2019 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence

2019 Award for Teaching Excellence Winner

The winner of the NEA Member Benefits Award was 8th grade mathematics educator Cicely Woodard of Franklin, Tennessee (third from right).
Pictured with Ms. Woodard are (from left to right) Gary Phoebus, President and CEO of NEA Member Benefits; Beth Brown, President, Tennessee Education Association; Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, President, NEA; Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, NEA Foundation Board Chair; Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation; and Sara Sneed, Incoming President and CEO of the NEA Foundation.

 

Cicely Woodard of Franklin, Tennessee, wins top honor at the NEA Foundation’s annual gala.

WASHINGTON, DC (February 8, 2019) — On Friday, February 8, at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala in Washington, DC, Cicely Woodard, an 8th grade mathematics educator at Freedom Middle School in Franklin, TN, received one of public education’s most prestigious honors: The NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and $25,000.

“Teaching can be time-consuming, challenging, and sometimes overwhelming,” says Woodard. “But the impact that we make on the lives of students and that they make on us is powerful, life-changing, and enduring.”

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 awards to exceptional educators and dedicated supporters of public education from across the country. Woodard’s award was the evening’s finale.

“Cicely has been selected for this award by her peers not only because of her mastery as an educator, but also because of the empathy and compassion she shows for her students,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “Like so many educators across the country, she is dedicated to making sure that her students develop confidence, resilience, and a love of learning.”

Woodard has been teaching since 2003, and is known for her inquiry-based approach to mathematics. She currently serves on the Tennessee Department of Education Teacher Cabinet and is a member of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) Steering Committee. She was the 2018 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. She holds a B.S. in mathematics from The University of Memphis and a Master of Secondary Education in mathematics from Vanderbilt University.

Woodard was nominated for the award by the Tennessee Education Association and is one of 46 public school educators selected by their state education associations who were honored on stage by the NEA Foundation and more than 900 guests.

She 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:

  • Matthew Bacon-Brenes, a dual language immersion mentor teacher in Portland Public Schools in Portland, OR, nominated by the Oregon Education Association
  • Leah Juelke, a 9th to 12th grade language arts educator for English learner students at Fargo South High School in Fargo, ND, nominated by North Dakota United
  • Dan Ryder, a 9th to 12th grade language arts educator at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, ME, nominated by the Maine Education Association
  • Cynthia Tong, an 8th grade social studies educator at Ewa Makai Middle School in Ewa Beach, HI, nominated by the Hawaii State Teachers Association

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 Woodard that premiered live during the gala on YouTube.

During the gala, the NEA Foundation also honored EF Education First with the First National Bank of Omaha Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education for their accomplishments as a world leader in international education.

The event was hosted by renowned actor, director, poet, and musician Malcolm-Jamal Warner and award-winning journalist, speaker, author, and philanthropist Soledad O’Brien. It also featured performances by the Resistance Revival Chorus and the dance troupe the FunkyWunks.