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Teachers from across the area got the celebrity treatment Friday night at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala. A red carpet welcomed guests to the Building Museum while “paparazzi”—local high-school students armed with cameras and above-average lung capacities—lined the entrance.
“We want them to feel special tonight,” said NEA president Reg Weaver. “They work hard, and this is their night.”
The night took on a n Oscars vibe as more than 50 awards were given to the nation’s best educators. The top prize? The $25,000 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence, given to one of five finalists—all public-school teachers.
Minnesota first-grade teacher Lynette Wayne was awarded the coveted prize, and the remaining finalists, including Herndon High School political-science teacher Doug Graney, beamed as they were individually announced, congratulated, and awarded $10,000 checks courtesy of the Horace Mann Companies. (Wayne also received a separate $10,000 check.)
Football legend turned education advocate and author Tiki Barber was the real celebrity draw, and guests left with autographed copies of his recent autobiography, Tiki. Barber was presented with the NEA Foundation Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education for his role in helping advance public education.
Oscar comparisons didn’t stop at the award presentations. Just as political gestures are often unavoidable at Hollywood’s annual event, the NEA gala was no exception: Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sent letters expressing regret for their absence while they compete for a certain top prize of their own.