Meet the winners: 2016 PSEA Celebrating Excellence Awards
Pennsylvanians care about public schools and their communities - and PSEA's Celebrating Excellence Awards celebrate a few of the outstanding individuals and organizations each year.
Meet the 2016 winners of the Adler Friend of Education Award and PSEA's Human & Civil Rights Awards, honored at a May 12 awards dinner in Philadelphia.
Adler Friend of Education Award: U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.
U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey has dedicated his life to serving the citizens of Pennsylvania. Prior to serving as senator, Casey was elected in 1996 as Pennsylvania’s Auditor General. In 2004, he was elected Pennsylvania State Treasurer on a platform of government accountability. As Auditor General and Treasurer, Casey used audits to show problems with Edison Schools and with other attempts to privatize public schools. Just as important, he looked for ways to get more funding into public school classrooms for teaching and learning, and advocated for early childhood education and state funding for Head Start. He also fought against then-Gov. Tom Ridge’s voucher proposals and against allowing uncertified teachers to teach in charter schools. Since he was elected to serve in the United States Senate in 2006, Sen. Casey has been a strong voice and advocate for children, education, jobs, and the economy.As the ranking Democrat member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Sen. Casey continues to put the needs of Pennsylvania students and educators first. During the recent Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, he listened to educators, focused on educator quality issues, and was a vocal advocate for the inclusion of early childhood supports. And while he was not successful this time, he tirelessly advocated for the inclusion of language to protect students who are bullied, especially those who are bullied due to their sexual orientation. Throughout his public career, Sen. Casey has been guided by the legacy of his late father, Gov. Robert P. Casey, and the principle that: “All public service is a trust,given in faith and accepted in honor.”
PSEA Human and Civil Rights Awards
Community Leader: Joseph F. Lagana
As a lifelong educator, Dr. Joseph Lagana combined his love of learning,children, and helping others to dedicate his life to advocating for and serving a part of the population that is often overlooked – homeless youth. After spending nearly 40 years in schools as a teacher and administrator, Laganabegan the Homeless Children and Family Emergency Fund, now the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, in 1998. In 1960, Dr. Lagana began his long career as an educator in the Penn Hills School District as a science teacher and counselor. He then went on to be the acting superintendent in the North Allegheny School District and then superintendent in the Northgate School District for seven years. From 1992 to 1999, he was executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which is composed of 42 school districts. When he retired from the IU, Dr. Lagana was named Executive Director Emeritus. The Homeless Children’s Education Fund is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to provide advocacy, community engagement, and direct service pro-grams that support the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness in Allegheny County. Working with Allegheny County school districts, the Home-less Children’s Education Fund provides customized in-service trainings and establishes learning centers in homeless shelters that use puzzles, games, toys,music, art, reading libraries, reference materials, and computers to encourage developmental progress in homeless youth. In addition, the Homeless Children’s Education Fund awards grants to homeless housing providers for educational pro-grams, special projects, materials, and community excursions. Each year, the Homeless Children’s Education Fund distributes more than 2,500 backpacks filled with school supplies to youth residing in emergency shelters, transitional housing facilities, and other homeless facilities throughout Allegheny County. Dr. Lagana believes that all children and youth experiencing homelessness should receive the educational resources, guidance, and opportunities to launch them on a path of success in school and in life. He has been a community activist and a volunteer in several community organizations and agencies, and he has received many local, state, and national honors for his work.
Community Leader - Organization: The Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus
Since 1981, the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus has been entertaining audiences, supporting communities, and fostering acceptance through amazing musical performances. The chorus has steadily increased its standing within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and among Philadelphia arts organizations. With the goal of bringing music and cultural awareness to as large a portion of the population as possible, the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus partners with various organizations in the area to bring awareness to the community. They have provided more than 1,000 complimentary tickets to their concerts to students and educators.The chorus has also performed outreach programs at more than 18 Philadelphia area high schools and colleges where nearly 7,000 students have heard the message of tolerance and acceptance while fostering understanding and personal growth in the teenage audiences.Performing regular concerts in December, March, and June, the chorus also performs at cabarets, fundraisers, and community events throughout the year. Additionally, the small auditioned ensemble, Brotherly Love, presents a concert in February while also representing the chorus at smaller events. Working alone and in partnership with other organizations that share similar values,the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus seeks to break down the barriers of prejudice and ignorance. While building a better life for their members, their peers, and society as a whole, the chorus strives for a better future for our culture and humanity.Through their music, the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus entertains, educates, and brings people together.
Educational Leader Award: Phil Latella
As the principal at Arthur Street Elementary School and Hazle Township Early Learning Center in the Hazleton Area School District, Phil Latella has worked hard to develop inclusive programs and activities for the multicultural community that makes up his kindergarten through second-grade students and his staff. Spending nearly 30 years as a music teacher, school counselor, instructional technology specialist, and administrator, Latella is a respected hero among his students, staff, parents, and the community. Many of the students in Hazleton come from disadvantaged homes where drugs,gang encounters, and abuse are common occurrences. Latella truly believes that the students need to have a safe and positive environment for them to learn. Beginning with the PRIDE (Proud to be me; Respect for others; I will be ready; Do the safe thing; Everyone shows PRIDE) Program, he has worked to create initiatives in which students learn that they are responsible for their own actions. Latella constantly reinforces the phrase, “When you do good things, good things happen.” Family literacy and reading programs, academic and behavioral awards, and diversity nights are part of a regular series at Arthur Street. Knowing that many of his students struggle to learn to read, Latella created a program called “Read with Me” to teach parents to teach their children how to read. To help students practice their reading skills and boost self-esteem, Latella’s German Shepherd therapy dog, Buttons, visits classrooms as part of the Tail Waggin’ Tutors program. When the school year ends, Latella keeps going. He spends his summers as the director at the Ferrwood Music Camp. With more than 100 campers in grades 3 through 12, Latella uses the camp to build respect and community among the campers. Latella works tirelessly and with a relentlessly positive attitude – to make school the best experience for everyone. At Arthur Street, he makes every day about his students and ensures that they have a safe and encouraging environment to come to - day in and day out.
Local Association: Upper Darby ESPA
The members of the Upper Darby Educational Support Professionals Association have been working in their community to advance the cause of the men and women who serve our nation in the military and support them in any way that they can. Because so many of the Upper Darby School District’s parents and former students are either veterans or on active duty in the armed forces, members of UDESPA believe it is important to recognize their many and diverse needs – and say “thank you” for their service. Working from Veteran’s Day through December, UDESPA members and students collect toiletries, household goods, clothing, hats, gloves, and non-perishable foodfor the Philadelphia Veterans House where homeless veterans receive services from the Philadelphia VA Hospital. For the last two years, they have filled a large double-cab pickup truck with supplies. At Garrettford Elementary, students and UDESPA members collected more than$500 for the K-9 for Warriors project to provide therapy dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD, and they mailed hundreds of holiday cards overseas to troops on active duty. UDESPA members feel these donations are just a small token of gratitude to offer to the service men and women who have served and are serving our country. They plan to do even more – and keep saying “thank you.”
Student Leader: Student PSEA
Building on the successes of the 2014 Student PSEA Conference, Student PSEA members went to Camp Curtin Academy in Harrisburg last year to transform the school as part of their Outreach to Teach initiative. More than 300 Student PSEA volunteers descended on Camp Curtin and painted more than 45 different murals around the school’s hallways, library, gym, and entryway – all in the course of one Friday evening. The new murals focus on the school’s mascot (Larry the Leopard), the school’s newly adopted colors (black and gold), and a motif of Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.” All of these murals are original artwork created by Student PSEA members in consultation with the Camp Curtin Academy staff and administration. In addition, the Student PSEA university chapters donated more than 2,000 books and completely renovated the school’s library. Because of budget cuts, the Harrisburg School District shares one rotating librarian for the eight schools in the district, and Camp Curtin’s library had fallen into complete disarray. In just five hours, the student volunteers organized, leveled, and shelved more than 10,000 books and beautified the wall spaces with murals connected to contemporary Young Adult literature – like the “Divergent,” “Hunger Games,” and “Harry Potter” series. The students also repainted the entire gymnasium and six of the school’s hallways. The school’s principal, Portia Anderson, kicked off the event and was joined by State Sen. Rob Teplitz and several of the school’s faculty members. It even got local TV news coverage. As part of the Student PSEA Conference’s chapter competition, thousands of food,personal toiletry, and laundry items were collected and delivered to the Harrisburg Downtown Daily Bread Soup Kitchen to help support the soup kitchen and the“Food Plus” program. The Student PSEA members have made the Outreach to Teach initiative a huge success – and they are already planning to lend their talents to another school that needs a transformation.