Meet the Leading Educator Ambassadors for Equity

Apr 18, 2022

Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year the only Oregon special education teacher to be named Teacher of the Year and to win the NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence.  In 2015 he was given the NEA LGBT Teacher Role Model Award. He is the creator of Ability Guidebooks, a series of support books for people with autism that give step-by-step directions how to visit cultural landmarks and social events. He is president of ORSTOY, the Oregon chapter of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and serves on the boards of Oregon Safe Schools and Clubfunder.Org. 

Sydney Chaffee is a National Board-Certified Teacher who believes that education is an essential tool to work towards social justice. Since 2007, Sydney has been the ninth grade Humanities teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School. Sydney was 2017 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and 2017 National Teacher of the Year, enabling her to speak to a wider audience about the possibilities of integrating arts education into traditional academic disciplines, the importance of teacher learning, and the role of education in social justice movements.

Dr. Jemelleh Coes is Georgia’s 2014 Teacher of the Year and a 2015 Lowell Milken Fellow. She spent six years teaching English/language arts and math in both the general and special education setting.  She earned her Ph.D. in Educational Theory and Practice with certificates in Disability Studies and Education Law and Policy while serving as field instructor for teacher candidates at the University of Georgia.  She also serves as a teacher mentor for classroom teachers throughout Georgia. She is the daughter of immigrant parents from Guyana and a first-generation college graduate. 

Dr. Melissa Collins has been an elementary school teacher at John P. Freeman Optional School in Memphis for 19 years.  She was a Global Teacher Prize Finalist (Top 50) (2018), and is the recipient of: Queen Smith Award, Stephen Sondheim Award, Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the National Science Teaching Association Sylvia Shurgrue Award, and West Tennessee Teacher of the Year. She is a National Board-Certified Teacher, and is a 2018-19 Fellow of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. 

In her 17 years of teaching science, Megan Olivia Hall has worked with students of many ages and levels, from kindergarten to Advanced Placement.  She is a leader of her school’s social and emotional learning (SEL) program and facilitated the 2017 National SEL Fellowship for NEA and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. A National Board-Certified Teacher and an NEA Foundation Global Fellow, Megan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Learning, Instruction, and Innovation at Walden University. 

Chanda Jefferson is a Science Department Chair, STEM Lead, and Secondary Life Sciences teacher at Fairfield Central High School in Winnsboro, South Carolina. She taught in the public schools of South Carolina for ten years where she was also named the 2020 South Carolina Teacher of the Year. In 2021, Chanda received the National Education Association Award for Teaching Excellence, a prestigious award which highlighted her dedication to the teaching profession, community engagement, professional development, attention to diversity and advocacy for fellow educators. Most recently she served as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow in the House of Representatives for Congressman Mark DeSaulnier. As a legislative assistant, she managed the team’s educational portfolio and several critical issues including early childhood, K‐12, and higher education, health and human services, science and technology, and civil rights and race relations. She took on an active role in developing and promoting legislation to address constituents’ concerns related to the pandemic, most notably addressing issues regarding student nutrition, teacher diversity, mental health in schools, providing funding for children and families with disabilities, safely reopening schools, and policy actions to dismantle systemic racism. Chanda attended the University of South Carolina where she earned her BS in Biological Sciences and MT in Secondary Sciences. She also earned an Ed. M. in Public School Building Leadership at Columbia University.

Stacey McAdoo is the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year and has nineteen years of classroom experience advocating for traditionally underrepresented students. The award-winning Arkansas PBS docuseries Closing the Opportunity Gap and course Coaching Self Expression: Go-In Poet provide an intimate look at her relationship-based approach to nurturing students. As the founder of the Writeous Poets (a spoken word and youth advocacy collective) and a professional development facilitator, she designs and leads sessions that focus on arts integration, empowering student and teacher voice, and promoting equity and the success of diverse learners. In her current role as the founding state director for Teach Plus Arkansas, she helps empower excellent, experienced, and diverse educators to take leadership over key policy issues that advance equity and access for all students. To learn more about Stacey, visit

Takeru “TK” Nagayoshi is the 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and an education consultant, facilitator, and advocate for equity in K-12 education. As the Director of Community Events at Panorama Education, he currently leads professional learning events that reach an audience of over 10,000 education stakeholders. Outside this role, TK also leads trainings and workshops around the country, ranging from topics on education policy, DEI, social-emotional learning, and curriculum and content at the high school level. He has received recognitions such as the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence (2021), Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teacher Leadership Award (2019), Boston University Young Alumni Award (2019), and Sontag Prize in Urban Education (2018). As a son of Japanese immigrants and a gay person of color, TK leverages his identities to fight for and center equity in his teaching and leadership.

Kareem Neal is the 2019 Arizona Teacher of the Year and has taught self-contained special education for 22 years. For the past 11 years, he has taught at Maryvale High School. He has a Master’s degree in Special Education from New Jersey University. Kareem’s passion is in social justice issues. He is a member of the Phoenix Union High School District’s (PUHSD) Political Engagement team and the PUHSD Council of Representatives for the teacher union. He is Vice President of the PUHSD Black Alliance and director of his school’s UNITOWN diversity club. He is a PUHSD restorative justice trainer. He is the 2018 AEA Diversity Grant recipient. Kareem is currently serving his 2nd year on the Arizona K12 Center’s Teacher Solutions Team.

Estella Owoimaha-Church was a Global Teacher Prize Finalist – Top 50 – in 2017) and recipient of CTA Equity & Human Rights: Peace and Justice Award (2018). She teaches theatre and English in South Los Angeles. Co-creator of EN-ACT, Estella seeks to support teachers in art integration, social justice education, and social emotional learning. The daughter of migrants, racial justice both compels and informs her practice. Estella is active with several community organizations, including Creative Visions, Media Done Responsibly, RFK Human Rights, and United Nations #TeachSDGs Taskforce.   

Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching on his blog.  His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called “IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching”. 

Gloria Pereyra-Robertson is Oregon 2017 State Teacher of the Year, OEA’s Presidential Citation Teacher of the Year, an NEA Teaching Excellence award winner, and a daughter of Mexican immigrants. She has dedicated over two decades to working in Title 1 schools, has taught in San Diego, CA, and is currently teaching kindergarten at Washington Elementary in Medford, OR.  Besides being a peer coach, mentor and cooperating teacher with SOU, Gloria is also an innovator who is currently working with Google to help find solutions to break down the language barriers for ELL students in the classroom.  

Monica Washington is an instructional coach for BetterLesson. Previously, she taught English III and AP English III at Texas High School in Texarkana where she served as department chair. She has been in education for 20 years and has taught grades 7-12. She has served as adjunct professor at LeMoyne-Owen College and Texarkana College.  Monica became Texas State Teacher of the Year in 2014. In addition, Monica is a 2015 Lowell Milken Center Fellow. She is also a 2015 NEA Foundation Global Fellow. 

Kelisa Wing is an educator, author, speaker, and a renowned activist for student discipline reform. As the 2017 Teacher of the Year for the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), she is the first person of color to receive the award in DoDEA’s 71-year history. An acclaimed author, Kelisa has published several books, including Promises and Possibilities: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline and If I Could: Lessons for Navigating an Unjust World. More recently, she published and served as content advisor of eighteen children’s books, the Racial Justice in America Series, Racial Justice in America: Histories, and Racial Justice in America: Excellence and Achievement.  

Dr. Maryann Woods-Murphy is a Gifted & Talented specialist in New Jersey and has taught for 38 years. She is also the 2010 NJ Teacher of the Year, the winner of the Martin Luther King Birthday Celebration Award, a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, an America Achieves Fellow (2011-2015), and a member of the Board of the National Education Association Foundation and the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Woods-Murphy earned her Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership at Walden University. She has co-chaired Teens Talk about Racism for 18 years.

Abdul Wright is the 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year and was recognized as the first black male to receive the award, the youngest, and the first from a Charter school. He is an eighth grade Language Arts teacher at Mastery Charter School in North Minneapolis, as well as an Instructional Coach and Data Team leader. He has taught Language Arts for the past six years. Mr. Wright completed an African American Leadership program and earned his degree in Education from Hamline University in 2016, and a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts and Literature in 2011. He received the 2015 Minneapolis PeaceMaker award, and in 2018, Mr. Wright was identified as a Minnesota African American Heritage Award Honoree.