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Published on February 14th, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff


Columbia, SC, Educator Receives Prestigious National Award

Pictured Left to right; Gary Phoebus, President and CEO of NEA Member Benefits; Terri Butts; Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation

Terri Butts of Columbia, SC wins top honor at the NEA Foundation’s annual gala


Terri Butts

WASHINGTON, DC — “The decisions I make concerning how I teach are based on the likes, loves, and needs of my students,” says Terri Butts, a curriculum effectiveness specialist for the Richland 2 Child Development Center in Elgin, SC. “I engage them with lots of technology because I know they love it, and we sing and dance every Friday because they like it.” 

Recently at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala, Butts receivedone of public education’s most prestigious honors, the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching excellence, and $25,000.

The NEA Foundation’s gala is an annual celebration of the men and women who work in America’s public schools. The NEA Foundation presented nearly 40 awards to exceptional educators and dedicated supporters of public education. Butts’ award was the evening’s finale.

“Terri has been selected for this award by her peers because she has attained the highest teaching standards, as illustrated by her exemplary instruction, advocacy for the profession and staunch support of public education,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “In her classroom, she creates a safe learning environment where students feel encouraged to participate, to take risks, and learn from the their peers.”

“Students will reach for the stars if they know you believe in them,” Butts wrote in her nomination for the award. “…parents will be your partner if they know you care about their child; and colleagues will respect you, if you respect them.”

She achieved certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in 2002, and was recertified in 2011. She was named the 2012–2013 Richland School District Teacher of the Year, as well as the South Carolina Education Association Superhero in 2013, and a Certified Mentor in 2014.

Butts was nominated for the award by the South Carolina Education Association and is one of 39 public school educators selected by their state education associations who were honored on stage by the NEA Foundation and its 800 guests.

She was also among the five finalists for the top award. Each received special recognition at the gala, the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, and $10,000.

The other four finalists included:

  • Crystal Williams Gordon,a biology educator at Broadmoor High School in Baton Rouge, LA;
  • Anna Baldwin,an English and history educator at Arlee High School in Arlee, MT;
  • Allison Riddle,an elementary school educator at Foxboro Elementary School in North Salt Lake, UT;
  • Richard Erickson,an alternative education, chemistry, and physics educator at Bayfield High School in Bayfield, WI.

All five of the awardees students have also benefitted from the awards. Last fall, they received digital arts training from Scena Media, which they used to create an original video honoring their teacher.Watch the student-made videos, which premiered live at the gala.

During the Gala, the NEA Foundation also honored the beloved children’s book authors, the late Walter Dean Myers, and his son, Christopher Myers with the First National Bank of Omaha Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education. The award honors those who have significantly increased the public’s understanding of public education, or have otherwise dedicated themselves to serving educators and students.

Anne-Marie Johnson, an actress and activist best known for her roles on the hit television series, “In the Heat of the Night,” and the sketch comedy series, “In Living Color,” hosted the event. Johnson most recently appeared in the hit TNT series, “Murder in the First,” and will appear on ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” on Feb. 24. She also served as first vice president of the Screen Actors Guild.

This year, more than 1,100 of the educators’ students, colleagues, and supporters tuned in to live streaming coverage of the event via the NEA Foundation’s website.


About the NEA Foundation

The NEA Foundation is a public charity supported by contributions from educators’ dues, corporate sponsors, foundations, and others. We support student success by helping public school educators work with key partners to build strong systems of shared responsibility. Visit for more information. Find us on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to our blog.

About the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala

The NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala is a national celebration of the men and women who work in America’s public schools and of the unique bonds that educators and students share.At this annual event, the Foundation recognizes and promotes excellence in teaching, attention to diversity, and advocacy for the profession. The NEA Foundation and the National Education Association jointly present the awards with support from NEA Member BenefitsThe Horace Mann Educator Corporation,California Casualty, and First National Bank of Omaha.


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