Monday, February 11, 2013

Pennsylvania Educator Receives Top Honor at the NEA Foundation’s Awards Gala

Daniel Leeds and First Book also honored at Washington, D.C. Event

WASHINGTON, DC (February 8, 2013) — On Friday, February 8, at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala, Leslie Nicholas, a language arts teacher at Wyoming Valley West Middle School in Kingston, PA, received one of public education’s top honors: The NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and $25,000.


Known as the Academy Awards of public education, the gala is an annual celebration of the men and women who work in America’s public schools. The NEA Foundation presented more than 40 awards to exceptional educators and dedicated supporters of public education over the course of the program. Nicholas’s award was the evening’s finale.


“Nicholas has been selected for this award by his peers because he has attained the highest teaching standards, as illustrated by his exemplary instruction, community engagement, and staunch support of public education,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “In his classroom he brings learning to life, weaving together poetry, history, and music, for example, to help his students discover that Rosa Parks is the Beatles’ ‘blackbird singing in the dead of night.’”


This year’s event included student performers from the NEA Foundation’s Closing the Achievement Gaps schools in Lee County, FL. Students brought to life through dance, music, and readings, the essays, and poems written by their peers and inspired by their teachers.


Kevin Eubanks, a musician, composer, former music director for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and like his mom, a music teacher, emceed the evening’s program. Performing together for the event’s finale, Eubanks and the Lee County students entertained more than 800 leaders from the education, philanthropic, and business sectors who were in attendance. The Foundation and its guests also celebrated their teachers, who received on-stage recognition.


Nicholas was one of five finalists for the top award; all five finalists received special recognition at the gala, the Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence, and $10,000. The other four were:


  • Kellie Blair Hardt, special education teacher, Metz Middle School, Manassas, VA;
  • Melissa Collins, second grade teacher, John P. Freeman Optional School, Memphis, TN;
  • Julia Marshall, teacher interventionist and literacy coach, Rosewood Elementary International School, Rock Hill, SC;
  • Jennifer Thomas, an instructional coach and English language arts teacher, San Jose Unified School District, San Jose, CA


Nicholas’s students have already benefited from his award. Last fall, they received digital arts training, which they used to create an original video honoring their teacher.

Watch their video, which premiered at the gala.

He was nominated for the award by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and is one of 38 public school educators nominated by their state education associations who were also honored.


In addition to the outstanding educators, the NEA Foundation presented Daniel Leeds, Cofounder and Board Chair of Alliance for Excellent Education, with The NEA Foundation Award for Philanthropy in Public Education for his extraordinary commitment to informing and transforming public education policy at the national level.

The NEA Foundation also presented First Book, a DC-based literacy non-profit organization, with The Security Benefit Corporation Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education for pioneering groundbreaking channels to provide new books and educational resources to schools and programs serving children in need.  


About the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education

The NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala is a national celebration of the men and women who work in America’s public schools. At this annual event, the Foundation recognizes and promotes excellence in teaching and advocacy for the profession. The NEA Foundation and the National Education Association jointly present the awards with support from NEA Member Benefits, The Horace Mann Companies, The Pearson Foundation, California Casualty, and Promethean.

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About The NEA Foundation
The NEA Foundation is a public charity supported by contributions from educators' dues, corporate sponsors, and others who support public education initiatives.We partner with education unions, districts, and communities to create powerful, sustainable improvements in teaching and learning. Visit for more information. Find us on Facebook and Twitter, and visit our blog.

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