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NEA Foundation, Salute to Excellence Gala

NEA Foundation Celebrates 50th Anniversary and Public School Educators


Cicely Woodard (center) is presented the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence.

A record-breaking number of educators were recognized at the annual NEA Foundation ‘Salute to Excellence’ Gala on Friday, February 8, 2019.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the National Education Association, 46 educators from across the country, nominated by their state affiliates, were awarded for their excellence in public schools at the National Building Museum. The evening was hosted by Soledad O’Brien and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, with performances by the Resistance Revival Chorus and FunkyWunks.

“It has been the honor of my life to lead the Foundation for 14 years, helping give voice to the aspirations of the millions of educators committed to public education and the students they serve,” said Harriet Sanford, who celebrated her last gala as President and CEO of the NEA Foundation.

“A firm belief in the promise of public education is what drives the NEA Foundation’s work, and it is a commitment that I am proud to have helped shape. As we celebrate the Foundation’s 50th Anniversary this year, I’m excited to see the organization continue to keep the promise — for today’s students and tomorrow’s — under the leadership of Sara Sneed.”

Five educators received the 2019 Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, each receiving $10,000.  They arrived in Washington, DC from Oregon, North Dakota, Maine, Hawaii, and Tennessee. The recipients include Matthew Bacon-Brenes, a dual language immersion mentor teacher at Mt. Babor Middle School; Leah Juelke, a 9th to 12th grade language arts educator for English learner students at Fargo South High School; Dan Ryder, a 9th to 12th grade language arts educator at Mt. Blue High School; Cynthia Tong, an 8th grade social studies educator at Ewa Makai Middle School; and Cicely Woodard, an 8th grade mathematics educator at West End Middle School.

During the event, Cicely Woodard was presented the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence, accompanied by a $25,000 prize.

“The impact we make on the lives of students and that they make on us is powerful, life-changing, and enduring,” said Woodard prior to the gala.

Education First, an organization dedicated to combining language training with cultural exchanges, was also honored as a leader in international education. President and CEO of the NEA Foundation Harriet Sanford said about the organization, “EF understands the importance of global learning in the life of students and educators. They are committed to making a positive contribution to the global community through partnerships and experiences, and we are thrilled to honor their efforts.”

The first annual Harriet Sanford Award, in honor of the outgoing president, was awarded to Minnesota educator Luke Merchlewitz.

Other awards went to:

  • Benita Moyers, Kindergarten educator at Mt. Carmel Elementary School in Meridianville, Alabama. 
  • Ben Walker, 7th grade science educator at Romig Middle School in Anchorage, Alaska. 
  • Melanie Donaldson, 6th grade language arts and social studies educator at Centennial Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona. 
  • Brian Chance, 6th to 8th grade educator at Kaiserslautern Middle School. 
  • Jamie Stearns, 8th grade language arts educator at Benton Junior High School in Benton, Arkansas. 
  • Christina Randle, 1st grade language arts and social studies educator at Soaring Eagles Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 
  • Virginia Forcucci, 10th grade language arts educator at Sussex Technical High School in Georgetown, Delaware. 
  • Lissa O’Rourke, pre-Kindergarten educator at Wards Creek Elementary School in Saint Augustine, Florida. 
  • John Tibbetts, 11th to 12th grade social studies educator at Worth County High School in Sylvester, Georgia. 
  • Kelly Garey, 2nd grade arts, language arts and social studies educator at Van Buren Elementary School in Caldwell, Idaho. 
  • Louise Stompor, 4th grade language arts educator at Washington School in Schiller Park, Illinois. 
  • Debbie Argenta, Kindergarten to 4th grade Arts educator at Jonas E. Salk Elementary School in Merrilleville, Indiana. 
  • Kathy Kleen, 10th to 12th grade science educator at Spirit Lake High School in Spirit Lake, Iowa. 
  • Bradley Weaver, Kindergarten to 5th grade music educator at Atchison Elementary School in Atchison, Kansas. 
  • Susan McLaughlin-Jones, 9th to 12th grade science educator at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Kentucky. 
  • Jonathan Cole, 9th to 12th grade social studies educator at Lafayette High School in Lafayette, Louisiana. 
  • Staci Lamb, 9th grade language arts educator at Elkton Senior High in Elkton, Maryland. 
  • Cara Pekarick, 9th to 12th grade science educator at North Quincy High School in Quincy, Massachusetts. 
  • Laura Chang, 2nd grade educator at Sunset Lake Elementary School in Vicksburg, Michigan. 
  • Scott Noet, 7th to 8th grade social studies educator at Owatonna Middle School in Owatonna, Minnesota. 
  • Woodrow Price, 1st grade language arts and mathematics educator at Sherman Avenue Elementary School in Vicksburg, Mississippi. 
  • Beth Davey, Kindergarten to 5th grade arts educator at Iveland Elementary School in St. Louis, Missouri. 
  • Melissa Romano, 4h grade educator at Four Georgians Elementary School in Helena, Montana. 
  • Doreen Sweet-Ainslie, 7th grade social studies educator at Robin Mickle Middle School in Lincoln, Nebraska. 
  • Pilar Biller, 9th to 12th grade and Higher Education arts educator at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno, Nevada. 
  • Amy Anderson, 9th to 12th grade American Sign Language educator at Ocean City High School in Ocean City, New Jersey. 
  • Cheryl Carreon, pre-Kindergarten special education educator at East Picacho Elementary School in La Cruces, New Mexico. 
  • Christopher Albrecht, 4th grade educator at Fred W. Hill School in Brockport, New York. 
  • Lisa Godwin, Kindergarten educator at Dixon Elementary School in Holly Ridge, North Carolina. 
  • Jonathan Juravich, Kindergarten to 5th grade and Higher Education arts educator at Liberty Tree Elementary School in Powell, Ohio. 
  • Aaron Baker, 8th grade educator at Del Crest Middle School in Del City, Oklahoma. 
  • Matthew Hathaway, 4th grade social studies, mathematics and science educator at Owatine Creek Elementary School in Reading, Pennsylvania. 
  • Michael Alston, 6th to 12th grade social studies educator at Detention Center – SCDJJ in Columbia, South Carolina. 
  • Jessica Zwaschka, 11th to 12th grade science educator at Spearfish High School in Spearfish, South Dakota. 
  • Tara Bordeaux, 9th to 12th grade cinema and media arts educator at Lanier Early College High School in Austin, Texas. 
  • Jenny Atcitty, 4th to 5th grade educator at Montezuma Creek Elementary School in Montezuma Creek, Utah. 
  • Katherine McCann, 9th to 12th grade mathematics educator at U-32 High School in Montpelier, Vermont. 
  • Crystal DeLong, 9th to 12th grade social studies educator at Liberty High School in Bedford, Virginia. 
  • Bethany Rivard, 9th to 12th grade language arts and theater educator at Fort Vancouver High School in Vancouver, Washington. 
  • Mary Ellen Kanthack, 5th grade mathematics educator at Brookwood Middle School in Genoa City, Wisconsin. 
  • Amy Simpson, Kindergarten to 6th grade music educator at Hobbs Elementary School in Cheyenne, Wyoming.



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