WASHINGTON, DC — Dan Ryder of Jay was recognized as one of the nation’s top educators Friday, Feb. 8 at the NEA Foundation Salute to Excellence in Education Gala. Ryder and four other educators received the foundation’s prestigious 2019 Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence and $10,000 during the event.

Allan Robinson, senior vice president, Horace Mann Educator Corporation, at left; Harriet Sanford, president and CEO, NEA Foundation; Dan Ryder, Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipient ; Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, NEA Foundation board chair; Grace Leavitt, president, Maine Education Association; and Lily Eskelsen Garcia, NEA Foundation president at the NEA Foundation Salute to Excellence in Education Gala in Washington, DC on Friday, Feb. 8. (Submitted photo)

Ryder is a language arts teacher at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington. He was nominated for the award by the Maine Education Association.

A video highlighting each educator and their school was shown during livestream coverage of the event. Ryder’s video, which was produced last year,  highlighted his work in the Success and Innovation Center at Mt. Blue Campus. Teacher Alicia Wolfe introduced the center as Ryder’s dream project.

“A couple years ago the opportunity presented itself to design a program that would provide multiple pathways to students for success,” Ryder explained. “Becky (Dennison) has a vision for kind of a social work office. I had a vision for a makerspace, where kids could make and create and design.

“The combination of what he does and what I do works really well,” said Dennison, the center’s resource director.

“The Success and Innovation Center is a place on campus where any student, any faculty member can come with whatever problem they are facing,” said Ryder. “No one else is quite doing what we are doing.”


“Dan opens the door up to anybody,” said Tom Saviello of Wilton. “They can work on a project or they can work on an idea. Dan tries to get the resources in that room to help them with their ideas. I have this great vision of this teacher who just kind of bounced around the boundaries and broke the paradigms of education. That is what you need. Someone to be innovative with what is going on out there.

Former student Devin Maillet said, “I first went in there and realized he had a 3D printer. I had never been exposed to technology like that before growing up in rural Maine.”

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, NEA Foundation board chair, at left; Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipients Cynthia Tong and Cicely Woodard; Allan Robinson, Horace Mann senior vice president; and Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence recipients Matthew Bacon-Brenes, Leah Juelke and Dan Ryder at the NEA Foundation Salute to Excellence in Education Gala in Washington, DC on Friday, Feb. 8. (Submitted photo)

“It really gave me a chance to express how creative I can be,” said Mo Polson, also a former student

“It’s that kind of space we need more of in education where we are focused more on the unique needs of kids as individuals and then we look to connect them with the resources,” said Johanna Prince of Kingfield.

At the time the video was filmed, Prince was the Director of Graduate Programs at the University of Maine. She is currently the principal at Kingfield Elementary School.

Ryder said he utilizes design-thinking in the classroom and in the center. “Design-thinking is human-centered, empathy-fueled problem solving,” he said. “It completely transformed everything I was doing in the classroom. I turn all of my teaching into an opportunity to teach kids to be problem solvers.”


“Dan is just an incredible individual,” said Grace Leavitt, president of MEA. “Just the creativity from him and the others in his troops is inspiring.”

“What I am doing right now is the hardest I have ever worked in teaching and it is the best year I’ve had ever,” Ryder said in his video. “I get to do the things I think are most important to education and I love it. I absolutely love it.”

“This community is amazing,” Ryder said. “They support really good things. Great stuff happens in the western foothills of Maine. We just need more people to realize it.”

The event was hosted by actor, director, poet and musician Malcolm Jamal-Warner and award-winning speaker, author, and philanthropist Soledad O’Brien.

Matthew Bacon-Brenes, teacher in Portland Public Schools in Portland, Oregon; Leah Juelke, language arts educator for English learner students at Fargo South High School in Fargo, North Dakota; Cynthia Tong, educator at Ewa Makai Middle School in Ewa Beach, Hawaii; and Cicely Woodard, educator at Freedom Middle School in Franklin, Tennessee were also honors for receiving the award.

Woodward received the top honor of the evening: the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and $25,000.

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