Saturday, February 11, 2012

New Jersey Educator Receives Top Honor at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala

Ford Foundation and Will Allen also honored at Washington, DC, Event

WASHINGTON, DC (February 11, 2012) — On Friday, February 10, at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala, Danielle Kovach, a special education teacher at Tulsa Trail Elementary School in Hopatcong, NJ, received one of public education’s top honors: The NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and $25,000.

Known as the Academy Awards of public education, the gala is an annual celebration of the men and women who work in America’s public schools.  The NEA Foundation presented more than 30 awards to exceptional educators and dedicated supporters of public education over the course of the program. Kovach’s award was the evening’s finale.

“Danielle’s innovative lessons have made her a favorite among her students and a leader among teachers of special education,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “Her use of the latest technology to engage students – from showing videos on her Smart Pad to projecting books on a screen– is just one of the many reasons that she is being honored with this award.”

This year’s event included an original score composed by a public school educator and celebrated the connection between educators and their students. Talented students, ranging from a flutist and an alto saxophone player to a young dance prodigy, entertained more than 800 leaders from the education, philanthropic, and business sectors who were in attendance. The Foundation and its guests also celebrated their teachers, who received on-stage recognition.

Kovach was one of five finalists for the top award; all received special recognition at the gala, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence, and $10,000. The other four finalists were:

  • Lisa Esquibel, a kindergarten educator at Davis Elementary School in Cheyenne, WY;
  • Jonathan Gillentine, an early childhood educator at Reverend Benjamin Parker School in Kaneohe, HI;
  • Cara Haney, a kindergarten educator at Panther Lake Elementary in Kent, WA; and
  • Jeff Peneston, a ninth grade science educator at Liverpool High School in Liverpool, NY.

During the gala, videos honoring each of the finalists premiered. The videos were created by their students, with digital arts training from the Pearson Foundation.  

Kovach was nominated for the award by the New Jersey NEA. She was one of 35 public school educators nominated by their state education associations who were honored at the event.

In addition to the outstanding educators, the NEA Foundation presented the Ford Foundation with The NEA Foundation Award for Philanthropy in Public Education for its significant commitment to public education and ongoing support of public schools, students, and educators.

The NEA Foundation also presented Will Allen, a former professional basketball player-turned urban agriculturalist and founder of Growing Power, Inc., with The Security Benefit Corporation Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education for his commitment to advancing public education.  

Dominique Dawes, the three-time Olympic gymnast and motivational speaker, emceed the event.

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About The NEA Foundation
The NEA Foundation is a public charity supported by contributions from educators' dues, corporate sponsors, and others who support public education initiatives.We partner with education unions, districts, and communities to create powerful, sustainable improvements in teaching and learning. Visit for more information. Find us on Facebook and Twitter, and visit our blog.

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