Franssen and Mrs. Clarke will lead an action research program that will study the effectiveness of ALEKS and Khan Academy as online supplemental math interventions. The cohort will determine which supplement is the most effective in raising scores, causing growth, and ... more »

Dr. Diane Sharken Taboada

Mt. Diablo Unified School District, Concord, CA
Grades 9-12, English
2014, Fall

Through “Yo Soy Bilingue–I am Bilingual,” Dr. Taboada and Ms. Vizcay will establish written protocols for the analysis of student writing in Spanish and English, which will in turn guide the development and distribution of a set of model literacy lessons ... more »

Dr. Mark Walling

East Central University, Ada, OK
Higher Education, Lecturer
2014, Fall

Through “Walking the Brain,” Dr. Walling’s capstone course students will track academic success with the amount of work completed on treadmills. During the class, Dr. Walling will monitor student achievement and the time students spend on the treadmills. ... more »

Peter Moran

Frenchtown School, Frenchtown, NJ
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2014, Fall

Mr. Moran’s students will monitor the Delaware River for cleanliness and sustainability for natural inhabitants. Student will work collaboratively to investigate the effects local farm runoff has had on the wildlife in and near the river. Upon completion of the ... more »

Karen Sizemore

Rocky Branch Elementary, River Falls, WI
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2014, Fall

Mrs. Sizemore and Mrs. Lenneman will introduce tablets for computer programming instruction. Students will learn basic practices, including coding, looping, decomposition, and abstracting. Ultimately, students will use their newly acquired skills to accomplish individual ... more »

Marc Coyner

Horizons Elementary School, Lacey, WA
Grades K-5, Librarian
2014, Fall

To promote school wide positive behavior, Mr. Coyner and Ms. Cameron will assist students in making short films. Students will be encouraged to seek out unique places and perspectives for filming and will plot, script, film, edit, and upload their creations. The films will ... more »

Karen Ciotta

Epes Elementary School, Newport News, VA
Grades K-5, English
2014, Fall

Mrs. Ciotta’s and Mrs. McEaddy’s English language learners (ELLs) will participate in daily learning opportunities that incorporate innovative education apps via a set of classroom tablets. Apps designed specifically with ELLs in mind will allow students to ... more »

Stefanie Root

Dixon-Smith Middle School, Fredericksburg, VA
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2014, Fall

Ms. Root, Ms. Carson, and colleagues will use iPads to implement the Khan Academy app as a student centered remediation tool. This series of activities will allow students in special education and general education settings to receive a tiered intervention plan specific to ... more »

Watch the event!

On February 12, 2016, educators from across the country will trade their classrooms for a night on stage among more than 850 national education leaders and supporters in Washington, D.C.


Watch the live stream, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (ET), right here, to see 42 public school educators receive the 2016 California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence, recognizing their innovation in teaching and advocacy for the profession. 


7:30 PM


  • Opening remarks and performances by Furia Flamenca and classical guitarist Torcuato Zamora


8:20 PM


  • Student performance by English Language Learners who participated in a NEA Foundation-funded, high school theater program in Annandale, Virginia


  • 2016 Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence presented


8:55 PM


  • Performance by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City


  • 2016 Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence (continued)


  •  2016 California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence


9:45 PM


  • Hispanic Scholarship Fund accepts the First National Bank of Omaha Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education


  • One educator wins the evening’s top honor: the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and $25,000!



These five educators — Dirk Andrews (WY), Debra McDonald (OH), Mohsen Ghaffari (UT), Heather LaBarbara (KY), and Pam

Wells (SD) — are all finalists for the evening’s top award.


Five of those educators will also receive the Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence and $10,000.


And stay tuned for the evening’s highly-anticipated finale, when one of the five educators above will be announced the winner of the top award and $25,000!



The NEA Foundation will also present the First National Bank of Omaha Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund for its efforts to address a growing population of Hispanic American students.



Esai Morales, the award-winning actor who has appeared in the biopic “La Bamba,” the HBO series “The Brink,” and can currently be seen on CBS’ “Criminal Minds”,” will host the night’s celebration.


He’ll also help us cheer on student performers, including English Language Learners from a NEA Foundation-funded, high school theater program, and others.


Don’t miss any of these special moments! Tune in, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (ET).


Prepare to be entertained by host, Esai Morales, an

accomplished actor and co-founder of the National

Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.


Watch the event!

Did you miss the live stream of the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala on February 13, 2015? Now, you can watch the event in its entirety right here!


As one of the most prestigious awards events in public education, the NEA Foundation’s gala attracts more than 800 national education leaders and supporters to honor these educators each year in Washington, D.C. 


Did you attend the gala? View and purchase photos from the event.


Celebrating 39 educators from across the country

This year, 39 educators selected by their peers received the California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence. In addition to these awards, the following top honors were presented.


Who won the evening’s top honor?

Terri Butts, a curriculum effectiveness specialist for the Richland 2 Child Development Center in Columbia, SC, and a member of the South Carolina Education 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.


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


Watch Terri Butts' acceptance speech below. 




Photo (left to right): Gary Phoebus, President and CEO of NEA Member Benefits; Terri Butts; Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation




Five educators receive top awards

These five extraordinary educators from across the country received the Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence, and found themselves finalists for the evening’s top award. And their students have already benefitted. Each class received digital arts training from Scena Media to produce a video, which premiered at the gala, to honor their award-winning teachers.


Photo (left to right): John Stocks, NEA Executive Director; Crystal Brown; Chair of the NEA Foundation Board of Directors; Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation; Awardee Allison Riddle (UT); Awardee Anna Baldwin (MT); Marita Zuraitis, President and CEO of the Horace Mann Educators Corporation; Awardee Crystal Williams Gordon (LA); Awardee Terri Butts (SC); Awardee Richard Erickson (WI)


Watch all of the student-made videos below. 


Beloved children’s book author, the late Walter Dean Myers, and author and illustrator son, Christopher Myers honored

The NEA Foundation also presented award-winning children’s author, Walter Dean Myers, posthumously, and his son, award-winning illustrator and author, Christopher Myers, with the First National Bank of Omaha Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education, honoring their lifelong contributions to children’s literature. 


The father-son duo collaborated on stories for and about children of color who don’t see themselves reflected in children’s literature. According to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, only 93 of the 3,200 children’s books published in 2013 were about black people. In an op-ed for the New York Times in March 2014, Walter Dean Myers wrote, “What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?”


Their collaborative works include “Jazz,” a winner of the Coretta Scott King award for illustration, “Harlem,” a Caldecott Honor book, “Blues Journey,” and “We are American: a tribute from the heart,” to name a few.


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.

In honor of Walter Dean Myers, Christopher Myers, and their wonderful family, First Book dedicated a gift of 5,000 brand new books to children in need across the country. First Book is a social enterprise that currently serves more than 155,000 programs and classrooms serving children in need ages 0-18 years of age. First Book hopes that everyone serving children in need will join their network and continue to grow the Myers' family legacy of high quality, diverse content for all children.


Watch Christopher Myers' acceptance speech.  


 Photo (left to right): Donna Meacham Blackman, Member of the NEA Foundation Board of Directors; Crystal Brown, Chair of the NEA Foundation Board of Directors; Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation; Honoree Christopher Myers, award-winning illustrator and author; Lily Eskelsen García, NEA President; Stephen Eulie, Executive Vice President Consumer Banking of First National Bank of Omaha



Hosted by actress and activist Anne-Marie Johnson

Anne-Marie Johnson, who most recently appeared in the TNT series, "Murder in the First," and is best known for her role as Althea Tibbs on the hit television series, "In the Heat of the Night," and as a cast member of the sketch comedy series, "In Living Color," hosted the event.  


Johnson helped celebrate exceptional public school educators alongside more than 50 student performers— many of whom are past NEA Foundation gala stars, invited back for an encore.


Photo (left to right): Awardee Allison Riddle (UT); Awardee Anna Baldwin (MT); Marita Zuraitis, President and CEO of the Horace Mann Educator Corporation; Anne-Marie Johnson, actress and activist; Awardee Crystal Williams Gordon (LA); Awardee Terri Butts (SC); Awardee Richard Erickson (WI)


Students take the stage for return performances

From Montgomery County, Maryland, the Sogo African Rhythm Ensemble of 35 drummers and dancers from Forest Knolls Elementary, who performed at last year’s gala, took the stage under the direction of educator, Lou Persic.


Also returning this year was Blessed Sheriff, a young poet, who performed two original poems with last year’s gala host, Tony Award-winning actress, Phylicia Rashad, of “The Cosby Show” fame. Sheriff performed her tribute to the Walter Dean Myers alongside Joseph Morag, a violinist and first chair and concertmaster of the New York Youth Symphony. A second tribute to Myers came from young writers from Lee County, Florida, who performed an interpretation of Walter Dean Myers’ acclaimed book, “The Story of the Three Kingdoms.”


Memorable performances also include Brooklyn-based singer and Princeton musicology doctoral student, Cory Hunter, who is lead soloist of the Boys Choir of Harlem, as well as the Counterpoints, directed by Michael Raunik, from Indianapolis, Indiana, who have been ranked the nation’s top concert show choir.


Watch Blessed Sheriff and Joseph Morag's performance below.


Photo (left to right): Cory Hunter, student performer; Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation; Blessed Sheriff, student performer


A special thank you to all who helped us celebrate the best in public education! Save the date for next year’s gala on Feb. 12, 2016.