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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.

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Meet the 2022 NEA ESP of the Year Nominees

Tennyson Thomas


Tennyson Thomas, Administrative Assistant
Michelle Pennington


Michelle Pennington, Special Education Assistant
Tamara Long


Tamara Long, Paraprofessional
Maggie Peacock-Butler


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


Jennifer Muñoz, Secretary
Nicole Williams


Nicole Williams, Instructional Paraprofessional
Yamilette Toledo


Yamilette Toledo, Secretary/Terminal Operator
Annettea Mills


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


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


Christine Barnes, Title III Paraprofessional
Chiffon Winston


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


Gwendolyn Hill, Paraprofessional/Tutor
Steven Bradley Fisher


Steven Bradley Fisher, Administrative Secretary III
Susan Soares


Susan Soares, Special Education Teaching Assistant
Roy Freeman


Roy Freeman, Head Custodian
Tequila Laramee


Tequila Laramee, Associate Educator
Allie Gassmann


Allie Gassmann, Parent Educator
Travis Vo


Travis Vo, IT Specialist
Sue-Ellen Quinn

New Hampshire

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

New Jersey

Nancy Cogland, Paraprofessional

New York

Dorothy Kamps, Paraprofessional
Celestine Frazier

North Carolina

Celestine Frazier, Teachers Assistant
Debra Bertsch

North Dakota

Debra Bertsch, Paraprofessional
Jake Harris


Jake Harris, Head Custodian
Rita Glass


Rita Glass, Administrative Assistant
Dee Scales


Delores Scales, Paraprofessional
Natalie Bolar

South Carolina

Natalie Bolar, Media Assistant
Leigh Ann Johnson


Leigh Ann Johnson, School Nurse
Federico Rios Jr.


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


Kevan Sprague, Head Custodian
James Johnson


James Johnson, School Bus Driver
Brandi Wilder


Brandi Wilder, School Bus Driver
Keri Roberts


Keri Roberts, In-School Suspension Monitor
Emma Wilson


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.