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.


Janet Key

Lowell Elementary School, Milwaukee, WI
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

Key will attend the Category 1, 2, and 3 Primary Years Program Workshops, where she will learn methods of Action and Assessment that will enable her to fully implement the Primary Years Program in her classroom. Key will work with teachers in her school to align their six ... more »

Dr. Donna Pasternak

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Higher Education, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

Pasternak and Peterson will create a professional learning community in which participants will increase their pedagogical knowledge of writing instruction. Participants will strengthen their writing instruction skills to improve their work with instructional staff within ... more »

Veronica Cook

Shorecrest High School, Shoreline, WA
Grades 9-12, Special Education
2015, Spring

To expand her skill set for working with students with Autism, Cook will attend the 2015 Autism Society International Conference. While there, Cook will examine the unique characteristics of students with Autism and ways to address specific learners within this population. ... more »

Katrina Moreno

Wheatley School of Early Childhood Programs, Port Arthur, TX
Grades K-5, Education Support Professional
2015, Spring

To improve the communication skills of struggling learners, Moreno, Young-Jones, and colleagues will introduce an Art and Photography workshop in their Early Childhood Program. Conducting action research, the group will observe students as they are encouraged to use cameras ... more »

Christina Mendenhall

Gilcrease Elementary School, Tulsa, OK
Grades K-5, Language Arts
2015, Spring

To become familiar with other societies, cultural norms, educational systems, and curriculum, Mendenhall will attend seminars offered through the National Consortium of East Asia Studies. Mendenhall will learn Mandarin Chinese and complete classes through the Global ... more »

Nancy Kunsman

Gore High School, Gore, OK
Grades 9-12, English
2015, Spring

Kunsman will attend the Smithsonian Art Institute’s “Teaching Humanities through Art,” where she will learn to develop ways to provide a fuller learning experience in her classroom. During the institute, Ms. Kunsman will work with art experts and education ... more »

Melanie Byers

Kettering Middle School, Kettering, OH
Grades 6-8, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

To better understand how to use cognitive science to improve and inspire student learning, Mrs. Byers will attend a “Learning and the Brain Conference” centered around educating world-class minds. While there, Byers will learn from distinguished faculty how to ... more »

Cathy Frastaci

Edon Northwest Schools, Edon, OH
Grades 9-12, Music
2015, Spring

To provide her students with authentic musical experiences, Frastaci will travel to Ghana’s Dagbe Cultural Institute and Arts Center to participate in an intensive cultural immersion. While there, Frastaci will study the traditional African arts of drumming, dancing, ... more »

Wendi Pillars

Jordan-Matthews High School, Siler City, NC
Grades 9-12, English
2015, Spring

Pillars will attend the International Forum of Visual Practitioners to improve her use of visual note taking in the classroom. At the Forum, Pillars will attend workshops and sessions focused on the art and science of engaging learners with visual note taking and graphic ... more »

Julia Vaughan

Koontz Intermediate School, Asheville, NC
Grades 6-8, Science
2015, Spring

To improve her knowledge of ecological and global issues, Vaughan will attend a climate change seminar at Glacier National Park. While there, Vaughan will participate in a learning seminar focusing on climate change and its effects on glaciers. Upon completion, Vaughan will ... more »

Karen Cook

PS 77 Lower Lab, New York, NY
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

To enhance her role as a leader in her school and district, Cook will become a National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) Certified Coach. Cook will attend the NSRF summer institute, where she will learn methods to empower educators by providing professional development that ... more »

Dr. Christopher Schmidt

LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City, NY
Higher Education, History
2015, Spring

Schmidt and Miller will facilitate a study group of LaGuardia Community College faculty to examine the United States’ role in the world in the 20th century. The study group will address LaGuardia Community College’s Global Learning core competency by developing ... more »

Michelle Myers

Sterling High School, Somerdale, NJ
Grades 9-12, Language Arts
2015, Spring

Myers will enhance interdisciplinary collaboration on human rights by travelling to China and South Korea on a Peace and Reconciliation Study Tour to increase her understanding of the cultural and historical background of China, Korea, and Japan during World War II. Myers ... more »

Lourdes Villacis

Kearny High School, Kearny, NJ
Grades 9-12, Science
2015, Spring

To obtain the necessary tools and skills to successfully implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Villacis will attend PRISM workshops at Montclair State University. The workshops will be geared toward developing and implementing NGSS in lessons and unit ... more »

Paul Creager

Saint Paul Public Schools, St. Paul, MN
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2015, Spring

Creager will research with the Video Volunteers program in Goa, India and observe the organization’s leadership and instructional process. During his research, Creager will study the processes that support media activism and civic engagement within India’s ... more »

Jackie Smith

Cooper High School, New Hope, MN
Grades 9-12, English
2015, Spring

Smith will work with a team of U.S. educators to develop a professional development conference for teachers in rural Bolivia. The cohort will identify effective practices, refine and develop classroom strategies, and develop presentations to share with other teachers. Upon ... more »

Dr. Raymond Martens

Towson University, Towson, MD
Higher Education, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Spring

Martens and Doyle will investigate children’s storying through “Storying Studio.” The project will be a re-conceptualization of writing workshops that value multi-modal composing, particularly in writing and art. A Literacy Community of teachers and ... more »

Amy Sherman

Forest Knolls Elementary School, Silver Spring, MD
Grades K-5, English
2015, Spring

Sherman will partner with the Fujian Institute of Education in Fuzhou, China to participate in a teacher exchange program. During the program, Sherman will share expertise in best practices for teaching English Language Learners. Throughout the program, Sherman will improve ... more »

Jennifer Monday

South Creek Elementary School, Indianapolis, IN
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

To strengthen her knowledge of differentiated instruction, Monday will attend the Teach K! Conference and National Differentiated Instruction Conference. In both settings, Monday will attend sessions on differentiation, best practices, technology, Common Core standards, and ... more »

Carla Elliff

Collinsville High School, Collinsville, IL
Grades 9-12, School Counselor
2015, Spring

Elliff will improve her professional practice by attending the American School Counselor Association Annual Conference. While there, she will learn how to develop and implement a school-wide college application process and enhance college and career readiness skills among ... more »

Daniel Noia

Henry J. Kaiser School, Honolulu, HI
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

Noia and colleagues will lead a school-wide professional development program that will measure students’ metacognition. Educators will use learning logs to measure students’ metacognitive abilities and their abilities to apply their learning to other classes. ... more »

Nancy Hoehn

Kaiserslautern High School, Kaiserslautern, Germany,
Grades 9-12, Science
2015, Spring

To address student achievement gaps in chemistry and physics, Hoehn will attend the Modeling Chemistry Workshop. Through the program, Hoehn will be exposed to classroom management strategies, labs, problem solving methodologies, insights, and experiences aimed to improve ... more »

Lisa Martinez

Cotton Creek Elementary School, Westminster, CO
Grades K-5, Arts
2015, Spring

Martinez will participate in a month-long Spanish language cultural immersion course at Hablal Ya Spanish School in Bocas del Toro, Panama. While there, Martinez will learn about local culture and how to work with non-native English speaking students. Upon returning, ... more »

Steven Flanagan

Sunnyside Elementary School, San Francisco, CA
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Spring

Flanagan will improve his professional practice by attending the Teachers College Writer's Workshop Summer Institute at Columbia University. While there, Flanagan will attend sessions focused on implementing the Writer's Workshop in his classroom. Upon completion, Flanagan ... more »

Elizabeth Mora

Los Angeles High School of the Arts at RFK Community, Los Angeles, CA
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2015, Spring

To enhance her cultural geography curriculum, Mora will visit Heifer International’s project sites in Honduras. While there, Ms. Mora will examine how livestock gifts, education, and training in responsible farming practices help impoverished communities.  Upon ... more »

Kimberly Lewis

Los Angeles County Office of Education, Downey, CA
Higher Education, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

To learn about current policy development in deaf education, Lewis will attend the International Congress on Education of the Deaf. Upon returning, Lewis will create a curricular unit focusing on deaf education policy in action. The unit will contain learning modules that ... more »

Dr. Timothy Gallahar

Charles R. Drew Middle School, Lincoln, AL
Grades 6-8, Science
2015, Spring

To learn practical and effective strategies for improving his teaching practice, Dr. Gallahar will attend the National Differentiated Instruction Conference. While there, Dr. Gallahar will address relevant contemporary issues, including how to most effectively incorporate ... more »

Sara Fenn

Eufaula High School, Eufaula, AL
Grades 9-12, Library Media Specialist
2015, Spring

Fenn will attend the International Society for Technology in Education’s national conference to explore technologies that will allow her to lead her district in implementing a successful one-to-one program. After the conference, Fenn will share her experience with her ... more »

Erika Bell

Saks Elementary School, Anniston, AL
Grades K-5, English
2015, Spring

To improve her professional practice, Bell will complete the National Board Certification process for English as a Second Language.  She will use her learning to master both instruction and family advocacy. Throughout the certification process, Bell will positively ... more »

Terri Day

Suquamish Elementary School, Suquamish, WA
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Spring

Day and Drover will introduce the “Rolling Reader” program, which will aim to increase students’ reading test scores by providing tutors and new books. Local high school and college students will work with elementary school students to provide assistance ... more »

Daniel Shay

North Central High School, Spokane, WA
Grades 9-12, Science
2015, Spring

Through “Algae to Biodiesel,” biology students at North Central High School will have the opportunity to apply biological concepts learned in research settings. Students will design an optimal protocol for remediating pollution from wastewater using algae. ... more »

Scott Hendrix

Avanti High School, Olympia, WA
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2015, Spring

Through “Songs of Rice and Slavery,” students at Avanti High School will examine African American history through song and art. By examining specific historic moments, students will explore the transmission of culture from Africa to the United States. The ... more »

Cassie Cox

Two Rivers High School, Ogden, UT
Grades 9-12, English
2015, Spring

Cox and Henry will work with author Ingrid Ricks to help at-risk students write personal narratives to be published in a book. Ricks will work one-on-one with students to help them articulate their personal stories. After completing their stories in English classes, art ... more »

Sharon Baillie

Burgettstown Middle and High School, Burgettstown, PA
Grades 9-12, STEM
2015, Spring

Through “Eating Math and Science,” Baillie and Bowersock will assist students in completing experiments with food that will aid them in understanding the mathematical and biological principals of food preparation and consumption. The project will allow students ... more »

Robert Nieman

Henley Elementary School, Klamath Falls, OR
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Spring

Through “Decoding with Magnetic Vowels,” students will benefit from an innovative concept created by Nieman. The project will include hands-on phonics lessons, problem solving, and an exploration of the science of magnetism. Students will work in small groups ... more »

Alisha Steele

Harrison North Elementary School, Scio, OH
Grades K-5, Resource Specialist
2015, Spring

To increase problem solving and critical thinking skills within the classroom, Littlebits circuit kits will be provided to students to construct project-based responses to problems. Classroom discussions will be encouraged and students will work together to explore ... more »

Charles Steinbower

Correction Reception Center School, Orient, OH
Grades 9-12, Librarian
2015, Spring

Collaborating with a local library and several correctional facility schools, Steinbower will introduce lessons that promote awareness of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and School Desegregation. Students and educators will attend a panel discussion of experts, all of whom ... more »

Heidi Sullivan

Gahanna Middle School South, Gahanna, OH
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2015, Spring

Sixth grade students at Gahanna Middle School South will use tablet technology to investigate mathematical properties and situations to gain deeper understanding of curriculum. Through this technological integration, students will examine and create visual models to ... more »

Jacqueline Best

Canaseraga Central School, Canaseraga, NY
Grades 9-12, Music
2015, Spring

Through “Making Practice Perfect,” Best and O’Donnell will integrate technology into Canaseraga Central School’s music program. Students will be provided instrumental instruction that will increase their motivation to practice and improve their ... more »

Chuck Boyer

Alcona Community Schools, Lincoln, MI
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2015, Spring

Through the collaborative efforts of Mr. Boyer's student leadership team and community partners, the purchase of a Panel Master IV will bring cutting edge industry methods to the school’s technology facility. Students will be able to design and construct raised panels ... more »

Margaret Carr

Donald P. Timony Grammar School, Methuen, MA
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Spring

To differentiate for a variety of learners and to ensure that all students participate in problem solving, Carr and colleagues will have students engage in a variety of literacy tasks that promote critical thinking across content areas using both fiction and nonfiction ... more »

Christine Skog

Harlan Community Elementary School, Harlan, IA
Grades K-5, Music
2015, Spring

To provide students with a means of exploration, discovery, and creation, Skog will implement projects focusing on musical composition. Students will review musical concepts and learn to create their own music through a variety of sound and instrument activities. Through ... more »

Nicole Gloude

Illinois Elementary School, Park Forest, IL
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Spring

Through the use of “Smart Centers,” Gloude and Green will address the five key components of reading instruction.  Each “Smart Center” will engage students in cooperative learning and allow for differentiation and modification of content to meet ... more »

Kellie Humphrey

Haymon-Morris Middle School, Winder, GA
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2015, Spring

To create a positive change in teaching and learning, Humphrey and Wiggley will introduce “WildcatsCONNECT (WC).” The program will introduce a dynamic vision in which all students are connected and actively engaged in teaching and learning. Humphrey and Wiggley ... more »

Mary Footman

Pinellas Secondary School, Pinellas Park, FL
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2015, Spring

Through “Behavior and Management Moments (BAMM),” students will be provided with the opportunity to address relevant issues and hear real world stories that teach important life skills while helping them understand the dangers of risky behavior. BAMM will ... more »

Tracy Ajello

Doolittle School, Cheshire, CT
Grades K-5, Science
2015, Spring

Ajello and Gallagher will have their fifth and second grade classes collaborate on a series of cross-curricular lessons. Students will create a radiometer chandelier to measure the sun’s rays, create light sculptures to observe shadows and additive properties of light ... more »

Dan Frank

Rocklin High School, Rocklin, CA
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2015, Spring

Through “Ideation, Innovation, and Engineering Success,” Frank and Tackett will build upon mechanical engineering foundations and best practices established by leading research institutions. The project will facilitate experiential learning by allowing students ... more »

William Wagner

Nordhoff High School, Ojai, CA
Grades 9-12, Music
2015, Spring

To captivate students who use technology daily, Wagner will introduce tablet technology in his music classes. Students will access programs that quickly, accurately, and discretely assess performance, allowing them to learn in pressure-free private settings. Software will ... more »

Mary McKinley

Charter Oak High School, Covina, CA
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2015, Spring

To advance student engagement at multiple levels, McKinley and DeMonteverde will implement the use of tablets in their history classes. Students will use apps designed for individual and collaborative learning, including Khan Academy, which will aid in teaching historical ... more »

Jennifer “Rita” Platt

St. Croix Falls Elementary School, Saint Croix Falls, WI
Grades K-5, Library Media Specialist
2015, Winter

To ensure the communal understanding and consistent implementation of the Daily 5 and Daily Café reading models, Platt and Gudmunsen will lead a professional learning community at St. Croix Falls Elementary School. Through the project, participants will strengthen ... 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.