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.


Debra Lawson

Prairie Creek Elementary School, Spring Hill, KS
Grades K-5, School Counselor
2013, Spring

Mrs. Lawson and Mrs. Moore will organize “iPad Applications for Classroom Instruction,” a district-wide professional learning community. Through group activities, Mrs. Lawson and Mrs. Moore will facilitate effective teaching through the examination of ... more »

Michaela Campbell

Riverton High School, Riverton, IL
Grades 9-12, School Counselor
2013, Spring

To better enhance students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills, Riverton High School will strengthen its “Project Lead the Way (PLTW)” curriculum. Required training will be provided to educators for certification, which will allow them to teach a ... more »

Karen Sandler

Harry S. Truman College, Chicago, IL
Higher Education, General Pedagogical Practice
2013, Spring

A team of high school and college teachers will coordinate “GEARed UP for Truman,” a summer college readiness program for Chicago public high school graduates who have applied to Truman College and tested below college levels on the COMPASS placement exam. The ... more »

David Cook

Cary-Grove High School, Cary, IL
Grades 9-12, Teacher
2013, Spring

Mr. Cook will embark upon an action research project studying the business and economics of Northern Kenya’s desert region. Mr. Cook will examine and record the actions being taken by Non-Governmental Organizations to develop a sustainable marketplace for an ... more »

Jeff Hudson

Alton High School, Alton, IL
Grades 9-12, English
2013, Spring

Mr. Hudson and Mrs. Brave will create a literacy library at Alton High School.  Working with teachers throughout the district, the team will assist in delivering literacy-based instruction across all content areas.  Educators will be provided with strategies to ... more »

Carley Grant

Westhill High School, Stamford, CT
Grades 9-12, Science
2013, Spring

To study the social and environmental effects of rising sea levels, Mrs. Grant will travel to Venice, Italy and Kiel, Germany to participate in the “Cities by the Sea” program. While studying urban coastal zone processes and city management, Mrs. Grant will ... more »

Michael Persinger

James Monroe Elementary School, Santa Rosa, CA
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

To address the implementation of the Common Core Standards at James Monroe Elementary School, Mr. Persinger will travel to Manchester, New Hampshire to participate in the “Constructing Modern Knowledge” program. During the program, Mr. Persinger will refine ... more »

Kristin Keane

Hillcrest Elementary School, San Francisco, CA
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2013, Spring

Ms. Keane will travel to the Columbia University Teacher’s College Advanced Reading Institute to attend a course led by and grounded in the work of Lucy Calkins. During the workshop, Ms. Keane will deepen her understanding and approach to fiction and nonfiction ... more »

Meaghan Dieda

Dwyer Middle School, Huntington Beach, CA
Grades 6-8, Physical Education / Health
2013, Spring

Mrs. Dieda will be trained in “Where Everyone Belongs (WEB),” a structured environment program that guides incoming 6th and 7th grade students toward both academic and social success. After completing the training, Mrs. Dieda will lead a yearlong orientation and ... more »

Crystal Dennis

North Pole Middle School, North Pole, AK
Grades 6-8, Special Education
2013, Spring

To improve student reading performance, Mrs. Dennis and Mrs. Hawkins will lead a collegial study group for the development of high quality instructional practice. The team will work to increase instructional strategies in phonemic awareness, decoding skills, and reading ... more »

Donna Cuyler

South Milwaukee High School, South Milwaukee, WI
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

Through the “Smart Cooperative,” students will work with individual art teachers to visualize “practicing peace.” Students will use iOS devices for the visual creation, alteration, storage, and display of personal art works. The project will ... more »

Brianne Gunn

Falling Creek Middle School, Richmond, VA
Grades 6-8, Science
2013, Spring

Mrs. Gunn and Mrs. Stankovich will conduct a service learning project that will allow students to serve their school, community, and state. Through learning about clean-up efforts in the James River watershed, students will have a direct impact on the health of the Falling ... more »

Courtney Reckord

Milton High School, Milton, VT
Grades 9-12, Arts
2013, Spring

Ms. Reckord and Mrs. Manley will introduce “Art: A Common Language,” a project that will use art to inspire communication between students in India and Milton, Vermont. Students in each site will use prompts to create art and then share their work through the ... more »

Maryjane Utley

Westerly High School, Westerly, RI
Grades 9-12, Science
2013, Spring

Through “Retooling Schooling: Student Directed Learning in the High School Science Classroom,” Ms. Utley and Mrs. Fastovsky will meet the needs of students in heterogeneously grouped science classrooms while providing opportunities to develop and practice 21st ... more »

Janelle Siket

Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29, Mar Lin, PA
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

Through “Learn, Play, Succeed: Empowering Early Learners through Technology,” Ms. Siket and Ms. Polley will improve literacy and the educational achievement levels of developmentally delayed preschool children. The project will allow Ms. Siket and Ms. Polley to ... more »

Faith Forshee

Crestview Heights School, Waldport, OR
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

To assist students in developing a lifelong sense of stewardship for the ocean and coastal communities, Mrs. Forshee and colleagues will lead a project stressing the connection between local and global coastal issues. The team will provide students 21st century learning ... more »

Emily Martine

Sitton Elementary School, Portland, OR
Grades K-5, Special Education
2013, Spring

Mrs. Martine and Mrs. Hefty will create a classroom resource library that will offer a diverse collection of assistive technological devices, switches, and accessible computer programs that will assist students with moderate to severe disabilities. Students will increase ... more »

Susan Anglada Bartley

Franklin High School, Portland, OR
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

Mrs. Bartley and Mr. Butenhoff will incorporate technology to expand Franklin High School’s Advanced Scholar Program (ASP).  Students participating in the program will mentor struggling younger students and tutor students who need additional help. Additionally, ... more »

Laura Eschler

Coquille School District, Coquille, OR
Grades 9-12, Special Education
2013, Spring

To meet college credit requirements and increase curriculum offerings for high school students, Mrs. Eschler and Mr. Cumberland will promote a district-wide plan of accelerated college credit proficiency. Coquille School District (CSD) will partner with Southwestern Oregon ... more »

Charles Steinbower

William K. Willis High School, Columbus, OH
Grades 9-12, Librarian
2013, Spring

Mr. Steinbower will lead a civil rights and social justice unit that will have students examining the impact of the civil rights movement on the southern United States and apartheid on past, present, and future South Africa. Student and educators will attend a panel ... more »

Erin Daniels

Mount Vernon City Schools, Mount Vernon, OH
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2013, Spring

Ms. Daniels’ students will use calculus, statistics, and physics concepts to determine the volume of a three dimensional object. Students will use integration techniques and linear regression modeling with statistical analysis to find a model that will determine the ... more »

Henry Encarnacion

The Frederick Douglass Academy, New York, NY
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2013, Spring

To assist students struggling to master Integrated Algebra Standards, Mr. Encarnacion and Mr. Rodriguez will introduce netbooks in their classrooms. Using multiple mathematics programs and applications, teachers will promote self-directed learning and encourage learners to ... more »

Nancy Kaplan

JHS 227 Edward B. Shallow School, Brooklyn, NY
Grades 9-12, English
2013, Spring

Through “Journey into Journalism,” Mrs. Kaplan and Mrs. Dinkins will assist students in creating a newspaper that will promote student expression and build writing and analytical reading skills through interdisciplinary collaboration. Students will cover all ... more »

Kathleen Doherty-Hewins

Macopin Middle School, West Milford, NJ
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2013, Spring

The “Flipping over Mathematics” project will use a blended learning approach to engage students by incorporating the digital world in classroom lessons.  Students will use tablets to strengthen math skills, deepen their understanding through richer ... more »

Clay Herron

Central Heights Elementary School, Billings, MT
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

To bolster Central Heights Elementary School’s web based Lead21 reading and math interventions, Mr. Herron and Mr. Mainwaring will introduce tablet technology in their classrooms. Students will have greater access to hands-on programs directly correlated with lessons. ... more »

Kevin Martin

Hazelwood East High School, Saint Louis, MO
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2013, Spring

To improve problem solving and group work in Algebra I classrooms, Mr. Martin and Ms. Knight will introduce tablet technology.  Student collaboration will increase through the sharing of student work, problem sets, and e-portfolios. Mr. Martin and Ms. Knight will ... more »

Jennifer Bleckiner

Vandenboom Early Childhood Development Center, Marquette, MI
Grades K-5, Special Education
2013, Spring

Early childhood special education students will increase literacy, language, math, and communication skills through the strategic use of tablet technology.  Conferences between educators, speech-language pathologists, instructional program aides, and individual ... more »

Renee Laber

Morgan Elementary School, Shelby Township, MI
Grades K-5, English
2013, Spring

Mrs. Laber and Dr. Christ will integrate tablet technology into literacy instruction to facilitate critical thinking in fourth grade students. Through the lesson, students will focus on making inferences, comparing and contrasting, making connections, and analyzing texts. ... more »

Ilya Brecque

Durant-Tuuri-Mott School, Flint, MI
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2013, Spring

Through “Stepping Stones to Reading and Writing Success,” students will work in small intervention groups towards grade level competency. The lowest performing students will receive strategies to enhance their fluency skills, learn to monitor and clarify their ... more »

Dwayne Dahlbeck

Braintree High School, Braintree, MA
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

The Braintree High School Dual Enrollment Program (DEP) will allow at-risk students to take online courses with the support of specially trained educators, during which they will earn simultaneous high school and college credit. The primary focus of the program is to ... more »

Grant Acuna

Rocky Hill Middle School, Clarksburg, MD
Grades 6-8, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

To address the unique learning needs of students with emotional disabilities, Mr. Acuna and Mrs. Keith will introduce tablet technology in their middle school classrooms. Student will analyze the text and delivery of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a ... more »

Alicia Stetler

Trewyn Day Treatment, Peoria, IL
Grades K-5, Special Education
2013, Spring

To improve students’ ability to express their needs and advocate for themselves, Ms. Stetler and Mrs. Maxwell will expose special needs students to various sensory therapies and equipment before and during classroom activities. Teachers and students will discover ... more »

Christine Voigt

J.D. Floyd K-8 School of Environmental, Spring Hill, FL
Grades 6-8, Physical Education / Health
2013, Spring

Ms. Voigt and Ms. Johnson will introduce the “Harvesting Health” project, which will infuse environmental science and health education through an interactive hands-on gardening project. Students will plant, care, harvest, and maintain a fruit tree grove and ... more »

Arlene Costello

Ensley Elementary School, Pensacola, FL
Grades K-5, English
2013, Spring

Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Wells will introduce “Language Acquisition through Arts, Science, and Technology” to improve the academic achievement of English Language Learners. The project will provide activities that promote service learning through youth gardening, ... more »

Jennifer Allison

Harmony High School, Saint Cloud, FL
Grades 9-12, English
2013, Spring

To demonstrate how people’s words and actions can have massive impacts on society, Ms. Allison will introduce a lesson examining the events and forces that led to the Holocaust. Students will participate in literature circles and will analyze artwork and primary ... more »

Ellen Harvey

Charlotte County Schools, Port Charlotte, FL
Grades 9-12, Arts
2013, Spring

Mrs. Harvey and Mrs. Morehouse will introduce students to the Common Core Reading Standards through arts and science integration. Activities will address standards for writing, speaking, and listening, as well as the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for art and ... more »

Addie Lewis

Ocean Air School, San Diego, CA
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2013, Spring

Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Tech will implement a supplemental intervention project to maximize learning opportunities and incorporate best teaching methodologies for struggling readers. Working in small groups with teacher support, students will become more confident through ... more »

Cara Hale-Hanes

Polytechnic High School, Long Beach, CA
Grades 9-12, Science
2013, Spring

Mrs. Hale-Hanes and Dr. Gundry will develop curriculum addressing the limited availability of potable water in many parts of the world. Students will engage in a series of investigations designed to encourage critical thinking about the challenges of making unsafe water ... more »

Chara Rodrigues

John Baldwin Elementary School, Danville, CA
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2013, Spring

Mrs. Rodrigues and Mrs. Dunlap will create a leveled reading library to support students upon the implementation of the Common Core Reading Standards. Students will practice deep comprehension and close interpretive reading, write in a range of genres, and solve problems. ... more »

Leslie Schicht

Global Connections High School, Seatac, WA
Grades 9-12, English
2013, Winter

Jeff Halstead

Ferris High School, Spokane, WA
Grades 9-12, English
2013, Winter

Caroline Hay

Tualatin High School, Tualatin, OR
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2013, Winter

Mary Jo Behrensmeyer

Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon, OH
Grades K-5, Foreign Language Teacher
2013, Winter

Aaron Slodounik

Queensborough Community College, Bayside, NY
Higher Education, Lecturer
2013, Winter

Jennifer Kibler

East Aurora School District, East Aurora, NY
Grades K-5, Teacher
2013, Winter

Melissa Stein

Theunis Dey Elementary School, Wayne, NJ
Grades K-5, Teacher
2013, Winter

Eboni Walker

Sargent Shriver Elementary, Silver Spring, MD
Grades K-5, Teacher
2013, Winter

Grand Pacheco

Bradbury Heights Elementary School, Capitol Heights, MD
Grades K-5, Special Education
2013, Winter

Jamie Purnell

Messalonskee High School, Oakland, ME
Grades 9-12, Science
2013, Winter

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.