The 2018 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence

Bobbie Cavnar of Belmont, North Carolina, wins top honor at the NEA Foundation’s annual gala.

Bobbie Cavnar

The winner of the NEA Member Benefits Award was 12th grade language arts educator Bobbie Cavnar of Belmont, North Carolina (second from right).
Pictured with Mr. Cavnar are (from left to right) Gary Phoebus, President and CEO of NEA Member Benefits; Mark Jewell, President, North Carolina Association of Educators; and Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation.


WASHINGTON, DC—February 10, 2018—On Friday, February 9, at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala in Washington, D.C., Bobbie Cavnar, a 12th grade language arts educator at South Point High School in Belmont, N.C., received one of public education’s most prestigious honors: The NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and $25,000.

“Many of our great artists and thinkers and inventors were born into poverty and were given the opportunity to let their genius show,” said Cavnar. “That’s how a public education equalizes life.”

The NEA Foundation’s gala is an annual celebration of the men and women who work in America’s public schools. The NEA Foundation presented more than 40 awards to exceptional educators and dedicated supporters of public education. Cavnar’s award was the evening’s finale.

“Bobbie has been selected for this award by his peers not only because he is an outstanding educator, but because he is a passionate advocate for his students, his fellow teachers, and for the value of public education,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “He represents the millions of teachers across the country who inspire a love of learning in their students.”

Cavnar has been teaching since 1999. A fixture in his community, he is the English department chair, the North Carolina Association of Educators Association Representative, and a trainer with the Gaston County Teacher Induction Program for Success. He served as the State Board of Education Teacher Advisor and was North Carolina Teacher of the Year for 2016-2017. He holds a B.S. in English Education from Florida State University and a M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Cavnar was nominated for the award by the North Carolina Association of Educators and is one of 38 public school educators selected by their state education associations who were honored on stage by the NEA Foundation and more than 900 guests.

He was also one of five finalists for the top award. Each finalist received special recognition at the gala, the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, and $10,000.

The other four finalists included:

  • Revathi Balakrishnan, a talented and gifted educator at Patsy Sommer Elementary School in Austin, TX, nominated by the Texas State Teachers Association
  • Afreen Gootee, a 6th to 8th grade math and social studies educator at the Georgetown School in Mechanicsville, VA, nominated by the Virginia Education Association
  • Crystal May, a 4th grade educator at Pray-Woodman Elementary School in Maize, KS, nominated by the Kansas National Education Association.
  • Tia Mills, an exception student services educator at Eden Park Academy of Ethics and Excellence in Baton Rouge, LA, nominated by the Louisiana Association of Educators

In the months leading up to the gala, the students, schools, and communities of each finalist helped create original videos honoring their teachers. Watch the video featuring Cavnar that premiered live during the gala on YouTube.

During the gala, the NEA Foundation also honored the American Indian College Fund with the First National Bank of Omaha Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education for their commitment to supporting American Indian youth through college and beyond.

The event was hosted by executive producer, director, actor, choreographer, and dancer Debbie Allen. It also featured jazz piano virtuoso Cyrus Chestnut, dancer Charles (Lil Buck) Riley, creator of Memphis jookin’, and the students of the Roberto Clemente Middle School Music Rocks program.

This year, more than 1,400 of the educators’ students, colleagues, and supporters watched live streaming coverage of the gala on