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.


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 »

Caroline Hay

Tualatin High School, Tualatin, OH
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2015, Winter

To improve her instruction of Spanish language courses, Hay will attend the National Association for Bilingual Education’s annual conference. While there, Hay will learn strategies to design course materials that are beneficial and meaningful to Latino students. Upon ... more »

Danielle Penrod

Waverly Junior High School, Waverly, OH
Grades 6-8, STEM
2015, Winter

Penrod and her colleagues will design interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) units of study that will meet Common Core Math and English/Language Arts Standards, as well as Ohio New Learning Standards for Science and Social Studies. Unit ... more »

Diana Pierson

Sheffield Middle School, Sheffield Village, OH
Grades 6-8, Education Support Professional
2015, Winter

To receive quality training that will enable her to provide support to students with social and emotional issues, Pierson will attend the NEA ESP Conference.  While there, Pierson will network with and learn from Education Support Professionals from throughout the ... more »

Kristine Serrao

The East Village Community School, New York, NY
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2015, Winter

To address the implementation of Common Core Standards at the East Village Community School, Serrao and Abell will implement a math lesson study group. The cohort will meet on an ongoing basis to discuss curriculum, learn how students best retain mathematical concepts, and ... more »

Elliot Cohen

Holmdel High School, Holmdel, NJ
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2015, Winter

To redesign and update financial literacy curriculum to align with state standards, Cohen will attend the National Business Education Association’s “Educating for Success in Business and Life” institute. Upon completing the institute, Cohen will attend ... more »

Marcia Hudson

Avondale School District, Auburn Hills, MI
Grades 9-12, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Winter

Through “Teacher Lab,” educators within the Avondale School District will engage in continuous, grounded, meaningful, and effective professional development. During the lab, participants will fine tune the dialogue and energy included in professional learning ... more »

Michelle Venable

Oakdale Elementary School, Ijamsville, MD
Grades K-5, Arts
2015, Winter

To improve her visual arts instruction, Venable will attend the National Art Educators Association’s national convention. While there, Venable will learn how to better implement technology in the classroom and seek better ways to use assessment. Additionally, Venable ... more »

Michael Kelley

North High School, Evansville, IN
Grades 9-12, Physics
2015, Winter

To improve physics instruction in his freshman classrooms, Kelley will attend a three week modeling instruction training at Arizona State University.  While there, Kelley will study examples of curriculum that focus on connecting with entry level physics students. Upon ... more »

Jean Kilpatrick-Ruebner

Steele Elementary School, Galesburg, IL
Grades K-5, Teacher
2015, Winter

To keep both new and experienced educators focused on the importance of building relationships with students and colleagues, Kilpatrick-Ruebner and Bredemeier will introduce the “Dream Big Book Club.” Through the book club, educators will learn methods to set ... more »

Loretta Sherwood-Labrador

Kualapuu Public Conversion Charter School, Kualapuu, HI
Grades K-5, Language Arts
2015, Winter

To address structural changes within their school, Sherwood-Labrador and Castro-Lichtenstein will establish an on-site collaborative leadership training program for classroom best practices. The program will use an evidence-based distributed leadership process that will ... more »

Michael Wooten

James Campbell High School, Ewa Beach, HI
Grades 9-12, Social Studies
2015, Winter

Through “Learning First Hawaii,” Wooten and a group of educators from throughout Hawaii will conduct a detailed study of teacher professional development. The study will use quantitative, qualitative, and academic research to identify areas of need and examine ... more »

Dr. Kristen Wells

San Diego State University, San Diego, CA
Higher Education, Lecturer
2015, Winter

Dr. Wells will attend a series of professional development courses through local and online universities which will enable her to build advanced skills in mental health, supervision, and the delivery of mental health services. Upon completion of training, Dr. Wells will ... more »

Sarah Breyer

Mesa View Middle School, Huntington Beach, CA
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2015, Winter

Beyer will participate in a “Where Everybody Belongs (WEB)” training, in which she will learn methods to assist students transitioning into middle school. Beyer will use the knowledge gained to create a support system and welcoming team for all new students. The ... more »

Debbie Maki

Pleasant Valley School District, Camarillo, CA
Grades K-5, Resource Specialist
2015, Winter

To address the implementation of Common Core State Standards, Maki will spearhead the creation of a district-wide writing leadership team. Members of the team will learn about implementation models and will in turn mentor and support educators at their respective schools by ... more »

Megan Swanson

Calabasas High School, Calabasas, CA
Grades 9-12, Science
2015, Winter

To gain knowledge of inquiry-driven, community-based learning for the benefit of the environment, Swanson will complete a global field studies course through Miami University of Ohio's Earth Expeditions Program. Swanson will use her new knowledge to collaborate with ... more »

Dr. Leslie Chekin

Annandale High School, Annandale, VA
Grades 9-12, English
2015, Winter

Through the continuation of the “Theatre Without Borders” program, Dr. Chekin and her colleagues will strengthen the communication skills of English Language Learners through reading and performing Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” Additionally, ... more »

Marian Kelley

Lucie E. Campbell School, Memphis, TN
Grades K-5, Special Education
2015, Winter

To increase mastery of specific math skills, Kelley and Harris will create a study group that will target third and fourth grade students. During weekly discussions students will utilize the abacus, which they will use to solve rigorous problems regarding place value and ... more »

Cathy Whitehead

West Chester Elementary School, Henderson, TN
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2015, Winter

To improve literacy skills across all Common Core Standards, Whitehead and Cloud will introduce “Reading A to Z” in their classrooms. The program will enable students to use the interactive “RAZ Kids” student learning portal to drive reading ... more »

Krista Williams

Sam Case Primary School, Newport, OR
Grades K-5, Special Education
2015, Winter

Williams and Bernardi will collaborate to provide authentic learning opportunities for special education students in general education classrooms. The students will use 21st Century technology to engage in hands-on activities focused on ocean literacy. The activities will ... more »

Caitlin Arendt

Vermilion High School, Vermilion, OH
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2015, Winter

Through Arendt’s broadcast journalism class, students will use field cameras to create a series of news stories. The hands-on experience will enhance student learning and endow them with essential digital skills. Students will analyze, evaluate, and create digital ... more »

Belinda Adams

Higher Education, Music
2015, Winter

Through “World Wide Music,” students with disabilities will have access to technology that will allow them to create original compositions. Students will use tablet and projector technology to compose and perform songs. Additionally, the technology will be used ... more »

Join us next year!

Educators from across the country traded their classrooms for a night on stage, where they were honored by more than 850 national education leaders and supporters in Washington, D.C.


Did you attend? Now, you can purchase photos from the evening.



Celebrating 42 educators from across the country

It is our pleasure to distinguish these extraordinary educators with the 2016 California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence. These prestigious awards recognize, reward, and promote excellence in teaching and advocacy for the profession. All deserve our recognition and sincere thanks, but we had to choose one for our highest honor.


And the award goes to...

Photo: Esai Morales, award-winning actor and gala host; Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation; Debra McDonald; Gary Phoebus, President and CEO of NEA Member Benefits.














In the evening’s finale, Debra McDonald, an early childhood education instructor at Wayne County Schools Career Center in Smithville, Ohio, took home the top honor: the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and $25,000! 


Watch Debra McDonald’s acceptance speech below.



Five educators receive top awards

Photo: Dirk Andrews, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipient (WY); Pam Wells, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipient (SD); Debra McDonald, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipient (OH); Crystal Brown, The NEA Foundation Board Chair; Lily Eskelsen Garcia, NEA President; Heather LaBarbara, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipient (KY); Mohsen Ghaffari, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipient (UT)





Of the 42 educators honored that night, five also accepted the 2016 Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence and $10,000, as finalists for the evening’s top honor. Their students could not be more proud of them!


Watch all five videos, which premiered during the gala, that students created using iPads to honor their award-winning educators.


Harriet Sanford shares story of hearing from former student—40 years later

Watch Harriet Sanford, the NEA Foundation's President and CEO, share a heartfelt story about a blast from her past — a text message she received from a student she taught 40 years ago — below.



Hispanic Scholarship Fund honored

Photo: Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation; Esai Morales, award-winning actor and gala host; Crystal Brown, NEA Foundation Board Chair; Fidel A. Vargas, President and CEO of  the Hispanic Scholarship Fund; Stephen Eulie, Executive Vice President of Consumer Banking, First National Bank of Omaha










The NEA Foundation also presented the Hispanic Scholarship Fund with the First National Bank of Omaha Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education, paying tribute to their distribution of more than $470 million dollars in scholarships Latino college-bound students since 1975.


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.


Watch Fidel A. Vargas, President and CEO, accept the award of the behalf of Hispanic Scholarship Fund below.



With host, actor and activist Esai Morales

Photo: Esai Morales, award-winning actor and self-described "actorvist," reads tweets from the audience live on stage: "@MarkMautone: @Esai_Morales you rocked it! Thank you for supporting educators."














This year, Esai Morales, an accomplished actor who appeared in the biopic “La Bamba,” the HBO Series, “The Brink,” and the television series “NYPD Blue” and “Criminal Minds,” served as charismatic emcee and host. Morales cofounded the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, following in the activist footsteps of his mother, who was an organizer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.


That night, he led guests and those watching the live stream from home or at viewing parties in cheering on the night’s biggest stars.


Special guests take the stage

Photo: Students from the Young People's Chorus of New York City, which now has 1,400 students from New York, ages 7 to 18, participate annually.















With students at the center of public education, a group of English Language Learner students, who participated in a NEA Foundation-funded, high school theater program in Annandale, Virginia, also took center stage to perform Shakespeare. The Young People's Chorus of New York City wowed audiences with renditions from "The Sound of Music," and audiences also enjoyed the music and dance of Furia Flamenca and Torcuato Zamora, an accomplished flamenco guitarist from Spain.


Watch the Young People's Chorus of New York City perform the evening's finale below.



A special thank you to all who helped us celebrate the best in public education! Save the date for next year’s gala on February 10, 2017.