2024 Claes Nobel Educators of the Year

Meet our Claes Nobel Educator of the Year Award recipient and finalists, whom NSHSS recognizes for their work in helping students build on academic success and grow the skills and desire to impact the global community positively.

Vanessa Radice

Vanessa Radice, a twenty-year teacher veteran, from Miami, FL, has dedicated her entire profession to helping students with special needs and/or diagnosed with mental health disorder/s. Her passion has taken her to pursue a Specialist in Exceptional Student Education with an Endorsement in Autism. She holds a second master's in psychology and received the credentials necessary to become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. With loved ones, struggling with mental health, and working in the classroom post covid, where mental health disorders are prevalent, has been interesting for her.  

Sharing best practices and connecting others with resources that set them up for success is her daily goal. Her focus is to support students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community by making herself accessible and creating a safe space to communicate needs and wants accordingly. Having volunteered/worked with the at-risk population, both in a classroom and clinical setting, has given her the wings needed to impact our nation at a greater magnitude. 

Her mission is not only to educate our youth and their families but also to reduce the stigma and stereotypes that many students face. Being able to voice, represent, and create moments of learning opportunities is her “WHY.”  

Michael Collins

Michael Collins is in his sixth year teaching the Engineering and Architecture CTE Pathway at Ruben S. Ayala High School after practicing architecture and design for 24 years as a co-founder of award winning GDS Architects and LifeArk. His transition from industry to education was seamless given his passion for both learning and sharing. He is a recipient of the California School Boards Association Golden Bell Award for his Engineering and Architecture Pathway that has seen enrollment increase from 125 to 210 students, increase female participation from 13% to 24% , 88% of enrolled students receiving college credit through articulation and graduates 20-40 CTE completers per annum. This past year’s Class of 2023 Seniors received 177 college acceptances, $1.2 million in scholarships and saw 100% attending college with 77% enrolled in STEM majors.

Michael graduated from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona with a Bachelor of Architecture and was awarded the AIA Henry Adams award. He is a PLTW certified instructor for Introduction to Engineering, Civil Engineering and Architecture, Principles of Engineering and the Capstone Engineering Design and Development. He is a mentor and Champion for the ACE Mentorship program which currently serves over 60 students and allows them to work directly with Architecture, Construction and Engineering professionals. He also serves as the advisor for Womxn in STEM and First Robotics and hosts an Alumni- LinkedIn page to promote scholarships, internships and jobs for former students.

Vilma Wolfe

In 2013, Vilma joined the Counseling Department at Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville, Texas. Her passion, dedication, and experience as a College Counselor led her to serve in several High School Counselor Advisory Boards - The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Southern Methodist University.

Vilma has volunteered in different roles for numerous organizations, such as Advisory Council for the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF); Interviewer for The Gates Scholarship (TGS); Corporate Board Member for the Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY) Leadership Texas Capital; College Counselor for the Texas Association for College Admissions Counseling (TACAC) Camp College; and Adult Leader for Texas Say What.

The most recent recognition for her work has been the appointment to a Special Interest Group (SIG) for the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), an Ad Hoc Committee focused on Developing Programs and Services for College Counseling and Admission Professionals at Rural and Small-Town Schools and Colleges; as well as receiving the NSHSS College Counselor Service Award.
Vilma is fully bilingual and bi-cultural. She was born in Brownsville, Texas, but spent her formative year in Mexico. She has been married to Jason Wolfe for over 25 years and they have two children, Tatiana and Daniel. Besides spending times with family and friends, Vilma enjoys traveling, skiing and gardening.

Erin Miller

Erin Miller received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University and then a Master’s in Liberal Arts from Rollins College. She currently teaches AP English Language & Composition, Journalism, and Introduction to Journalism. She also advises for the school's Honor Council.

William Heidenfeldt

Dr. Heidenfeldt joined Salesian College Preparatory as the French and ESL teacher in 2015. In 2022, responding to the need to empower professional learning, growth and possibility for teaching staff, Dr. Heidenfeldt became the Associate Principal supervising curriculum and instruction while still teaching French. In this capacity, Dr. Heidenfeldt serves as an Instructional Coach and the Curriculum Council lead. Working with the Principal, Dr. Heidenfeldt is involved in curriculum planning, faculty professional development, and review of formative and summative assessments. He also teaches third year and AP French.

Shelly Maloney

Shelly Maloney has been a ceramics and visual arts teacher for ten years serving in the Nash and Wilson County areas. She works with high school students at Northern Nash teaching them the fundamentals through advanced methods of pottery and visual arts. Students in her classes learn how to use their art as a way to spread joy to others and as a healthy emotional release for themselves. She leads many different clubs including the National Arts Honor Society, Pottery Club and Positive Impact to provide community service art projects for the school, local community members and businesses.

Marisa Sousa

Marisa Sousa has been a dedicated English teacher for eleven years. She has been fortunate to work in the same school her entire career, where she has been privileged to teach a wide range of students her love of literature. She is a graduate of Stonehill College and received her master's from Endicott College. In addition to teach English, she is also an advisor to multiple clubs.

Scott Tanaka

Scott Tanaka has been teaching high school mathematics for the past 25 years.  For the past 15 years, he has taught AP Calculus AB and BC at Minooka Community High School (MCHS).  Last year, his BC students averaged a 4.5 on the AP Calculus exam. This past current year, he has started the Calculus 3 curriculum at MCHS. He plans on using the grant to purchase 3D software to enhance the experience for his Calculus 3 students.

Raquel Bolanos

Raquel has been teaching for 16 years; she taught at the college level for two years before working at the high school level. Her favorite subject to teach is the AP English Language and Composition course, which she’s been teaching now for 6 years. Raquel is married to husband Adam Bolanos who is also an educator. They have two beautiful daughters, Emily age 8 and Evelyn age 4. They live in sunny South Florida but love to travel during the winter and summer breaks around the country and the world at large. 

Jenna Hagengruber

Dr. Jenna Hagengruber is a Level 5 10th grade English Language Arts teacher in Nashville, Tennessee. She founded and leads the Student Government Association at John Overton High School, and recently became the Yearbook co-advisor. She grew up in a family of educators and has taught in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a Fulbright scholar, in Poland each summer through the Kosciusko Foundation, in her home state of New Mexico, and now in Tennessee. After attaining both her undergrad and graduate degrees from the University of New Mexico, she moved to Nashville to pursue her Doctorate in K-12 Education Policy and Leadership at Vanderbilt University, which was earned in May of 2023 while teaching. She believes in the value of public education and plans to dedicate her life to ensuring that public schools provide the best education to members of neighborhoods and communities. 

Claes Nobel Educator of the Year Award

Award: One (1) top award of $5,000, and nine (9) finalist awards of $1,000
Eligibility: Any registered NSHSS Educator that works with high school students in an academic capacity both in the US and internationally. 
A black educator tutoring students

Grant Details:

In 2011, NSHSS awarded its first Claes Nobel Educator of the Year Award to Mr. James B. Carmicle of Hollywood High School in Los Angeles. There was so much interest in the award that for the following year, NSHSS decided to select one individual as our Educator of the Year, with additional finalists selected to become a part of the Top Ten Educators of the Year. We’ve continued with this tradition ever since.

The Educator of the Year Awards are presented annually to exemplary educators who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to preparing students for success in college and in life. These awardees model best practices in teaching or administration inside and outside of the classroom, are peer role models, and demonstrate outstanding leadership and excellence in education. Any high school educator has the opportunity to apply.

Application Requirements:

  • Prompt response of 800-1,000 words to the following question:
    • What is the primary aspect of your teaching philosophy that has a lasting impact on your students? Please give one or two specific examples of how this has worked.
  • Pictures/videos/media showing your leadership in action (optional but strongly encouraged)
  • Principal/Administrator recommendation
  • Professional resume
  • Color headshot

Application Opens: May 15th, 2024

Previous Educators of the Year

2022 Top Educator of the Year: Jose Rivas, Lennox Math, Science and Technology Academy, Lenox, CA

2022 Educator of the Year Finalists:

  • Kimberly Phinney, Cambridge Christian School, Tampa, FL
  • Gloria Masterton, Legion Collegiate Academy, Rockhill, SC
  • Matthew Hummel, Delaware County Christian School, Newtown Square, PA
  • Bob Fenster, Hillsborough High School, Hillsborough, NJ
  • Tyler Dufrene, Hahnville High School, Raceland, LA
  • Benjamin Straka, Stillwater Area High School, Oak Park Heights, MN
  • Gigi Azam, Crockett Early College High School, Austin, TX
  • Shawn Mitchell, Duval High School, Lanham, MD
  • Trevon Lamar, Shiloh High School, Snellville, GA

2021 Top Educator of the Year: Kate Margrave, Pine Creek High School, Colorado Springs, CO

2021 Educator of the Year Finalists:

  • William South, Sevier County High School, Sevierville, TN
  • Elise Knable, Caesar Rodney High School, Camden, DE
  • Kevin Cohea, Don Tyson School of Innovation, Springdale, AK
  • Camilla Walck, Princess Anne High School, Virginia Beach, VA
  • Melissa Tracy, Odyssey Charter School, Wilmington, DE
  • Matthew Strine, Monessen High School, Monessen, PA
  • Michele Lamons-Raiford, Pinole Valley High School, Pinole, CA
  • John Stokes, Park Magnet School, Bismarck, AR
  • Thelvie Cullins, School for the Talented and Gifted at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center, Dallas, TX

2020 Top Principal of the Year: Robert Anstey, Canada Star Secondary School, Richmond, BC, Canada

2020 Top Principal of the Year Finalist: Darion Walton, Dallas ISD, Dallas, TX

2020 Top Teacher of the Year: Dr. Chikezie Madu, White Station High School, Memphis, TN

2020 Top Teacher of the Year Finalists: 

  • Rajini Sundararaj, Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Arts, Jonesboro, GA
  • Andrea Price, Mt. Zion High School, Jonesboro, GA
  • Tobie Lambert, Mississippi School of the Arts,  Brookhaven, MS
  • Dr. Larina Warnock, Roseburg High School, Roseburg, OR
  • Kristie Letter, Peak to Peak High School, Lafayette, CO
  • Dave Case, Hood River Valley High School, Hood River, OR
  • Katherine Amos, Sierra High School, San Diego, CA

2020 Top Counselor of the Year: Michelle Gomez, Canyon Springs High School, Moreno Valley, CA

2020 Top Counselor of the Year Finalists: 

  • Sylvester Hanner, George Westinghouse High School, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Dr. Clara Lauderdale, Westfield High School, Houston, TX

2020 Top Coach of the Year: Helen Freeman, Huntington High School, Huntington, WV

2020 Top Coach of the Year Finalists: 

  • Lem Wheeles, A.J. Dimond High School, Anchorage, AK
  • Michael Grether, Rolesville High School, Rolesville, NC

2020 Top Band/Music Director of the Year: Kristen Singer, Harborside Academy, Kenosha, WI

2020 Top Band/Music Director of the Year Finalists:

  • Robin Gin, Northview High School, Covina, CA
  • Kelli Morrison, Portales High School, Portales, NM
  • Christopher Wink, North Babylon High School, North Babylon, N

2019 Top Educator of the Year: Sofia Gonzalez, J S Morton High School East, Cicero, IL

2019 Educator of the Year Finalists:

  • Cristin Calder, Archbishop McCarthy High School, Southwest Ranches, FL
  • Davida Robinson, Uplift Peak Preparatory, Dallas, TX
  • Jason Schrock, Howell High School, Howell, MI
  • Meredith McCullough, Kenai Central High School, Kenai, AK
  • Sean Pang, Rockville High School, Rockville, MD
  • Sean Russell, Manchester Central High School, Manchester, NH
  • Stephanie Lopez, Preparatory Academy for Writers, Queens, NY
  • Tiffany Bernier, Valencia High School, Valencia, CA
  • Tracy Bates, Norman North High School, Norman, OK

2018 Top Educator of the Year: Christine Fryer, MLK - Educational Campus High School for Law Advocacy and Community Justice, New York, NY

2018 Top Educator of the Year Finalists:

  • Mary Buehner, Ashley Ridge High School, Summerville, SC
  • Ashley Butler, Pickens High School, Pickens, SC
  • Diana Gano, Glenda Dawson High School, Pearland, TX
  • Tiffany Jackson, Travis Early College High School, San Antonio, TX
  • Dana Kelly, Central High School MCA, Louisville, KY
  • Michele Lamons-Raiford, Pinole Valley High, Pinole, CA
  • Dawn Lister, Calvert High School, Prince Frederick, MD
  • Frances Meetze, Mid-Carolina High School, Prosperity, SC
  • Kathleen Williams, Lake Weir High School, Ocala, FL

2017 Top Educator of the Year: Joyce Kim, Prospect High School, Mount Prospect, IL

2017 Top Educator of the Year Finalists:

  • Thelvie Cullins, Jr., School for the Talented and Gifted at Townview Magnet Center, Dallas, TX
  • Kelly Eddy, Churchill High School, Livonia, MI
  • Bob Fenster, Hillsborough High School, Hillsborough, NJ
  • McKenzie Lueders, Dodge City High School, Dodge City, KS
  • Jo-Ann McCauley, Wesleyan School, Norcross, GA
  • Rebecca Nelson, Oswego East High School, Oswego, IL
  • Cate Praggastis, East High School, Salt Lake City, UT
  • Tad Sours, Haas Hall Academy - Fayetteville, Fayetteville, AR
  • Christopher Wendelin, Amos Alonzo Stagg High School, Palos Hills, IL

2016 Top Educator of the Year: Brian Rodriguez, Alameda Science & Technology Institute, Alameda, CA

2016 Top Educator of the Year Finalists:

  • Thelvie Cullins, Jr., School for the Talented and Gifted at Townview Magnet Center, Dallas, TX
  • Antonios Ekatomatis, Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring, MD
  • Jessie Good, Kohler High School, Kohler, WI
  • Michael Lindblad, Gresham High School, Gresham, OR
  • Vicki McGuigan, The Bronx High School of Science, Bronx, NY
  • Marc Pedersen, Paulding County High School, Dallas, GA
  • Gary Piercey, Francis Tuttle Technology Center, Oklahoma City, OK
  • Wendy Wooten, Reseda High School, Reseda, CA
  • James Young, Battle Creek Central High School, Battle Creek, MI

2015 Top Educator of the Year: Jody Zepp, Long Reach High School, Columbia, MD

2015 Top Educator of the Year Finalists:

  • Jennifer Cullison, Woodland High School, Woodland, WA
  • Cindy Cunningham, Appomattox Regional Governor's School for the Arts and Technology, Petersburg, VA
  • Dana Krejcarek, Kohler High School, Kohler, WI
  • Marni Landry, Paradise Valley High School, Phoenix, AZ
  • Stergios Lazos, St. Edward High School, Lakewood, OH
  • Margaret Mitchell, Ridge High School, Basking Ridge, NJ
  • Regina O'Neal, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, East Boston, MA
  • Mary Katherine Parson, Little Rock Central High School, Little Rock, AK
  • Samuel Saenz, East Early College High School, Houston, TX

2014 Top Educator of the Year: Eric Thiel, Amador Valley High, Pleasanton, CA

2014 Top Educator of the Year Finalists:

  • Amy Baker, Frenship High School, Wolfforth, TX
  • Kenneth Bernstein, Cantonsville High School, Cantonsville, MD
  • John Carnesecca, Great Oaks High School, Temecula, CA
  • Ana Castro, DuPont Manual High School, Louisville, KY
  • Ronald Hamme, Upper Dauphin Area High School, Elizabethville, PA
  • Michael Madden, William P. Clements High School, Sugar Land, TX
  • Audrey Schindler McDonald, East Boston High School, East Boston, MA
  • Shane Scott, Jerusalem School, Jerusalem, Israel
  • Erin Smith, Spring Ridge Academy, Spring Valley, AZ

2013 Top Educator of the Year: Brian McDonald, Charles E. Jordan High School, Durham, NC

2013 Top Educator of the Year Finalists:

  • Erin Johnston, South Caldwell High School, Hudson, NC
  • Dana Kling, Brookwood High School, Snellville, GA
  • Dr. Teresita Lemus, John A. Ferguson Senior High, Miami, FL
  • Susan New, Trinity High School, Euless, TX
  • David Quinn, Edmonds-Woodway High School, Edmonds, WA
  • Laurel Spradley, Earl Warren High School, San Antonio, TX
  • Camilla Walck, Princess Anne High School, Virginia Beach, VA
  • David Williams, Valley View High School, Moreno Valley, CA
  • Glenn Yamasaki, Warren High School, Downey, CA

2012 Top Educator of the Year: Patricia Wilson, Bloomington High School North, Bloomington, IN

2012 Top Educator of the Year Finalists:

  • James Brooks, West Wilkes High School, Millers Creek, NC
  • Beth Bynarowicz, Legacy High School, Broomfield, CO
  • Lewis Cobbs, Randolph School, Huntsville, AL
  • Tami Fitzgerald, West Muskingum High School, Zanesville, OH
  • Debra Liberman, George Washington High School, Philadelphia, PA
  • Judy Ritter, North Springs High School, Roswell, GA
  • Brian Rodriquez, Encinal High School, Alameda, CA
  • Melissa Tobin, Methuen High School, Methuen, MA
  • Mark Vondracek, Evanston Township High School, Gurnee, IL