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.
2022 NEA ESP of the Year
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.
Meet the 2022 NEA ESP of the Year Nominees
Past NEA ESP of the Year Award Recipients
Since the award’s inception in 1992, 31 ESPs from 20 states have received this prestigious national award. Below is a list of former award recipients.
2021 Kimberly Scott-Hayden, New Jersey
2020 Andrea Beeman, Ohio
2019 Matthew Powell, Kentucky
2018 Sherry Shaw, Alaska
2017 Saul Ramos, Massachusetts
2016 Doreen McGuire-Grigg, California
2015 Janet Eberhardt, California
2014 Paula Monroe, California
2013 Donna Schulze, Maryland
2012 Judy Near, Colorado
2011 Jameel Williams, North Carolina
2010 Helen Cottongim, Kentucky
2009 Kathie Axtell, Washington
2008 Laura Vernon, Wisconsin
2007 Veronica Henderson, Maryland
2006 Nancy Toombs, Kentucky
2005 Kathleen Lange, Illinois
2004 Allyson “Sunny” Story, Iowa
2003 Martin F. Meyer, Idaho
2002 Joann Falk, Colorado
2001 Irma Valdesino, New Mexico
2000 Richard Malizia, New Jersey
1999 Gail Rasmussen, Oregon
1998 Carter Foshee, Oklahoma
1997 Karen Mahurin, Alaska
1996 Evelyn Foster, North Carolina
1995 Iona Hollway, Louisiana
1994 Eddie Middleton, Louisiana
1993 Doris Dortch, Alabama
1992 Peggy Bertollo, Delaware
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.