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.


Kent Houston

William Henry Harrison High School, Evansville, IN
Grades 9-12, Language Arts
2013, Fall

Mr. Houston and Mr. Elpers will team teach a global leadership curriculum designed to assist Harrison High School’s students to improve academically and develop into mature global leaders. The innovative, standards-based curriculum will include cultural diversity, ... more »

Sara Hay

Belvidere Central Middle School, Belvidere, IL
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2013, Fall

To integrate language arts and literacy skills into social studies classes, Ms. Hay and Mrs. Zarembski will incorporate the use of Kindles into their classroom lessons. Students will participate in novel studies from a variety of genres, and use the tablets to access online ... more »

Thomas Riherd

Lake Butler Middle School, Lake Butler, FL
Grades 6-8, Social Studies
2013, Fall

Mr. Riherd will introduce tablet technology into his social studies classroom, enabling students to explore primary and secondary online sources to enhance their learning experience. Students will share their discoveries with their peers and engage in collaborative ... more »

Dr. Kimberly Clements

Colonial Elementary School, Fort Myers, FL
Grades K-5, School Counselor
2013, Fall

Dr. Clements and Mr. Marino will introduce “STEM-ulating Students through Robotics,” a unit that will allow students to develop their knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and math. Students will design, build, and program small scale robots ... more »

Kevin Brodie

Lyman Memorial High School, Lebanon, CT
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2013, Fall

Through “What Makes You Tick?,” Mr. Brodie and Ms. Escott will lead a project in which students will connect self-perception with the ways they view other people. Students will answer identity questions, formulate personal essays, and take self-portraits to be ... more »

Lindsay Parrish

Fox Ridge Middle School, Aurora, CO
Grades 6-8, Science
2013, Fall

To create tangible, authentic experiences that promote student understanding of the human body, Ms. Parrish and Ms. Voreis will introduce the “Living Life Science” project. Students will develop critical thinking skills that will target the “why” ... more »

Norma Williamson

La Mirada High School, La Mirada, CA
Grades 9-12, Foreign Language Teacher
2013, Fall

“Community Connections for Watershed Protection” will allow students to use a project based learning approach to research how the La Mirada community can help reduce ocean pollution and conserve drinking water. Students will interview scientists, members of ... more »

Lisa Aburto

Yucca Loma Elementary School, Apple Valley, CA
Grades K-5, Science
2013, Fall

Through “Robo-Mentors,” students at Granite Hills High School will team with Yucca Loma Elementary students to assist them with assembling basic robots. The high school students will collaborate weekly with their elementary counterparts to guide and support them ... more »

Brandi Ashby

West Morgan High School, Trinity, AL
Grades 9-12, Language Arts
2013, Fall

To reach students at their level and provide hands-on activities that will bring history to life, Mrs. Ashby and Ms. Dickerson will introduce “Live in Your Classroom, Play in Ours.” The project will promote friendly competition through trivia and gaming and will ... more »

Joe Mink

Edgerton High School, Edgerton, WI
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

Barbara Mills

Shorewood High School, Shoreline, WA
Grades 9-12, Special Education
2013, Spring

Ms. Mills will participate in the Combined Summer Institute, which will address support for students with deaf-blindness, multiple disabilities, and autism. While attending, Ms. Mills will gain vital knowledge that will enable her to more effectively support students with ... more »

Mary Silvia

Viewlands Elementary School, Seattle, WA
Grades K-5, Special Education
2013, Spring

Mrs. Silvia and a team of colleagues will learn to work with behaviorally challenged special needs students. The team will learn to execute Applied Behavioral Analysis in the classroom, support students with autism and oppositional defiance, and manage disruptive behavior ... more »

Cassie Cox

Two Rivers High School, Ogden, UT
Grades 9-12, English
2013, Spring

Mrs. Cox will improve her English teaching practice by attending the National Council of Teachers of English’s Annual Convention. During the convention, Mrs. Cox will attend workshops, listen to keynote speakers, and work with leaders in the field. Following the ... more »

Dr. Michelle Salazar Perez

New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
Higher Education, General Pedagogical Practice
2013, Spring

Dr. Perez will travel to Cuernavaca, Mexico, to participate in a language and culture immersion program for educators. While living with a host family, she will participate in language study and visit elementary schools and historical sites to learn about Mexican culture ... more »

Emily Brill

Keystone Oaks School District, Pittsburgh, PA
Grades 6-8, Foreign Language Teacher
2013, Spring

To develop the necessary skills and acquire the technology needed to record her lectures, Mrs. Brill will attend workshops and conferences through the Flipped Learning Network. Upon completing the training, Mrs. Brill will pilot a “flipped learning curriculum” ... more »

Joyce Kaplan

Portland Community College, Portland, OR
Grades K-5, Science
2013, Spring

Ms. Kaplan will participate in the “Earth Expeditions Primate Conservation” course in Borneo and work with other educators to conduct field studies in an environment of extraordinary cultural and ecological diversity. Ms. Kaplan will learn to apply field methods ... more »

Lori Adams

Bixby Public Schools, Bixby, OK
Grades 9-12, General Pedagogical Practice
2013, Spring

To immerse herself in in-depth learning experiences with colleagues from throughout the nation, Ms. Adams will attend the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association Schools Conference. While attending, Ms. Adams will participate in sessions that will offer updates on ... more »

Zakiya Atkinson

Memorial High School, West New York, NJ
Grades 9-12, Arts
2013, Spring

Ms. Atkinson will travel to South Africa to conduct a case study for the development of a cross curricular unit on human rights, the Holocaust, and genocide studies. While abroad, Ms. Atkinson will conduct a performance workshop with a group of adolescents affected by the ... more »

Filomena Vine

Edward W. Clark High School, Las Vegas, NV
Grades 9-12, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
2013, Spring

Mrs. Vine will attend the National Science Teachers Association’s STEM Forum and will present on cross-curricular connections and solutions to promote weather and climate readiness.  Forum workshops will provide a venue for Mrs. Vine and colleagues to collaborate ... more »

Dr. Julie Riales

Grenada School District, Grenada, MS
Grades K-5, Math and Science
2013, Spring

To prepare for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, 4th through 8th grade teachers in the Grenada School District will meet monthly to study and engage in the new standards. Through a partnership with the Center for Mathematics and Science ... more »

Cory Shah

Hilton Elementary School, Brighton, MI
Grades K-5, Arts
2013, Spring

Mrs. Shah will attend the “Reading and Writing Project” at Columbia University’s Teachers College.  While there, she will work in advance sessions to improve her proficiency in the Common Core Reading Standards.Upon returning to Hilton Elementary ... more »

Jay Mooney

North Brookfield Public Schools, North Brookfield, MA
Grades K-5, Mathematics
2013, Spring

To aid in the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Mr. Mooney and Mrs. Laflamme will implement “Creating a Mathematical Community.” The project will provide coaching, support, modeling, and guidance to all elementary school staff throughout ... more »

Debra Lawson

Prairie Creek Elementary School, Spring Hill, KS
Grades K-5, School Counselor
2013, Spring

Mrs. Lawson and Mrs. Moore will organize “iPad Applications for Classroom Instruction,” a district-wide professional learning community. Through group activities, Mrs. Lawson and Mrs. Moore will facilitate effective teaching through the examination of ... more »

Michaela Campbell

Riverton High School, Riverton, IL
Grades 9-12, School Counselor
2013, Spring

To better enhance students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills, Riverton High School will strengthen its “Project Lead the Way (PLTW)” curriculum. Required training will be provided to educators for certification, which will allow them to teach a ... more »

Karen Sandler

Harry S. Truman College, Chicago, IL
Higher Education, General Pedagogical Practice
2013, Spring

A team of high school and college teachers will coordinate “GEARed UP for Truman,” a summer college readiness program for Chicago public high school graduates who have applied to Truman College and tested below college levels on the COMPASS placement exam. The ... more »

David Cook

Cary-Grove High School, Cary, IL
Grades 9-12, Teacher
2013, Spring

Mr. Cook will embark upon an action research project studying the business and economics of Northern Kenya’s desert region. Mr. Cook will examine and record the actions being taken by Non-Governmental Organizations to develop a sustainable marketplace for an ... more »

Jeff Hudson

Alton High School, Alton, IL
Grades 9-12, English
2013, Spring

Mr. Hudson and Mrs. Brave will create a literacy library at Alton High School.  Working with teachers throughout the district, the team will assist in delivering literacy-based instruction across all content areas.  Educators will be provided with strategies to ... more »

Carley Grant

Westhill High School, Stamford, CT
Grades 9-12, Science
2013, Spring

To study the social and environmental effects of rising sea levels, Mrs. Grant will travel to Venice, Italy and Kiel, Germany to participate in the “Cities by the Sea” program. While studying urban coastal zone processes and city management, Mrs. Grant will ... more »

Michael Persinger

James Monroe Elementary School, Santa Rosa, CA
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

To address the implementation of the Common Core Standards at James Monroe Elementary School, Mr. Persinger will travel to Manchester, New Hampshire to participate in the “Constructing Modern Knowledge” program. During the program, Mr. Persinger will refine ... more »

Kristin Keane

Hillcrest Elementary School, San Francisco, CA
Grades K-5, Reading, Spelling, Writing
2013, Spring

Ms. Keane will travel to the Columbia University Teacher’s College Advanced Reading Institute to attend a course led by and grounded in the work of Lucy Calkins. During the workshop, Ms. Keane will deepen her understanding and approach to fiction and nonfiction ... more »

Meaghan Dieda

Dwyer Middle School, Huntington Beach, CA
Grades 6-8, Physical Education / Health
2013, Spring

Mrs. Dieda will be trained in “Where Everyone Belongs (WEB),” a structured environment program that guides incoming 6th and 7th grade students toward both academic and social success. After completing the training, Mrs. Dieda will lead a yearlong orientation and ... more »

Crystal Dennis

North Pole Middle School, North Pole, AK
Grades 6-8, Special Education
2013, Spring

To improve student reading performance, Mrs. Dennis and Mrs. Hawkins will lead a collegial study group for the development of high quality instructional practice. The team will work to increase instructional strategies in phonemic awareness, decoding skills, and reading ... more »

Donna Cuyler

South Milwaukee High School, South Milwaukee, WI
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

Through the “Smart Cooperative,” students will work with individual art teachers to visualize “practicing peace.” Students will use iOS devices for the visual creation, alteration, storage, and display of personal art works. The project will ... more »

Brianne Gunn

Falling Creek Middle School, Richmond, VA
Grades 6-8, Science
2013, Spring

Mrs. Gunn and Mrs. Stankovich will conduct a service learning project that will allow students to serve their school, community, and state. Through learning about clean-up efforts in the James River watershed, students will have a direct impact on the health of the Falling ... more »

Courtney Reckord

Milton High School, Milton, VT
Grades 9-12, Arts
2013, Spring

Ms. Reckord and Mrs. Manley will introduce “Art: A Common Language,” a project that will use art to inspire communication between students in India and Milton, Vermont. Students in each site will use prompts to create art and then share their work through the ... more »

Maryjane Utley

Westerly High School, Westerly, RI
Grades 9-12, Science
2013, Spring

Through “Retooling Schooling: Student Directed Learning in the High School Science Classroom,” Ms. Utley and Mrs. Fastovsky will meet the needs of students in heterogeneously grouped science classrooms while providing opportunities to develop and practice 21st ... more »

Janelle Siket

Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29, Mar Lin, PA
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

Through “Learn, Play, Succeed: Empowering Early Learners through Technology,” Ms. Siket and Ms. Polley will improve literacy and the educational achievement levels of developmentally delayed preschool children. The project will allow Ms. Siket and Ms. Polley to ... more »

Faith Forshee

Crestview Heights School, Waldport, OR
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

To assist students in developing a lifelong sense of stewardship for the ocean and coastal communities, Mrs. Forshee and colleagues will lead a project stressing the connection between local and global coastal issues. The team will provide students 21st century learning ... more »

Emily Martine

Sitton Elementary School, Portland, OR
Grades K-5, Special Education
2013, Spring

Mrs. Martine and Mrs. Hefty will create a classroom resource library that will offer a diverse collection of assistive technological devices, switches, and accessible computer programs that will assist students with moderate to severe disabilities. Students will increase ... more »

Susan Anglada Bartley

Franklin High School, Portland, OR
Grades 9-12, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

Mrs. Bartley and Mr. Butenhoff will incorporate technology to expand Franklin High School’s Advanced Scholar Program (ASP).  Students participating in the program will mentor struggling younger students and tutor students who need additional help. Additionally, ... more »

Laura Eschler

Coquille School District, Coquille, OR
Grades 9-12, Special Education
2013, Spring

To meet college credit requirements and increase curriculum offerings for high school students, Mrs. Eschler and Mr. Cumberland will promote a district-wide plan of accelerated college credit proficiency. Coquille School District (CSD) will partner with Southwestern Oregon ... more »

Charles Steinbower

William K. Willis High School, Columbus, OH
Grades 9-12, Librarian
2013, Spring

Mr. Steinbower will lead a civil rights and social justice unit that will have students examining the impact of the civil rights movement on the southern United States and apartheid on past, present, and future South Africa. Student and educators will attend a panel ... more »

Erin Daniels

Mount Vernon City Schools, Mount Vernon, OH
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2013, Spring

Ms. Daniels’ students will use calculus, statistics, and physics concepts to determine the volume of a three dimensional object. Students will use integration techniques and linear regression modeling with statistical analysis to find a model that will determine the ... more »

Henry Encarnacion

The Frederick Douglass Academy, New York, NY
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2013, Spring

To assist students struggling to master Integrated Algebra Standards, Mr. Encarnacion and Mr. Rodriguez will introduce netbooks in their classrooms. Using multiple mathematics programs and applications, teachers will promote self-directed learning and encourage learners to ... more »

Nancy Kaplan

JHS 227 Edward B. Shallow School, Brooklyn, NY
Grades 9-12, English
2013, Spring

Through “Journey into Journalism,” Mrs. Kaplan and Mrs. Dinkins will assist students in creating a newspaper that will promote student expression and build writing and analytical reading skills through interdisciplinary collaboration. Students will cover all ... more »

Kathleen Doherty-Hewins

Macopin Middle School, West Milford, NJ
Grades 6-8, Mathematics
2013, Spring

The “Flipping over Mathematics” project will use a blended learning approach to engage students by incorporating the digital world in classroom lessons.  Students will use tablets to strengthen math skills, deepen their understanding through richer ... more »

Clay Herron

Central Heights Elementary School, Billings, MT
Grades K-5, Computers / Technology
2013, Spring

To bolster Central Heights Elementary School’s web based Lead21 reading and math interventions, Mr. Herron and Mr. Mainwaring will introduce tablet technology in their classrooms. Students will have greater access to hands-on programs directly correlated with lessons. ... more »

Kevin Martin

Hazelwood East High School, Saint Louis, MO
Grades 9-12, Mathematics
2013, Spring

To improve problem solving and group work in Algebra I classrooms, Mr. Martin and Ms. Knight will introduce tablet technology.  Student collaboration will increase through the sharing of student work, problem sets, and e-portfolios. Mr. Martin and Ms. Knight will ... 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.