Board of Education Honors Individuals, Organizations for Distinguished Service

May 9, 2014
The Montgomery County Board of Education honored 14 individuals and organizations during its annual Distinguished Service Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 8, 2014. The ceremony took place in the auditorium of the Carver Educational Services Center, 850 Hungerford Drive in Rockville. 

The Board established the awards to recognize and show appreciation for exemplary contributions to public education and to Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) by members of the community, businesses, MCPS staff, and school volunteers.

“Educating our children and preparing them to thrive in their futures takes a collaborative effort,” said Philip Kauffman, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education. “We are grateful for the members of our community who give selflessly of their time, resources, and talents to ensure that all MCPS students receive a high quality education.”

This year’s Distinguished Service Award winners are:

Community Individual

Susan Gardiner has worked as a volunteer for Broad Acres Elementary School for seven years. She has forged many meaningful and productive partnerships with various businesses and civic organizations for Broad Acres. For example, Gardiner cultivated relationships with two Rotary Clubs in Montgomery County to support the various activities of the Positive Behavior Interventions Systems program, including distributing prizes and an end-of-the-year field trip.

Steve Peterson is a volunteer for the Montgomery County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), where he currently serves as President. Through an informal agreement between Montgomery County CERT and the MCPS Office of Engagement and Community Partnerships, he ensured that CERT would be available as a resource to assist in educating MCPS youth on the importance of emergency preparedness and other topics, such as cyber safety and career day events.

Neal Wilson, served as a member of the Board of Investment Trustees from July 2004 to December 2013.  In this role, he provided expertise in the oversight of the investments of the MCPS Employees Retirement and Pension System and the Other Post-Employment Benefits Trust. Wilson's service helped the trusts earn investment income to provide funding for the pensions and retiree health benefits of all eligible MCPS employees.

Community Group

The Commonweal Foundation provides funds and technical support to several elementary schools so that they can offer a four- to six-week summer program, which includes providing instruction, arts programs, activities in science, drama, reading, math, and dance, as well as breakfast and lunch for students and student volunteers. Commonweal also has provided after-school and before-school tutoring programs for students who struggle academically, who meet the criteria for free and reduced meals, and for students who have been identified as students with disabilities. 

Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County, Inc. has developed and sustained the highly regarded education conference, “Techniques for Success: Strategies for Educating Students with Down Syndrome and Other Special Needs.” Teachers, paraeducators, administrators, counselors and therapists attend a full-day conference free of charge. Through this conference, the Down Syndrome Network ensures that teachers continue their own learning and strive to assimilate innovative research and practices in the best interests of their students.


Carl Stein, owner of a RE/MAX Pro’s Realty Company in Germantown, is a parent and advocate of James Hubert Blake High School, where his son attended school. Even after his son’s graduation in 2005, Stein has continued to provide resources to support staff and school goals in support of all students. His reach has expanded to include Shady Grove and Rocky Hill middle schools and other schools, where he has purchased, created, packaged, and delivered cooked meals to more than 400 families.

Washington Area New Auto Dealers Association (WANADA) has been a committed leader for automotive education programs in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. For almost four decades, WANADA has provided financial support and human resources to the Montgomery County Students Automotive Trades Foundation, Inc. (ATF).  The Association has created educational programs that prepare students, not just for the world of work but to also pursue their dream of college. Countless MCPS students have graduated through the ATF programs developed by the Auto Dealers Association with the skills to earn a living wage, thereby being able to pay for college.

MCPS Staff

Leroy Hyson, a product of MCPS and a 28-year MCPS veteran, has been a teacher at Neelsville Middle School for approximately four years. His passion about instruction motivates all students to want to learn science. Hyson constantly reflects upon what he can work on to improve instruction and student learning. He started a trout project in his 6th grade science class that has not only impacted his class, but also the whole school and community in general.

Octavia Jeffries has given three decades of service to MCPS, including the last several years with the alternative programs at the Needwood Academy. A paraeducator, she has been a rallying force for staff and students, helping to organize activities during holidays and run the school store where students can get credit for good behavior and improved academic performance.

Michelle Newton has shined as the coordinator of Benjamin Banneker Middle School's Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) program. AVID is aimed at students who have the potential to excel, yet are often impended by personal, social, or environmental barriers. Newton has sponsored trips to various high schools and colleges. She created a college wear day within the school community and fostered within her students a sense that they can achieve the impossible.

Charles J. Overly is the business manager of Gaithersburg High School. As the largest school building to be constructed in the history of MCPS with a huge variety of specialized programs and services, the new school was a complex, multi-faceted construction project. Overly spent countless hours learning the unique needs of each instructional program, poring over construction drawings, attending progress meetings, and designing critical schoolwide systems for keys, phones, security cameras, and lockers. Since 2009, he has also volunteered with the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.S. program.

Kris Secan is a special educator who has made outstanding contributions towards the services of students with special needs. She currently holds the position of instructional specialist/autism unit leader. In 1981, Secan began her teaching career in MCPS as a classroom teacher for students with autism. At the time, the classrooms were newly formed and considered ‘pilot’ classrooms in conjunction with the University of Maryland. As the Autism program expanded in the late 1980s, Secan became the teacher in charge. Since then the program has grown from seven classrooms to 72 classrooms, all under Secan’s direction.

School Service Volunteer

Mario Parcan is a professor, faculty member, and program coordinator of the Management of Construction program at Montgomery College, where he also serves as a chairperson of the Applied Technologies Department. Parcan has invested time and energy in nurturing a partnership between the Montgomery County Construction Trades Foundation and Montgomery College. High school students enrolled in the Construction Trades Program have the opportunity to dual enroll at Montgomery College in their Construction Management college program, earning college credit while still in high school.

Individual Pioneer

Hank Heller is a former Maryland Delegate who has contributed to MCPS in various capacities, including as an MCPS classroom teacher and administrator, and community activist. His contributions have helped the school system develop and maintain its level of excellence. As a civic activist, he served as the Treasurer of the Fair Share Coalition, made up of many civic and labor organizations, to defeat “Question E” in 1978, which would have resulted in severe cuts to school system’s budgets on a permanent basis.

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