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.


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 »

Nicole Frovik

Glacier Hills Elementary School of Arts and Science, Eagan, MN
Grades K-5, Arts
2013, Fall

Through the “STEAM Room,” Mrs. Frovik and Mrs. Jensen will lead a professional learning community that will allow teachers at Glacier Hill Elementary to work collectively and collaboratively with their colleagues and with local experts in the disciplines of ... more »

Nick Waugh

Western Foothills Regional School Unit #10, Peru, ME
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2013, Fall

To support RSU 10's Mass Customized Learning (MCL) initiative, Mr. Waugh and colleagues will develop MCL compliant projects, lessons, techniques, assessments, and rubrics. The materials will be field tested in an after school program and shared with educators throughout the ... more »

John Buckley

Cohasset High School, Cohasset, MA
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2013, Fall

To expand opportunities for students to engage in coastal STEM projects, Mr. Buckley and colleagues will introduce a “Certificate of Environmental Stewardship.” The certification program will be developed by a collaborative partnership of educators, scientists, ... more »

Susan Nichols

Douglas Intermediate Elementary, Douglas, MA
Grades K-5, Librarian
2013, Fall

Mrs. Nichols and Mrs. Findlay will lead a district wide tablet training session in preparation for an iPad implementation program in all elementary and middle schools. The program will teach educators to provide authentic learning experiences to students and help prepare ... more »

Shannon Mangan

Longwood Elementary School, Glenwood, IL
Grades K-5, Language Arts
2013, Fall

To increase capacity and create a rigorous curriculum aligned with English Language Arts Common Core State Standards, Ms. Mangan and Mrs. Munoz will lead a collegial study to create curricular units based on the “Understanding by Design” framework. The group ... more »

Katherine Tietjen

East Hampton Middle School, East Hampton, CT
Grades 6-8, Language Arts
2013, Fall

To improve reading and writing workshops at East Hampton Middle School, Mrs. Tietjen will participate in an internship at Nancie Atwell's Center for Teaching and Learning. Throughout the course of the internship, Mrs. Tietjen will learn to structure a workshop-based ... more »

Karen Zapata

SF Community School, San Francisco, CA
Grades K-5, English
2013, Fall

Ms. Zapata will lead a team of SF Community School (SFCS) educators that will support the needs of the school’s English Language Learners. Educators will place particular emphasis on strengthening the learning of Long Term English Language Learners, currently the ... more »

Erika Isomura

Glassbrook School, Hayward, CA
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2013, Fall

Ms. Isomura and Mrs. Buljan will lead a school wide professional learning community to prepare for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts. Through lesson study and inquiry, the team will refine teaching practices and ... more »

Laura Masbruch

Whitewater High School, Whitewater, WI
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2013, Fall

Ms. Masbruch and Mr. Lauersdorf will expand their Digital Electronics course to allow students to create software designs for circuits. The circuits will be used to control LED message boards, raise and lower toll bridge gates, detect jams in copy machines, and make robots ... more »

Debra Ono

Lakeland Elementary School, Auburn, WI
Grades K-5, Librarian
2013, Fall

To assist educators in the implementation of new Common Core Standards, Mrs. Ono and Mrs. Brown will create a guided reading room in Lakeland Elementary School’s library. Educators will be encouraged to check out books to use in daily reading activities and for ... more »

Janice McCurdy

Gar-Field High School, Woodbridge, VA
Grades 9-12, Special Education
2013, Fall

Mrs. McCurdy and Mrs. Clarke will introduce “System 44,” an innovative web-based reading improvement program. This foundational program will provide targeted instruction to high school students who struggle with deficits in phonics and are caught in a cycle of ... more »

Karen Ciotta

Epes Elementary School, Newport News, VA
Grades K-5, STEM
2013, Fall

Through “STEM Scientists,” Mrs. Ciotta and Mrs. McEaddy will create a hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classroom environment for kindergarten students and English Language Learners. Students will be provided with daily opportunities to ... more »

Lauren Foster

Discovery Elementary School, Ashburn, VA
Grades K-5, Resource Specialist
2013, Fall

To support struggling readers through the use of current technology, Ms. Foster and Ms. Ragan will introduce “iPad Buddies” in their classrooms. The initiative will serve as a resource for primary teachers to use during intervention groups. Ms. Foster and Ms. ... more »

Kevin Veroneau

Robert E. Lee High School, San Antonio, TX
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2013, Fall

Mr. Veroneau and Mr. Newberger will improve student participation by introducing Classroom Performance Systems (CPS) in their social studies classrooms. The technology will allow educators to provide immediate and ongoing feedback to students, perform real time formative ... more »

Ioana Agut

Brazosport College, Lake Jackson, TX
Higher Education, Mathematics
2013, Fall

To improve completion of entry level math courses, student retention, and graduation rates, Mrs. and Mr. Agut will pilot the “Calculate2Gether” program. They will create a lending library that will allow struggling students access to common calculators. Students ... more »

Celebrate the best of public education with us. Reserve your seats now!


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.