MEA member Dan Ryder (center) wins national award presented at NEA Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C.

Five educators, including Dan Ryder, a teacher at Mt. Blue High School, received one of public education’s highest honors, the NEA Foundation’s prestigious Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence. Ryder was recognized at the NEA Foundation’s Awards Gala on Saturday, February 8th in Washington, D.C. MEA leadership joined Ryder at the Gala.

The NEA Foundation, a public charity founded by educators for educators, presents the awards to honor educators for their diligence and dedication to students, colleagues, community, and profession, with the generous support of Horace Mann.

“The Maine Education Association and educators across Maine have always known how special Dan Ryder is-how much he excels as an educator, leader in the profession and innovator in his classroom. MEA is excited other educators across the country got to see Ryder shine,” said Grace Leavitt, MEA President. (pictured right center next to Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the NEA, far right)

During the awards gala, those in attendance watched a profile video of each of the top five educators, highlighting what makes their work special and deserving of the award. You can view Dan Ryder’s video here: Dan Ryder Feature Video

Here are the five recipients of the national award:

• Dan Ryder, a 9th to 12th grade language arts educator at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, ME, nominated by the Maine Education Association.

• 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 (EL) students at Fargo South High School in Fargo, ND, nominated by North Dakota United.

• Cynthia Tong, an 8th grade social studies educator at Ewa Makai Middle School in Ewa Beach, HI, nominated by the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

• Cicely Woodard, an 8th grade mathematics educator at Freedom Middle School in Franklin, TN, nominated by the Tennessee Education Association. Cicely also took home the top prize during the Gala, the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence which came with a prize of $25,000.

“These five educators kindle ideas, open minds, nurture confidence, and build community. They keep the promise of public education by growing the hearts and minds of their students, preparing them for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation.  “By honoring them with this award, we thank them and all the public school educators they represent, who work tirelessly on behalf of their students, schools, and communities.”

“So many teachers go above and beyond to serve the needs of their students, and these five educators are great examples of what it takes to excel in the classroom,” said Marita Zuraitis, President and CEO of Horace Mann. “As a company serving educators’ financial needs for more than 70 years, Horace Mann is pleased to honor these educators for playing an instrumental role in educating the children of our future.”

The NEA Foundation and the National Education Association jointly present the awards, which are sponsored by NEA Member Benefits, the Horace Mann Companies, and California Casualty. Educators were celebrated at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Awards Gala on February 8, 2019 by over 850 leaders in public education, philanthropic, and business sectors, in Washington, DC, and by many more viewers online. Students, colleagues, peers, and family members of awardees host viewing parties to watch live streaming video of the program at home as awardees from across the nation are recognized.


Editor’s Note: Please use our correct name, the NEA Foundation. The “NEA” is never spelled out in our name. It is not the National Education Association Foundation. Many thanks!

About the NEA Foundation

The NEA Foundation is a public charity founded by educators for educators to improve public education for all students. Since our beginning in 1969, the Foundation has served as a laboratory of learning, offering funding and other resources to public school educators, their schools, and districts to solve complex teaching and learning challenges. We believe that when educators unleash their own power, ideas, and voices, communities, schools, and students all benefit. Visit for more information. Find us on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to our blog.

About Horace Mann

Horace Mann is the largest national multiline insurance company focusing on educators’ financial needs. Horace Mann provides auto and homeowners insurance, retirement annuities, life insurance and other financial solutions. Founded by Educators for Educators® in 1945, the company is headquartered in Springfield, Illinois. For more information about the company, visit