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ESP of the Year Award

The annual award recognizes the contributions that Education Support Professionals make toward their schools, communities, and professions.
graphic of hands tossing up a trophy into the sky

The NEA Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year Award, presented by NEA and NEA Member Benefits, honors a member who demonstrates outstanding accomplishments and whose achievements reflect the vital role ESPs play in public education.

The NEA ESP of the Year serves as an ambassador for ESPs across the country, promoting the value of ESP members at local, state, and national events. While the award showcases one outstanding ESP each year, it also recognizes and honors the contributions that all ESPs make towards ensuring great public schools for every student.

2023 NEA ESP of the Year Award

NEA will present the 2023 ESP of the Year (ESPOTY) Award in the spring as part of the 2023 NEA ESP National Conference. 

Access the 2023 ESPOTY Award Overview and Requirements here

2022 NEA ESP of the Year

Debra Ward-Mitchell
Illinois paraeducator Debra Ward-Mitchell receives 2022 ESP of the Year Award at NEA's ESP Conference in New Orleans. Credit: Kathy Anderson Photography

On March 26, at the 2022 NEA ESP National Conference, NEA awarded Debra Ward-Mitchell, a paraeducator, and assistant director at an infant care center in Illinois, with its highest honor for education support professionals – NEA ESP of the Year. In this capacity, she serves as an ambassador for ESPs across the country, promoting the value of ESP members at local, state and national events.

Read more

 

Meet the 2022 NEA ESP of the Year Nominees

Tennyson Thomas

Alabama

Tennyson Thomas, Administrative Assistant
Michelle Pennington

Alaska

Michelle Pennington, Special Education Assistant
Tamara Long

Arkansas

Tamara Long, Paraprofessional
Maggie Peacock-Butler

California

Magdalene Peacock-Butler, Speech/Language Pathology Assistant
Jennifer Munoz

Colorado

Jennifer Muñoz, Secretary
Nicole Williams

Delaware

Nicole Williams, Instructional Paraprofessional
Yamilette Toledo

Florida

Yamilette Toledo, Secretary/Terminal Operator
Annettea Mills

Georgia

Annettea Mills, Special Area Instructor/Paraprofessional
Debra Ward-Mitchell

Illinois

Debra Ward-Mitchell, Paraprofessional/Lead Teacher/Assistant Director
Christine Barnes

Indiana

Christine Barnes, Title III Paraprofessional
Chiffon Winston

Kentucky

Chiffon Winston, Paraeducator (at time of nomination)
Gwendolyn Hill

Louisiana

Gwendolyn Hill, Paraprofessional/Tutor
Steven Bradley Fisher

Maryland

Steven Bradley Fisher, Administrative Secretary III
Susan Soares

Massachusetts

Susan Soares, Special Education Teaching Assistant
Roy Freeman

Michigan

Roy Freeman, Head Custodian
Tequila Laramee

Minnesota

Tequila Laramee, Associate Educator
Allie Gassmann

Missouri

Allie Gassmann, Parent Educator
Travis Vo

Nebraska

Travis Vo, IT Specialist
Sue-Ellen Quinn

New Hampshire

Sue-Ellen Quinn, Reading/Math Interventionist/Paraprofessional
Nancy Cogland

New Jersey

Nancy Cogland, Paraprofessional
Dorothy_Kamps

New York

Dorothy Kamps, Paraprofessional
Celestine Frazier

North Carolina

Celestine Frazier, Teachers Assistant
Debra Bertsch

North Dakota

Debra Bertsch, Paraprofessional
Jake Harris

Oklahoma

Jake Harris, Head Custodian
Rita Glass

Oregon

Rita Glass, Administrative Assistant
Dee Scales

Pennsylvania

Delores Scales, Paraprofessional
Natalie Bolar

South Carolina

Natalie Bolar, Media Assistant
Leigh Ann Johnson

Tenneessee

Leigh Ann Johnson, School Nurse
Federico Rios Jr.

Texas

Federico Rios, Jr., Bus Driver/Safety Officer/Bus Driver Trainer
Kevan Sprague

Utah

Kevan Sprague, Head Custodian
James Johnson

Vermont

James Johnson, School Bus Driver
Brandi Wilder

Virginia

Brandi Wilder, School Bus Driver
Keri Roberts

Washington

Keri Roberts, In-School Suspension Monitor
Emma Wilson

Wyoming

Emma Wilson, General Education Paraeducator

NEA ESP of the Year Speaker Request Form

The NEA ESP of the Year welcomes invitations to speak at in-person and virtual state and local events. To request the ESP of the Year (ESPOTY) to participate in an event, please:
  • Complete the form below, and
  • Ask the State Affiliate President to submit a formal request to the NEA President by email. Once approved by the NEA President, staff will work with the NEA ESPOTY to determine availability. 

Event Details

Session Content

Audience Information

Please share the names and titles, if possible, of any notable NEA or ESP leaders expected to attend (e.g., Board members, committee chairs, executive committee members).

Logistical Information

Is the event in the same location as the speaker's hotel?
Who is responsible for securing the speaker's hotel reservation?
Will ground transportation be provided for the speaker?

Contact Information

Will the main contact be on-site at the event?
2022 ESP of the Year Debra Ward-Mitchell
We don’t know what it takes for our students to walk through the doors of our classrooms. It's up to us to provide comfort, safety and honesty when they cross that threshold. That is how we save them, teach them and keep them safe.
Quote by: Debra Ward-Mitchell, 2022 NEA ESP of the Year
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National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.