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.


Celeste Cruse

Lawrence School, Falmouth, MA
Grades 6-8, Computers / Technology
2011, Fall

Ms. Cruse will lead a team of educators in the implementation of Kindles and eBooks at Lawrence School. The project will improve students’ ability to analyze and interpret text by allowing them to practice active reading comprehension strategies while developing ... more »

Beth Groeneman

Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Bethesda, MD
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Fall

Through Building Bridges with Ecuador, Ms. Groeneman and Mrs. Lyddane will work with a team of student volunteers to give humanitarian services to indigenous people in Ecuador. Three service teams will provide healthcare, education, and community construction improvements. ... more »

Christopher Eldridge

Scarborough High School, Scarborough, ME
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2011, Fall

As part of a unit on culture and ethnocentrism, students in Mr. Eldridge’s sociology course will visit local ethnic restaurants, using food as a foundation for broader discussions of culture. Students will work with local chefs to prepare traditional meals of ... more »

Desiree Dufrene

Lockport Middle School, Lockport, LA
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2011, Fall

Mrs. Dufrene and Mrs. Sevin will introduce the MyMathLab online program into eighth grade pre-algebra classes. The program will allow students to take control of their own learning as they work at their own pace and receive immediate feedback after completing assignments, ... more »

Melanie Belcher

Feds Creek Elementary School, Feds Creek, KY
Grades K-5, English
2011, Fall

Soaring Higher to Literacy Success will utilize a research based intervention program to help at-risk fourth and fifth graders accelerate their reading ability and apply decoding and comprehension strategies learned in reading class to other subjects. Mrs. Belcher and Mrs. ... more »

Brunilda Dickenson

Chestnut Elementary School for Science and Engineering, Kissimmee, FL
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Fall

To enhance diversity and inclusion at Chestnut Elementary, Ms. Dickenson and Mrs. Carter will develop a school wide program to expose students to multiple cultures. Every month, students at each grade level will choose a different country to research and create digital ... more »

Janet Hughes

La Mirada Elementary School, San Ysidro, CA
Grades K-5, History
2011, Fall

La Mirada Elementary students will participate in historic reenactments to build background knowledge and key vocabulary related to California’s history. Students will be immersed with a tour of a seventeenth century clipper ship, a walk on paths used by Spanish ... more »

Sergio Villegas

Vintage High School, Napa, CA
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2011, Fall

To improve English language learners’ understanding of algebra, Mr. Villegas will lead an initiative to offer physics class as a support for ELL algebra students. In teaching algebra and physics in tandem, Mr. Villegas and Mr. Rutherford will transform the physics ... more »

Kary Towne

Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, South Burlington, VT
Grades 6-8, Education Support Professional
2011, Fall

Mrs. Towne will develop a hands-on, face-to-face training program that will enable school nurses to prepare for mandatory online training properly. The program will be a training opportunity that will enable other nurses to correctly use their screening equipment, network ... more »

Sarah Ibson

Harwood Union/Middle/High School, Moreton, VT
Grades 6-8, Computers / Technology
2011, Fall

Mrs. Ibson and six colleagues at Harwood Union Middle/High School will form a study group to explore interactive instructional strategies using iPads to improve engagement and academic performance. After an initial training, the group will research educational apps with a ... more »

Cynthia Robinson-Carney

John Marshall High School, Richmond, VA
Higher Education, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Fall

Mrs. Robinson-Carney will strengthen her professional practice and improve her teaching performance by obtaining national board certification. Through a series self assessments? including videotaping classroom sessions, documenting quality instruction and planning, and ... more »

Doris Herrmann

Clear Falls High School, League City, TX
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2011, Fall

To increase her knowledge of integrating student owned technology in the classroom, Ms. Herrmann will attend and present at the Texas Computer Education Association Convention. She will discuss ways to encourage students to use their personal technology as learning tools in ... more »

Cheryl Simmons

East Greenwich Public Schools, East Greenwich, RI
Grades K-5, Education Support Professional
2011, Fall

Ms. Simmons and Ms. Macleod will lead an effort to implement assistive technology tools to enhance new student integration and learning.  The team will work to improve their skills in developing creative and engaging ways to foster inclusion and learning for all ... more »

Deborah Getman

PS 207, Brooklyn, NY
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Fall

Dr. Getman will lead of team of third and sixth grade educators through a collaborative professional learning community that will enable participants to perfect their instructional strategies. Specifically, groups of educators will attend sessions at Columbia ... more »

Daisy Rooks

University of Montana, Missoula, MT
Higher Education, Mathematics
2011, Fall

Dr. Rooks will examine individuals who have taken “alternative” pathways into the teaching profession.  Specifically, she will analyze sixty in-depth, semi-structured interviews with participants, staff, and critics of Teach for America, the largest ... more »

Amy Huset

Forest View Elementary School, Forest Lake, MN
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2011, Fall

Mrs. Huset and Mrs. Kuschke will implement an action research project in which students will learn to “read pictures,” discuss authors’ purposes, and analyze the word choices used in texts. Painting techniques will also be taught, as students will create ... more »

Lisa Hilberg

Alpena Public Schools, Alpena, MI
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Fall

Teachers and education support professionals in Alpena Public Schools and surrounding school districts will be trained in the curricular framework presented in Charlotte Danielson’s Enhancing Professional Practice. Staff will be trained in the Danielson rubric and ... more »

Eboni Walker

Sargent Shriver Elementary School, Silver Spring, MD
Grades K-5, English
2011, Fall

Ms. Walker and Mrs. Moy will lead an action research study of the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) as a tool to improve the teaching and learning of English language learners at Sargent Shriver Elementary School. The group looks to improve the performance ... more »

Prisca Martens

Towson University, Towson, MD
Higher Education, Literature
2011, Fall

Dr. Martens and her colleagues will investigates how global literature— stories with settings outside the US— supports and develops first and second grader students’ intercultural understandings. A study group of seven teachers and two university ... more »

Amanda Pickrell

Thorpe Creek Elementary School, Fishers, IN
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2011, Fall

To create a collaborative environment that will improve student achievement, Mrs. Pickrell and her colleagues will establish professional learning communities that share a common vision. The communities will be comprised of collaborative teams focusing on learning and best ... more »

Amy Benac

Rockridge CUSD #300, Rockridge, IL
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2011, Fall

Mrs. Benac will participate in comprehensive training of the Orton-Gillingham methodology, a research based approach to learning that has been proven to benefit students who struggle with reading, spelling, and writing activities. By completing the training, Mrs. Benac will ... more »

Eric Jones

Bartlett High School, Bartlett, IL
Grades 9-12, Science
2011, Fall

Mr. Jones will attend the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Project 2061 Workshop in Washington, DC. While there, he will study Project 2061's approach to science assessment and its procedures for developing effective items that are carefully ... more »

Michael Steins

Shenandoah St. Elementary School, Los Angeles, CA
Grades K-5, Gifted and Talented
2011, Fall

Mr. Steins will complete the nine unit Gifted and Talented Education (G.A.T.E.) Certification courses at the University of California Irvine Extension so that he can effectively differentiate instruction for his school's gifted learners. Upon completion of the program, Mr. ... more »

James "Chip" Fraser

Pacific High School, Ventura, CA
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2011, Fall

Through It’s My Life, Mr. Fraser and colleagues will amass data predicated on studies and research that examine whether high school students are more likely to succeed in school and adult life if they receive daily life skills instruction and are given a “road ... more »

Louise Mongeon

Integrated Arts Academy at H.O. Wheeler School, Burlington, VT
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

To help provide students and staff at The Integrated Arts Academy with the most current, professional school nursing knowledge and skills in the specialty practice of school nursing, Mrs. Mongeon will attend the National Association of School Nurses' Annual ... more »

Mark Williams

Potomac Senior High, Dumfries, VA
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

To better communicate with an increasing Spanish speaking population at Potomac Senior High, Mr. Williams will travel to Guatemala to participate in The Casa Xelaju’s three week Spanish Immersion Program.  The program will require five hours of daily classroom ... more »

Bruce Borgelt

Clackamas Web Academy, Clackamas, OR
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2011, Spring

Mr. Borgelt and his colleagues will form a study group to explore how to better prepare students for the academic rigors of Algebra I. The study group will evaluate the effectiveness of the current math curriculum and identify, implement, and evaluate assessments, ... more »

Brian Wetzel

Licking Heights Central Middle School, Pataskala, OH
Grades 6-8, Computers / Technology
2011, Spring

Mr. Wetzel will attend a SMART Certified Training to gain an understanding of the full capabilities of the interactive whiteboards at Licking Heights Central Middle School.  Post training, Mr. Wetzel will train colleagues on effective whiteboard use and will ... more »

Wendy Wright

R.C. Buckley Elementary School, Lansing, NY
Grades K-5, Science
2011, Spring

Ms. Wright will participate in an Earthwatch Institute expedition, studying Trinidad's leatherback sea turtles.  As a member of the scientific research team she will participate in satellite tracking and collect data about migration patterns and habitat to predict ... more »

Christopher Yonitch

Washington School, West Orange, NJ
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

Mr. Yonitch will attend a cultural and language program in Peru, where he will live with a host family and attend Spanish language classes.  Upon completion, Mr. Yonitch will return to Washington School and share his knowledge with colleagues and students, sixty-five ... more »

Tami Kissell

Anaconda High School, Anaconda, MT
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2011, Spring

To reduce student risk factors and promote student achievement, Mrs. Kissell will implement the “Teachers Teaching Teachers” project at Anaconda High School.  Mrs. Kissell will lead a collegial study within the math department with the goals of improving ... more »

Dawn Holtz

West Elementary School, Hutchinson, MN
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

Mrs. Holtz will participate in four brain based education courses at the University of St. Thomas.  Upon completing the courses, Mrs. Holtz will assist in advancing brain based research and teaching strategies in her school and district.  Additionally, Mrs. Holtz ... more »

Rebecca Mecikalski

Rebecca Mecikalski, Rochester, MN
Grades K-5, English
2011, Spring

Mrs. Mecikalski will attend the International Reading Convention in Orland, Florida.  At the workshop, Mrs. Mecikalski will study ways to improve the reading scores of students at Pinewood Elementary, particularly Hispanic and African American populations.  Upon ... more »

Jacob Givand

New Hope Learning Center, New Hope, MN
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

Mr. Givand will investigate the use of technology in several school districts in Minnesota in an attempt to understand its relationship to student achievement.  In addition to examining the best practices of effective technology integration, Mr. Givand will examine ... more »

Christie Nutkins

Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Rapids, MI
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

Four members of the Grand Rapids Public Schools staff will attain certification as behavior analysts, requiring intense training in effective instruction for students with autism.  In obtaining this certification, the colleagues will provide ongoing training and ... more »

Kerrin Stewart

Luther Conant School, Acton, MA
Grades K-5, Arts
2011, Spring

Ms. Stewart will travel to Ghana for three weeks to study the musical traditions of the Ewe people.  As a result of her research, Ms. Stewart will revise her music curriculum to include an in depth unit for the upper elementary grades exploring West African music, ... more »

Joanne Freimuth

Linganore High School, Frederick, MD
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2011, Spring

Teachers in the World Languages professional learning community will learn how to create highly interactive lessons using Livescribe Smartpens.  The pens will then be introduced to classrooms, where students will be able to use them to record lectures and word ... more »

Kazimiera Dewese

Gower Middle School, Burr Ridge, IL
Grades K-5, English
2011, Spring

Mrs. Dewese will attend the Science Education for Public Understanding (SEPUP) Academy in Silverthorne, Colorado.  While there, she will study literacy strategies that support reading comprehension as well as written, oral, and media literacy; technology tools; ... more »

Julie Vanhoose

Norcrest Elementary, Pompano Beach, FL
Grades K-5, General Pedagogical Practice
2011, Spring

Norcrest Elementary School educators will implement the International Baccalaureate/Primary Years Programme (IBPYP) in all grade levels and with all students.  The IBPYP aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people.  Educators at Norcrest ... more »

Elizabeth Montano

Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, Los Angeles, CA
Grades K-5, English
2011, Spring

Ms. Montano will attend the Columbia Teachers’ College Summer Workshop to improve her classroom practice so that she can provide her predominantly Latino student population with culturally relevant stories.  Upon returning from the workshop, Ms. Montano’s ... more »

Kathryn Grimble

Sunnymead Middle School, Moreno Valley, CA
Grades K-5, English
2011, Spring

Mrs. Grimble and Ms. Hines will study several books and professional articles on differentiated instruction for middle schools and will apply what they learn to lessons for the upcoming school year.  They will share this information with the language arts department ... more »

Amanda Hoggle

Vance Elementary, Vance, AL
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2011, Spring

Teachers at Vance Elementary will receive training in fundamental conceptual mathematics instruction.  A team of five educators will work together to strengthen the current math program by increasing students’ abilities to reason and solve problems ... more »

Leah Wendt

Prospect Elementary School, Lake Mills, WI
Grades K-5, English
2011, Spring

Ms. Wendt and Mrs. Collins will foster creative, constructive writing through the use of twenty first century technology tools.  “From Pen and Paper to Mouse and Keyboard” will use innovative web 2.0 technologies, including blogs, wikis, webinars, podcasts, ... more »

Heidi McNitt

School District of Osceola, Osceola, WI
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2011, Spring

Educators within the School District of Osceola will be provided with interactive whiteboards for classroom instruction.  This technology will promote high quality, equitable instruction while improving student achievement in language arts and mathematics.  ... more »

Keyunda Wilson

Van Asselt Elementary, Seattle, WA
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2011, Spring

Students at Van Asselt Elementary will increase math proficiency through hands on exercises.  Scales will be used in math classes at all grade levels for measurement practice, with an emphasis on algebra understanding at the intermediate grade levels.  Students ... more »

Kyle Niekamp

Yale Elementary, Ariel, WA
Grades K-5, Science
2011, Spring

Students at Yale Elementary and community volunteers create and maintain an outdoor organic learning center.  The center will allow students to view and interact with numerous living systems.  The hub of the learning center will be a greenhouse, which will promote ... more »

Richard Rigby

Birch Creek Elementary, Smithfield, UT
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2011, Spring

Mr. Rigby and Mrs. Cox will improve students’ mastery of technology by introducing Smart Boards and clickers in the classroom.  Students will work in groups to compile materials for use in multimedia classroom presentations.  Additionally, the less ... more »

Andrea Tejada

Columbia Heights Elementary, San Antonio, TX
Grades K-5, Science
2011, Spring

Mrs. Tejada and Mrs. Root will lead students in the expansion of a school garden.  By planning and cultivating the garden, student will observe the life cycle of plants and will understand the origins of the vegetables they eat.  Additionally, rain barrels will be ... more »

Watch the event!

On February 12, 2016, educators from across the country will trade their classrooms for a night on stage among more than 850 national education leaders and supporters in Washington, D.C.


Watch the live stream, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (ET), right here, to see 42 public school educators receive the 2016 California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence, recognizing their innovation in teaching and advocacy for the profession. 


7:30 PM


  • Opening remarks and performances by Furia Flamenca and classical guitarist Torcuato Zamora


8:20 PM


  • Student performance by English Language Learners who participated in a NEA Foundation-funded, high school theater program in Annandale, Virginia


  • 2016 Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence presented


8:55 PM


  • Performance by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City


  • 2016 Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence (continued)


  •  2016 California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence


9:45 PM


  • Hispanic Scholarship Fund accepts the First National Bank of Omaha Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education


  • One educator wins the evening’s top honor: the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and $25,000!



These five educators — Dirk Andrews (WY), Debra McDonald (OH), Mohsen Ghaffari (UT), Heather LaBarbara (KY), and Pam

Wells (SD) — are all finalists for the evening’s top award.


Five of those educators will also receive the Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence and $10,000.


And stay tuned for the evening’s highly-anticipated finale, when one of the five educators above will be announced the winner of the top award and $25,000!



The NEA Foundation will also present the First National Bank of Omaha Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund for its efforts to address a growing population of Hispanic American students.



Esai Morales, the award-winning actor who has appeared in the biopic “La Bamba,” the HBO series “The Brink,” and can currently be seen on CBS’ “Criminal Minds”,” will host the night’s celebration.


He’ll also help us cheer on student performers, including English Language Learners from a NEA Foundation-funded, high school theater program, and others.


Don’t miss any of these special moments! Tune in, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (ET).


Prepare to be entertained by host, Esai Morales, an

accomplished actor and co-founder of the National

Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.


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.