Congratulations to the 39 public schools educators who were nominated by their NEA state affiliates for the 2015 NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence.

Kimberley Gilles, California Teachers Association

English teacher at Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA



Watch the video above created by Gilles' students to honor their teacher.

“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.

Eileen Sheehy, MEA-MFT

A.P. Government and Politics; U.S. Government teacher at Billings West High School in Billings, MT



Watch the video above created by Sheehy's students to honor their teacher.

Eileen Sheehy opens her lesson with slides of local road signs and then a mailbox. Taking a closer look, her students note that they are riddled with bullet holes. Further into the lesson, Sheehy asks, “Has anyone ever loved a gun?” Most students respond affirmatively. Sheehy’s approach to teaching about the U.S. Constitution is to tackle controversial and contemporary topics to help her students think critically and clearly articulate their views. As they examine the language in the Second Amendment, Sheehy probes: What is an amendment? A militia? Students explore these terms and more as the lesson unfolds. Many are surprised to learn that the US Supreme Court ultimately decides what the language of the Constitution means and that the Court’s interpretation can broaden or narrow a right. As the period ends, she asks one more:  “Does it make a difference that the amendment opens with ‘A well regulated militia being necessary to a free state’ before it mentions the right ‘to keep and bear Arms?’ Is that a dependent clause? Think about that and we can talk tomorrow.”            

Sheehy, the 2013 Montana Teacher of the Year, earned National Board of Professional Teaching Standards Certification in Adolescent/Young Adult Social Studies in 2000 and renewed it in 2010. She received her B.A. in Journalism and an interdisciplinary master’s from the University of Montana and served on the boards of the Billings Education Association, and both the Montana and the National Council for the Social Studies, among others.

Sheehy is known as a teacher who “gets stuff done with her students that thousands of teachers only wish they could do.”  She represented teachers on a policymaking committee of the local school board and has been a delegate to the state assembly.

Kathleen Sims, Education Minnesota

Early Childhood Special Education/School Readiness teacher at Foley Elementary School in Foley, MN



Watch the video above created by Sims' students to honor their teacher.

In Kathi Sims’ classroom, books are experiential and they come to life. She has developed a three-year curriculum, so that her students are continually stimulated with new material with which they engage in dramatic play and learning.  

Thus, when studying Where the Wild Things Are, she sets up Max’s bed with a sheet for the sail on his boat. Vines and trees ‘grow’ from the ceiling or walls, continually spreading as the days pass and the children make their own “wild things” costumes. When focusing on The Very Busy Spider, the giant spider in the corner weaves her web while the children are away each day until the entire room becomes covered in webbing. Her handwriting, reading, large motor and social skills, and counting lessons are all based upon the books, as are the snacks and sensory tables in her room. 

“Ms. Kathi” is a vocal advocate for full inclusion in early childhood settings and she creates an environment where children can explore and learn together regardless of their skills, needs, learning styles, limitations, or abilities. She is dedicated to educating young children, their parents, community members, and other professionals about the importance of teaching all preschoolers together. As a result, children with special needs are afforded strong role models and childrenwithout special needs are given the opportunity to develop empathy and peer acceptance at an early age.

Sims earned a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education/Early Childhood from St. Cloud University in 1995. In 2005, she was Nationally Board Certified as a Special Education Specialist, Birth to age 18. 

Sims has served on the Foley United Educators board for 16 years and is currently the President; she has also served as Membership Chair, Vice President, and Co-President. She is the Chair of her local’s Growth and Evaluation Committee, and Co-Chair of her school district’s Peer Coaching and Mentoring program. At the state level she served as Vice President of GRAC, a Minnesota intermediate organization, for eight years. At the national level, she represents NEA as a member of the Board of Examiners for the National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Educators (NCATE).

Brian Sites, Washington Education Association

Social Studies, mathematics, and technology teacher at Rivers Edge High School in Richland, WA



Watch the video above created by Sites' students to honor their teacher.

The students referred to Brian Sites come from all walks of life and—while each has a unique challenge— nearly all are highly disengaged academically and at risk of dropping out. On any given day, the students might be dealing with addictions, homelessness, teen pregnancy and parenting, mental and physical abuse, anxiety, eating disorders, suicidal tendencies, or some combination of these challenges.

As a teacher and mentor in a rural, alternative high school, Sites develops highly-personalized learning pathways for each student.  Of equal, or perhaps even greater, importance are the personal connections that he develops to encourage, support, and inspire them to learn.  He creates authentic relationships and treats every student with an optimistic, non-judgmental approach while building their resiliency in academic and non-academic areas.

As their students’ interest in online learning grew, Sites and his colleagues have transitioned to a blended leaning model that offers students an online curriculum combined with the extensive, in-person teacher support that students need to succeed. 

For the last 10 years, Sites has worked with a regional community solutions workgroup which coordinates the efficient delivery of services related to education, health, and self-sufficiency across sectors.  He has also lobbied his state legislature regularly on issues ranging from dropout prevention, alternative learning, protection of collective bargaining rights, and National Board Certification support.

Sites graduated Cum Laude from Eastern Washington University with a B.A. in Education and a major in Social Studies.  He received an M. Ed with Professional Development in Bilingual Education/English as a Second Language (ESL) in 2006 from Heritage University.  In 2008, he received the National Dropout Prevention Center Crystal Star Award.  The following year, he earned National Board Certification in Adolescent and Young Adult Social Studies, as well.

Christopher Stone, Connecticut Education Association

Language arts, social studies, mathematics and science teacher at Pond Hill Elementary School in Wallingford, CT



Watch the video above created by Stone's students to honor their teacher.

In Christopher Stone’s fifth grade classroom, it literally is rocket science.  Students use gallon-sized plastic soda bottles to build rocket launchers and construct paper rockets in different shapes to explore the many variables that allow the rockets to fly the farthest.  This student-centered learning activity involves problem solving, strategy development, and scientific inquiry.  It is also a springboard for learning scientific formulas and keeping the students highly engaged.

Stone is passionate about teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and is particularly focused on engaging girls and the Spanish Community of Wallingford to excel in these subjects.  Recognizing the power of parental involvement in public education, his commitment has extended to the larger community through a fifteen year science enrichment collaboration with Wallingford Youth and Social Services.

As the founder of the CT STEM Academy and Family STEM Nights, he has designed, established, and facilitated STEM enrichment programs for learners of all ages.  His love of space science has led to his selection as a 2012 NASA Galileo Educator Fellow, the recipient of two NASA Summer of Innovation Grants, and STEM Academy's selection as a 2013 NASA ARISS site.  In addition, he has collaborated with Yale's Leitner Planetarium, corporations—such as 3M, Bristol Myers-Squibb and Hamilton Sundstrand—and the local library, Wallingford Rotary Club, as well as the Meriden, CT YMCA to expand the reach of his work in a neighboring urban community.

Stone has also demonstrated leadership abilities in professional development.  For the last 15 years, he has facilitated science notebooks, differentiated science instruction workshops, Yale Peabody Fellows workshops, and has been a lead facilitator for the Connecticut Science Center’s Inquiry Based Teaching workshops.  Nationally, Stone was a presenter at the 2008 National Science Teachers Association Convention; the session focused on educating diverse learners with special needs.     

In addition, as Vice President of the Wallingford Education Association (WEA) Stone established a WEA community public relations campaign, serves on his district's professional development and teacher evaluation committees, and has implemented local association led professional development workshops.