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.


Marion VanArsdell

Jackson Street School, Northampton, MA
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2004, Spring

To improve learning for their autistic students, Ms. VanArsdell and her partners learn best practices for teaching autistic students. The team—including teachers, paraprofessionals, occupational and physical therapists, and speech pathologists—researches ... more »

Julia Anne Young

George Peabody Elementary School, Dallas, TX
Grades K-5, Science
2005, Spring

Ms. Young and her partners implement a school garden project to provide cross-curricular learning opportunities for their at-risk students. Students design and cultivate fruit, flower, and native plant gardens in the school’s courtyard. To care for these ... more »

Jennifer Pali

Purple Sage Elementary School, Houston, TX
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2005, Spring

Through “Tell Me a Story: Innovative Uses of Digital Cameras and Multimedia for Writing,” Ms. Pali and her partner implement an integrated writing and technology project. After reading biographies of famous people, students write their own personal ... more »

Kyle Bacon

Thomas Johnson Middle School, Lanham, MD
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Mr. Bacon, a second-year teacher, attends the Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures for Success Institute to enhance his instructional skills. Working with his colleagues, he creates a plan to implement the instructional strategies that he learns at the institute to address ... more »

Kathleen McHugh Dyer

Rio Grande City High School, Rio Grande City, TX
Grades 9-12, English
2005, Spring

Recognizing that their at-risk students respond best to culturally relevant literature, Ms. Dyer and Mr. Crawford implement “Voices of the Valley” to improve students’ writing and technology skills. The bilingual students interview community members ... more »

Steven Selva

University of Maine At Fort Kent, Fort Kent, ME
Higher Education, Science
2004, Spring

Advancing his knowledge on stubble lichens, a group of old-growth forest species, Dr. Selva travels to Washington, DC, and New York City to study lichen collections at a botanical garden and herbarium. Dr. Selva hopes that studying the actual specimens will enhance the ... more »

Patricia Marie Royle

Camden Junior High School, Camden, TN
Grades 6-8, Science
2005, Spring

To encourage scientific inquiry and increase hands-on learning, Mrs. Royle and Mrs. Cantrell develop a project that explores the sun. Using sun projection screens to view features of the sun’s surface, students keep a data log of their observations and produce ... more »

Frederick Nelson

Manhattan High School, Manhattan, KS
Grades 9-12, Science
2004, Spring

Mr. Nelson and Mr. George form a study group to learn about authentic inquiry-based physics materials. Study group members collaborate to develop student learning materials for the testing of a portable cosmic ray detector and to assess content learning.

Sharisse Dye

Walter J. Baird School, Lebanon, TN
Grades 6-8, Science
2005, Spring

Through “CSI @ WJB,” Mrs. Dye and Ms. Carr cultivate cross-curricular learning and career interests in students with both academic and social needs. With mentoring from local police, newspaper reporters, and attorneys, students research the ... more »

Rebecca Connolly

Cowpens Elementary School, Cowpens, SC
Grades K-5, Science
2005, Spring

Mrs. Connolly and her partners implement “Setting the Stage for Science Standards” to enhance students’ comprehension of nonfiction texts and to build scientific understanding in a hands-on setting. After exploring a variety of science concepts ... more »

Katheryn Crayton

Wai Ola “Waters of Life” Public Charter School, Pahoa, HI
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Ms. Crayton and her partners lead a study group that includes school faculty, staff, students, and board members to explore Hawaiian history, language, culture, and healing practices. After attending each monthly workshop on Hawaiian history and culture, study groups meet ... more »

Kathleen Trimmer

Springbrook Elementary School, Westerly, RI
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2005, Spring

To help their special needs students develop a sense of community and view themselves as valued community members, Ms. Trimmer and her partners implement several outreach and garden projects. Working with local high school volunteers, students build bird feeders and ... more »

Rebecca Pittard

Pine Trail Elementary School, Ormond Beach, FL
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2004, Spring

Ms. Pittard and her partners, all teachers in different grade levels throughout the district, form a lesson study group to improve mathematics pedagogy. After collaborating to develop lessons, participants conduct classroom observations and reflect on strategies to improve ... more »

Joseph Gilmartin

Davisville Middle School, North Kingstown, RI
Grades 6-8, Science
2005, Spring

Mr. Gilmartin and Ms. Barden develop a watershed project to help students create a positive environmental change. Students study the history of the local river region, learn to identify species of fish and macroinvertebrates, and conduct field studies to test the ... more »

Tina Shank

Manor Middle School, Lancaster, PA
Grades 6-8, Computers / Technology
2005, Spring

Mrs. Shank and Ms. Long implement “FCS Online: A Digital Bridge for Remote Collaboration” to prepare students for work and develop communication, technology, and problem-solving skills. Students at two regional middle schools use an online discussion forum ... more »

Miles Roe

Mill Creek Elementary School, Warrington, PA
Grades K-5, English
2005, Spring

Mr. Roe and Mr. Zakroff enhance the writing and technology skills of their students by incorporating a student newspaper into their curriculum. Students use computers to develop a comic strip and to write and edit articles, movie reviews, and editorials for a ... more »

Kathleen Lazarus

Daytona Beach Community College, Daytona Beach, FL
Higher Education, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Dr. Lazarus leads a study group to implement a mentoring program for adjunct faculty. Full-time faculty mentor adjunct instructors by observing classroom instruction and exploring personal theories on pedagogy.

Carla-Lee Plomchok

Downingtown Senior High School, Downingtown, PA
Grades 9-12, Science
2005, Spring

Through “Downingtown CSI & Robotics Applications,” Ms. Plomchok, Mr. Shultz, and Mr. Walker improve students’ scientific inquiry and knowledge with practical applications of forensic science and robotics. Using real-world procedures, students learn ... more »

Joy Carter

Bethune Elementary School of the Arts, Hollywood, FL
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2004, Spring

Ms. Carter leads a lesson study group of all fourth-grade teachers to develop and implement mathematics units that increase student achievement. The group analyzes data to identify concepts that students have not mastered, and researches best practices to create lessons ... more »

Rosemary Luksha

Northwest Area School District, Shickshinny, PA
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2005, Spring

In consultation with an artist-in-residence from Ballet Northeast, a local dance performance company, Ms. Luksha and Mr. Quinn present a dance workshop to introduce students to jazz dance and ballet. Students experience the elements and style of dance and perform ... more »

Elizabeth Eckert

Tomlinson Middle School, Fairfield, CT
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Ms. Eckert attends two language immersion institutes to improve her Spanish language skills. At the institutes she engages in research on cultural topics, becomes familiar with contemporary issues in Spanish-speaking cultures, and reflects on pedagogical practices. She ... more »

Matthew A. Klass

Hillside Elementary School, Berwyn, PA
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2005, Spring

Mr. Klass, Ms. Braun, and Ms. Lucy develop students’ technology, literacy, and mathematical skills through the implementation of the “Interactive Storybook” project. Pairs of fourth-grade students form publishing companies to create interactive ... more »

Denise Farinsky

Grant High School, Sacramento, CA
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Ms. Farinsky learns Betty Edwards’s art education methodology, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” to reach students who are not highly skilled in art. This methodology includes nontraditional methods for teaching perspective, composition, ... more »

Kathy Hunter

Latrobe Elementary School, Latrobe, PA
Grades K-5, English
2005, Spring

To increase students’ letter knowledge and phonological awareness as well as parents’ involvement in their children’s education, Mrs. Hunter, Ms. Ferlin, and Ms. Welty create literacy backpacks. Students bring home weekly backpacks with activities ... more »

Anthony A. Dalasio

Lackawanna Trail Junior/Senior High School, Factoryville, PA
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2005, Spring

Mr. Dalasio, Mr. Beckish, and Mr. Pierce implement “Enhancing Your Economic Success” to increase students’ economic and political awareness and to develop academic skills in both social studies and mathematics. Using a wide variety of technology and ... more »

Seewan Eng

San Francisco Community School, San Francisco, CA
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Ms. Eng and her partners research performance assessments and identify standards and assessments to help promote students to the next grade level based on achievement. Team members study Deborah Meier’s ideas and experiences with performance assessments and develop an ... more »

Gregory Daniel Brumagin

Titusville Middle School, Titusville, PA
Grades 6-8, Computers / Technology
2005, Spring

Mr. Brumagin and Mr. Huck incorporate a student newsroom into classroom instruction to enhance students’ technology and problem-solving skills. After researching the responsibilities of various newsroom jobs, eighth-grade students apply their new technology ... more »

Allene Arvin

Fairview Elementary School, Farfield, CA
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Seeking to meet the needs of her autistic students, Ms. Arvin attends an autism training program at the University of North Carolina. She learns how to assess autism as well as methods and skills for working with autistic students. After the training, she develops several ... more »

Janice Mudgett

Josiah Bartlett Elementary School, Bartlett, NH
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2005, Spring

Mrs. Mudgett and her partners implement a multidisciplinary project to enhance students’ knowledge of technology, theater requirements, media use, art frameworks, and social studies content. Students script, design, and record original clay animation films to ... more »

Jacqueline Portnoy-Bland

Fort Lowell Elementary School, Tucson, AZ
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2004, Spring

During the summer of 2004, Ms. Portnoy-Bland learns the Orff Schulwerk method of music instruction, which focuses on kinesthetic activities to foster musical skills, to improve the achievement of her special education students and English language learners. She implements ... more »

Regina K. Herrick

Dexter Regional High School, Dexter, ME
Grades 9-12, Science
2005, Spring

Collaborating with the University of Southern Maine (USM), Mrs. Herrick and Ms. Saunders create “wet lab” research units to increase students’ scientific understanding and literacy skills. After researching the topics, students work with USM graduate ... more »

Kari Crosman

Pownal Elementary School, Pownal, ME
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2005, Spring

Ms. Crosman and Ms. Mosher enhance the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills of their fifth- to eighth-grade students by incorporating robotics into their curriculum. After designing and building a robotic car, students use technology to program the cars for ... more »

Lori Ann Kurtz

Broad Ripple High School, Indianapolis, IN
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2005, Spring

Ms. Kurtz and Ms. Young use drumming to motivate students with behavioral problems and to teach alternatives to violence. Students in alternative education classrooms and the counseling program research the history and folklore of drums, learn to play the ... more »

Donica Williams

Oakridge Elementary School, Hollywood, FL
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2005, Spring

Ms. Williams and Ms. Brownell implement "We Are College Bound” to introduce the vocabulary, habits, and desire necessary to attain higher education while providing a rigorous academic curriculum for their first-grade classes. Students research career options ... more »

Julia Kasper

South Plantation High School, Plantation, FL
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2005, Spring

Through “Design on Time,” Mrs. Kasper and Ms. Farina increase students’ employability skills as well as their knowledge of marketing, advertising, and computer design. Using the latest graphic design technology, students create newspaper advertising ... more »

Tim Granger

Quil Ceda Elementary School, Marysville, WA
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2004, Spring

Mr. Granger and Mr. Palmer develop “Math Takes Flight,” a mathematics unit focused on flight instruction. Students take lessons in an aircraft simulator, with each session relating to a mathematical concept. After mastering these lessons, students demonstrate ... more »

Cindy Jesup

Spruce Creek High School, Port Orange, FL
Grades 9-12, Literature
2005, Spring

Ms. Jesup, Ms. Gokey, and Ms. MacDonald develop “Literacy Links” to enhance the art, technology, and literacy skills of high school students. With the assistance of a children’s author, students learn about writing and illustrating children’s ... more »

Elizabeth Pegram

Falls Church High School, Falls Church, VA
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Spring

During the summer, Ms. Pegram and Ms. Yates engage their underserved middle school students in a summer enrichment program on civil rights. Students learn about efforts to desegregate public schools, and interview local African Americans about their educational experiences ... more »

Lesley Stancarone

McKinley Elementary School, Guilford, CT
Grades K-5, Science
2005, Spring

Collaborating with the Connecticut Audubon Society, Ms. Stancarone, Mr. Bannon, and Ms. Bonenfant instruct their third- and fourth-grade students about the habitats, behavior, and ecosystem effects of birds in Connecticut. Students research bird characteristics and ... more »

Danielle Conley

Troy School, North Troy, VT
Grades K-5, Literature
2004, Spring

Ms. Conley and Ms. Boutin strengthen the literacy skills of their students by providing family journey packs, containing materials on several themes. To involve parents in the students’ learning, the teachers videotape model activities and provide directions on how to ... more »

Michelle Evans

Valley Elementary School, Huntsville, UT
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2004, Spring

Ms. Evans, Ms. Hogge, and Ms. Weight increase the critical-thinking and inquiry skills of their students by transforming computer labs into spaceships. Students use these spaceships to travel back in time and research famous mathematicians. Students also interact with ... more »

Shannon Saunders

Ringgold Middle School, Rio Grande City, TX
Grades 6-8, English
2004, Spring

Ms. Saunders and Ms. Hallums, both beginning teachers, strengthen the literacy skills of their students by implementing a reading and writing workshop in their classes. Students read, analyze, create, and publish their original writing. Teachers and students host literacy ... more »

Joyce Roberta Miller-Alper

Spring Branch School of Choice, Houston, TX
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Spring

To give their disadvantaged students practical experience with the political process, Ms. Miller-Alper, Ms. Frimel, and Mr. Koupa design a political science curriculum that focuses on voter registration. Students meet political candidates while organizing and conducting ... more »

Judy Leinius

Jeremiah Rhodes Middle School, San Antonio, TX
Grades 6-8, Computers / Technology
2004, Spring

At-risk students at Jeremiah Rhodes Middle School learn how to build computers to increase their technology and critical-thinking skills. After researching components, students assemble computers for the school library. To increase parental involvement, middle school ... more »

Karen Irwin

Southwood Middle School, Anderson, SC
Grades 6-8, Literature
2004, Spring

Ms. Irwin and Ms. Schall increase their students’ literacy skills and content knowledge by creating mini-library carts, filled with fictional and non-fictional books. Students select readings for discussion in literature circles, written reports, and learning ... more »

David Sousa

Central Falls High School, Central Falls, RI
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Mr. Sousa, Ms. Brousseau, and Mr. Hey develop a WeatherNet Classroom program to give students career-relevant experiences. Students collect and analyze weather data to generate daily weather forecasts, understand how weather affects culture and historical events, and learn ... more »

Dean Rosencranz

Cheltenham High School, Wyncote, PA
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2004, Spring

Through “Rising Stars,” Mr. Rosencranz and his partners seek to reduce the achievement gap in the Cheltenham School District by helping minority students to succeed in higher-level courses. Students learn technology and teachers use research-based strategies to ... more »

Jason Jaffe

Mill Creek Elementary, Warrington, PA
Grades K-5, Science
2004, Spring

Mr. Jaffe and Ms. Block use handheld computers to increase their students’ knowledge across curricula. Using software, students personify characters from their readings, visualize the solar system, study plate tectonics, and collect and manipulate geographic data.

Daniel McNairy

RiverBend Alternative Middle School, Bend, OR
Grades K-5, Physical Education
2004, Spring

Mr. McNairy and his partners implement “Alternative Avenues,” a program that uses experiential-based activities to help at-risk students understand their civic responsibility. Students participate in several wilderness adventures including backpacking, ... more »

Joe Heilman

Adams Elementary School, Hamilton, OH
Grades K-5, Social Studies
2004, Spring

Integrating language arts with citizenship learning, Mr. Heilman and Ms. Meyer form an international ePal program. Students use a Web camera to see each other as they engage in discussions with peers throughout the world about customs, traditions, and beliefs. At the ... 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.