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.


Shae Factory

Okmulgee Middle School, Okmulgee, OK
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2004, Fall

To increase the technology skills of their students, Ms. Factory, Ms. Swyden, and Ms. Taylor develop “Time Travel with a Theatrical and Technological Twist.” In this multidisciplinary project, the students use digital film to explore a historical theme. After ... more »

Jodi Taylor

Columbiana High School, Columbiana, OH
Grades 9-12, Science
2004, Fall

Collaborating with local police departments, Ms. Taylor and Ms. Martin design a unit on forensic science to increase their students’ problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Students become familiar with the technology crime scene investigators use to analyze ... more »

Frances Boucher

Bellows Falls Union High School, Bellows Falls, NH
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Fall

To familiarize students with the cultural diversity of Bellows Falls, Ms. Boucher, Ms. James-Torres, and Mr. Julian design a multidisciplinary unit on genealogy. Students research their ancestry, compile and graph genealogical data, and explore the history and culture of ... more »

James Schulz

Helena High School, Helena, MT
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Fall

Mr. Schultz and Ms. Belisle create interdisciplinary units to increase students’ geology and language arts skills. Students use mapping equipment to explore the typology, animal activity, and developmental structure of western Montana and the greater Yellowstone ... more »

Joanne Toft

Marcy Open School, Minneapolis, MN
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2004, Fall

To foster an understanding of how the U.S. Constitution relates to current events, Ms. Toft, Ms. Gray, and Ms. Hyman implement “The Constitution: A Living Document.” Collaborating with an attorney, the teachers guide students in analyzing primary sources and ... more »

Susan Fourniea

Cleveland Quality Middle School, St. Paul, MN
Grades 6-8, Science
2004, Fall

Seventh-grade students travel to a local outdoor classroom to conduct student-designed environmental research. Students study animal adaptations, water-quality testing, biomes, and ecosystems. In the outdoor classroom, students collect data on animal activity, weather, and ... more »

Tammy Messing

Sanilac County Intermediate School District, Sandusky, MI
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2004, Fall

Ms. Messing and Ms. Waterman collaborate with parents to increase the language arts skills of their students with hearing and learning impairments. Students take home backpacks that contain books and supplemental learning activities. With their parents’ support, ... more »

Cheri McCloughan

South Haven High School, South Haven, MI
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Fall

Ms. McCloughan and Ms. Liscow develop a documentary project to build the technology, research, and communication skills of their students. After analyzing oral histories and documentaries, students identify senior citizens in South Haven to interview and film. Students ... more »

Melba Lucas

Charles Herbert Flowers High School, Springdale, MD
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Fall

To prepare their students for theatrical professions, Ms. Lucas and Mr. Jones establish Jaguar Players Technical Theater Crew Training Program. Students study principles and applications of lighting design, sound engineering, stage design, and theatrical production.

Elizabeth Rockett

Murray Henderson Middle School, New Orleans, LA
Grades 6-8, English
2004, Fall

Ms. Rockett and Ms. Wolfe infuse arts into the language arts curriculum to increase literacy and writing skills. While studying Louisiana jazz and blues and African-American poetry, students develop poetry anthologies and illustrate children’s books on Louisiana ... more »

Stella Baker

Owsley County High School, Booneville, KY
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Fall

To improve literacy skills and encourage independent reading, Ms. Baker and Ms. France integrate science with language arts. Students study forensic science, learn from guest speakers about the role science plays in criminal investigations, read and analyze mystery books, ... more »

Michael Ashley

Green Hills Elementary School, Bledsoe, KY
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2004, Fall

Mr. Ashley and Ms. Mitchell create computer-based science modules to increase the technology skills of their students. Working in teams, students use resource materials to conduct research, engage in hands-on experiments, and graph and present data using computer software.

Susi Jordan

Cloverdale Middle School, Cloverdale, IN
Grades 6-8, Science
2004, Fall

In collaboration with the Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center, Ms. Jordan and Ms. Mann increase their students’ understanding of the scientific method through inquiry-based learning activities. Students work in teams to conduct experiments, on such topics as plate ... more »

Tara Skiles

Partin Settlement Elementary School, Kissimmee, FL
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2004, Fall

Ms. Skiles and Ms. Horn infuse language arts and mathematics into their science curriculum to develop the problem-solving and communication skills of their English language learners. Students engage in inquiry-based laboratory experiments and journal writing. At the end of ... more »

Jill Shadoff

Tradewinds Middle School, Lake Worth, FL
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2004, Fall

Through “Students Teaching Origami for Success,” Ms. Shadoff and Mr. Berg enhance the reading and mathematics skills of their students with learning disabilities. Students read about Sadako, a young Japanese girl who died in Hiroshima before realizing her goal ... more »

Laura McCarthy

Westwood Heights Elementary School, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Grades K-5, Literature
2004, Fall

With “Celebrations of Learning,” Ms. McCarthy and her partners increase the oral and written communication skills of their students. Students publish a magazine that contains articles and photographs to chronicle learning throughout the school year. In addition, ... more »

Toni Koy

Wynnebrook Elementary School, West Palm Beach, FL
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2004, Fall

Students embark on a fantasy train journey across the United States to enhance their writing and geography skills. Using a model train set, students replicate the environmental features of U.S. geographical regions. After researching each region, students engage in ... more »

Donna Hanak

Northeast High School, St. Petersburg, FL
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Fall

To address the learning needs and language skills of their immigrant student population, Ms. Hanak and Ms. Watson integrate the World and I digital library and international memoirs into the world literature curriculum. Students read and discuss folklore, informational ... more »

Julia Deery

Seminole Springs Elementary School, Eustis, FL
Grades K-5, English
2004, Fall

Ms. Deery and Ms. Price introduce their fourth-grade students to expository and narrative composition during a writing camp. Students participate in games and activities to learn grammar and write original essays for an anthology. At the conclusion of the writing camp, ... more »

Clare Taylor Reed

Louise Duffy Elementary School, West Hartford, CT
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2004, Fall

Ms. Reed and Ms. Moran give their fifth-grade students first-hand experience with mapping and satellite technology by integrating science and mathematics into their geography curriculum. Using global positioning and imaging systems, students create maps of their community ... more »

Carrie Zimmerman

Ortega Middle School, Alamosa, CO
Grades 6-8, Computers / Technology
2004, Fall

Through a multidisciplinary unit on how inventions have influenced American society, Ms. Zimmerman and Mr. Golsan enhance the technology and communication skills of their eighth-grade students. Students study the advantages and disadvantages of selected inventions ... more »

Julie Verhagen

Burlington High School, Burlington, WI
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Ms. Verghagen and her partners investigate research-based teaching strategies that engage at-risk students. Participants explore nontraditional prevention and intervention approaches, and implement student-centered instruction. Based on the success of their work, the ... more »

Jayne Haenel

Stetsonville Elementary School, Stetsonville, WI
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Focusing on Stephanie Harvey’s Nonfiction Matters, Ms. Haenel and her partners develop and use comprehension strategies with their classes. Study group participants survey strategies to help students think critically as they read for comprehension. After implementing ... more »

Tom White

Lynnwood Intermediate School, Lynnwood, WA
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Mr. White and his partners form a lesson study group to improve classroom instruction. Group members meet weekly to design lessons that meet student needs and reflect on instruction. After developing each lesson, one teacher pilots it as other members videotape and critique ... more »

Cheryl Craig

University of Houston, Houston, TX
Higher Education, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Dr. Craig travels to two conferences in England to present her research on the obstacles encountered in school-based reform, including reflections on how standardized testing has evoked contradictory reform methods for principals and teachers. At the conferences, she ... more »

Sarah Pierce

Putnam County Adult High School, Cookeville, TN
Grades 9-12, History
2004, Spring

Ms. Pierce and her partners revise their U.S. history curriculum for their adult learners. Collaborating with the history specialist at the Tennessee Department of Education, the team analyzes state standards and develops a syllabus and teaching strategies for a U.S. ... more »

Francis Hardy

Spartanburg High School, Spartanburg, SC
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Spring

To help her students understand the cultural effects of black writers on American society, Dr. Hardy attends the National Black Arts Festival. She learns about black history, literature, and culture and acquires updated technology and literary resources for her classroom.

Megan Garnett

James W. Robinson, Jr. Secondary School, Fairfax, VA
Grades 9-12, English
2005, Spring

Ms. Garnett and her partners form a study group to improve student achievement through research and writing. Participants meet monthly to develop assignments and lesson plans, analyze student work, and determine how best to build research and writing skills at each ... more »

Maria Yukelson

Park Forest Middle School, State College, PA
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Working with students with learning disabilities, Ms. Yukelson attends the Schools Attuned training to better meet the varied learning needs of her students. She investigates cognitive functions and best practices for meeting different learning styles.

Sarah Corley Smith

School of Choice, Spring Branch Education Center, Houston, TX
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2005, Spring

Mrs. Smith attends an intensive Kodaly music course at California State University, Long Beach, to enhance her music instruction. The Kodaly method involves vocally-based music instruction that complements young children's natural means of musical expression. ... more »

Christine Marie Benedict

Fishing Cove Elementary School, North Kingstown, RI
Grades K-5, English
2005, Spring

To enhance student achievement, Mrs. Benedict and her partners form a study group focusing on the delivery of reading instruction. Participants engage in peer coaching, record observational data, and discuss their findings.

Nancy Sadaly

East High School, Erie, PA
Grades 9-12, Literature
2004, Spring

Ms. Sadaly attends “It’s Never Too Late Literacy Institute” summer institute to learn research-based strategies to improve reading comprehension for secondary students. She uses this knowledge to revise the district’s language arts curriculum and ... more »

Dean Rosencranz

Cheltenham High School, Wyncote, PA
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2005, Spring

Mr. Rosencranz and his partners form a study group to analyze student achievement data, examine methods of integrating technology into the curriculum, explore uses of technology to individualize instruction, and determine how best to share their learning with ... more »

Linda Roeder

Cedarbrook Middle School, Wyncote, PA
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Ms. Roeder leads a study group to explore adapting the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program to the district’s needs. Through the AVID model, the group learns strategies for increasing the achievement of their minority students. The team shares their ... more »

Rebecca Kathleen Brown

Bethel Springs Elementary School, Boothwyn, PA
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2005, Spring

Ms. Brown attends a summer institute at the University of Connecticut to study differentiated instruction, high-end learning, and enrichment teaching. As a district trainer, Ms. Brown shares her learning with other differentiated instruction trainers and school ... more »

Karen Abraham

Sheldon Woods Elementary School, West Olive, MI
Grades K-5, English
2005, Spring

Mrs. Abraham and her partners study reading strategies to enhance students’ comprehension. Twice a month, participants meet to discuss instructional strategies and to model and refine new lessons. The group, composed of participants who are new to their ... more »

Robert Bonner

Cornelius Elementary School, Cornelius, OR
Grades K-5, English
2004, Spring

Mr. Bonner travels to New Zealand to observe and learn best practices for reading instruction. After touring the country, he implements successful instructional approaches and develops strategies to assess reading skills.

Vicki Schmidt

Wea Ridge Middle School, Lafayette, IN
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2005, Spring

To enhance her music curriculum, Mrs. Schmidt attends World Music Drumming: Level II training at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Mrs. Schmidt uses her expanded knowledge to develop an advanced drumming curriculum to include more students in the program. She ... more »

Mary Lyons

Burton Elementary School, Durham, NC
Grades K-5, Literature
2004, Spring

Ms. Lyons and her partners participate in a study group to learn, discuss, implement, and reflect on the Balanced Literacy Framework. At each session, participants learn about best practices in reading and writing. Study group members observe each other and develop ... more »

Rebecca Segal

Blue Lakes Elementary School, Miami, FL
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2005, Spring

Ms. Segal attends a weeklong certification course in yoga for children with special needs to improve her students’ behavior, concentration, and academic achievement. After the training, Ms. Segal shares her knowledge with colleagues at her school, which serves ... more »

Kim Bates

Delaware Technical and Community College, Dover, DE
Higher Education, Computers / Technology
2005, Spring

Ms. Bates and her partners implement a mentoring study group for adjunct instructors. Led by full-time faculty, the small groups study best teaching practices, methods for addressing various learning styles, topics in subject matter, uses of Blackboard software, and ... more »

Sass Brown

The Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, NY
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2004, Spring

To teach her students about ethical entrepreneurship and its relation to community outreach, Ms. Brown travels to Brazil to study a women’s empowerment cooperative. Ms. Brown learns the cooperative’s model for using traditional handicraft skills by building ... more »

Gail M. Thibodeau

Griswold Middle School, Rocky Hill, CT
Grades 6-8, English
2005, Spring

Mrs. Thibodeau leads a study group of high school teachers to explore methods for integrating reading and writing strategies into their contentinstruction. Teachers meet monthly to discuss strategies and materials, plan and design lessons, and analyze student work ... more »

Bonnie Robinson

Newport Middle High School, Newport, NH
Grades 6-8, Literature
2004, Spring

To improve reading comprehension across curricula, Ms. Robinson and her partners learn research-based literacy strategies. The participants study the work of leading experts and observe each other’s classes to identify effective approaches. Creating rubrics for ... more »

Edna D. Soto

Danbury High School, Danbury, CT
Grades 9-12, Science
2005, Spring

Collaborating with staff from Western Connecticut State University’s Biology Department, Mrs. Soto travels to Puerto Rico to study a newly discovered species of crustacean in the Rio Camuy Cave System. She analyzes the anatomy, characteristics, DNA, and ... more »

Paul Rozycki

Mott Community College, Flint, MI
Higher Education, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Dr. Rozycki and Dr. Moxley develop community service learning resources to encourage faculty and students to be civically engaged. Study group participants identify best practices to guide civic engagement activities, develop and pilot a multidisciplinary service learning ... more »

Bette-Ann Rodzwell

Oliver Ellsworth School, Windsor, CT
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2005, Spring

Ms. Rodzwell and her partners form an action study group to improve their students’ ability to solve mathematical word problems. With the help of a consultant, teachers analyze monthly word problem exercises and examine the sources of students’ conceptual ... more »

Mark Davids

Grosse Pointe South High School, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2004, Spring

Collaborating with Ameritech and Cingular wireless engineers, Mr. Davids, Mr. Forrest, and Mr. Pata study the science of cell phones. The group identifies the fundamentals of wireless communication. Based on what they learn, participants develop a curriculum on the cell ... more »

Matthew Geary

Amity Regional High School, Woodbridge, CT
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2005, Spring

Mr. Geary and his partners explore how they can use graphing calculators to increase students’ mathematical skills and proficiency with the technology. Teachers learn the capabilities of the graphing calculator, review the curriculum to maximize use of ... more »

Sarah Chadbourn

Hollin Meadows Elementary School, Alexandria, VA
Grades K-5, Literature
2005, Spring

In response to research that at-home reading results in higher student achievement, Mrs. Chadbourn and her partners create the “Keep Books” program to build home libraries for their Title I students. Students receive one book weekly and complete reading ... more »

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.  Purchase photos from the gala.


Learn how state affiliates can nominate an educator for these prestigious awards. The deadline is May 1, 2014.



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.