Board of Education Honors Individuals, Organizations for Exceptional Service

May 8, 2015

The Montgomery County Board of Education honored 17 individuals and organizations during its annual Distinguished Service Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 7, 2015. 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.

“We deeply appreciate and thank all of the members of our community who give selflessly of their time, resources, and talents to ensure that all of our students receive a world-class education,” said Patricia O’Neill, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education. “We must work with all parts of our community to ensure that our children are prepared to thrive in their futures.”

Learn more about the awards on the Board of Education's website.

This year’s Distinguished Service Award winners are:

Individual Pioneer

Isiah “Ike” Leggett is an ardent supporter of public education. In 2006, Leggett was elected to his first four-year term as Montgomery County Executive. He was the first African American to be elected to this public office. He was reelected in 2014 to serve a second four-year term as county executive. Leggett also was the first African American to be elected to the Montgomery County Council and he served four terms as an At-Large Member (1986–2002). During that time, he served as the Council's president three times and as its vice president three times. Mr. Leggett has used his influence and skillset to be an effective partner with MCPS, helping to provide the appropriate classrooms and resources to meet the needs of the district’s children. Collaborating with the Board of Education and colleagues on the Council, Mr. Leggett has worked to ensure funding for innovative instructional initiatives like small class sizes, early childhood education, and all-day kindergarten.

Community Individual

Joe Kessler has been a contributor to the success of MCPS career programs for nearly 25 years. As managing partner and co-founder of Next-Stage Development Group, Kessler has shared his experiences with MCPS as an industry partner and has opened opportunities for students to gain real-world experience through internships and full-time employment. In 2004, Kessler was instrumental in the creation of the Montgomery County Students Information Technology Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and advancing information technology education and preparing high school students for skilled positions in the IT field.

Robert Thomas has lead the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)/Senior Scientists and Engineers (SSE) STEM Volunteer Program since 2004. The mission of the program is to support K-12 STEM education, foster Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) literacy and motivate students to pursue STEM careers. Thomas has volunteered at Sherwood High School for the past six years where he meets with chemistry students once a week to share his experiences and expertise.

Arthur Williams has worked tirelessly as an education advocate and community activist in Montgomery County for nearly 45 years. As president of Home Study, Williams provided in-home tutoring to students in 15 communities. He has been a passionate leader of the 1977 II Action Group for more than three years, leading the group in providing input to the Board of Education and superintendent of schools on how to eliminate the achievement gap.

Community Group

The Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County (CRCMC) has introduced a wide variety of collaborative problem-solving processes into MCPS.  The services support the school system in making the schools safe communities in which the students can learn and thrive. CRCMC provides free in-school mediation at several MCPS schools. The Center’s volunteer mediators are at these schools each week, and they mediate disputes that are referred to them by staff and students. The Center also trains teachers in how to conduct dialogue circles, which bring students together to talk about a specific topic that will create a deeper sense of community and trust.

Liberty’s Promise serves Montgomery County’s low income, immigrant youth through its afterschool civics programs and professional internship program. Through its work, Liberty’s Promise empowers youth immigrants with the knowledge, skills, tools, and connections to fulfill their personal American Dream. Liberty’s Promise’s after-school civics programs bring in guest speakers, take the youth on field trips, and organize volunteer activities to help youth feel more at home in Montgomery County and to prepare them for college and careers. Liberty’s Promise’s internship program provides youth with basic job skills training and exposes young people to the workplace and different careers. Since 2006, Liberty’s Promise has served over 1,400 immigrant youth, ages 15-21, in Montgomery County. These youth come from 104 countries and have a variety of backgrounds.

The Montgomery County Alliance of Black School Educators (MCABSE) has contributed, supported, and served the students and staff of MCPS and the community for more than 40 years. MCABSE works to develop programs, activities and initiatives that improve the academic performance and achievement of African American students; establish a coalition of educators, professionals, and community stakeholders committed to and directly involved in the educational process; and identify and develop African American professionals who aspire to leadership positions in education. MCABSE also provides scholarships and other incentives to deserving students who seek higher education and advanced training.

Passion for Learning, Inc., was founded in 2001 by a group of parent and business volunteers who had a mission to make afterschool learning more rich, engaging, and relevant for academically at-risk, low-income students in MCPS. Passion for Learning provides year-round, out-of-school learning opportunities for students who often lack access to enriching activities that are designed to accelerate knowledge, increase skills, and inspire them to plan for their futures.


Strathmore Education has been an invaluable educational resource partner in helping to inspire and educate MCPS students by exposing them to music, dance and art on educational and personal levels. Lauren Campbell is the Director of Education Programs at Strathmore Education (Strathmore), where she has worked since April of 2010. In addition to her administration of the Strathmore Children’s Chorus, she runs Strathmore’s school partnerships, books pre-concert lectures, manages a portfolio of donors, and coordinates the annual fall fund raiser, Strathmore Cabaret, among many other projects. Under her leadership, Strathmore has worked closely with the art department at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School to provide unique arts experiences for its students and community. 

Imagination Stage, founded by Bonnie Fogel, is a non-profit theatre that inspires creativity through arts education programs and performances that challenge, nurture, and empower youth. Imagination Stage has long had a commitment with MCPS to ensure that the theatre arts are a part of students’ academic lives through field trips, residencies, and school-based projects. Imagination Stage’s service to MCPS also has included providing training for Program of Assessment, Diagnosis, and Instruction (PADI) teachers in techniques to increase early academic and critical thinking skills, conducting an arts access residency on deaf culture at Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary, and undertaking special “Bring the Bus” fundraising campaigns to provide transportation for schools who would otherwise be unable to take advantage of free tickets.

MCPS Staff

Stephanie Brant has been an educator for more than 15 years, having served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal intern, and a principal. Brant is in her fifth year as principal of Gaithersburg Elementary School where she has worked diligently to create a welcoming school environment and is known for her open-door policy. Her commitment to her students extends beyond the school year. In an effort to encourage students to continue reading over the summer, Brant operates a “mobile library” and drives around the community distributing books to students.  She also works to obtain grants to operate summer programming for the enrichment of her students. She takes the time to meet with parents to address their concerns and make sure their children are getting the best education possible.

Patricia A. Hurd is a key member of the Department of Financial Services Leadership Team, providing a wide range of services to more than 38,000 employees and retirees. She supervises a call center that handles more than 5,000 phone calls and 1,000 emails per month from these customers. She gets involved to resolve issues and to improve services. Over her 31 years with MCPS, Mrs. Hurd has implemented new payroll software, a call routing system, a call tracking system, and a scanning system. In addition, she has updated other systems, has improved processes, and has worked tirelessly to meet the needs of a growing school system.

Mary Scott is an academic support teacher at South Lake Elementary School. Scott formed and founded the SMART Boys Club, an afterschool program that supports high-risk elementary school-aged boys by focusing on student behavior and academic achievement. Scott has provided countless hours of encouragement, personal tutoring for home school students, and parents in the community.  She also coordinates a variety of after-school programs for math and science enrichment, reading, geometry, and drama.

School Service Volunteer

James Lipton has worked diligently by volunteering hundreds of hours each year to assist African American and Hispanic students who are the first in their families to apply to college. Dr. Lipton, through his work with the Access2College program at Walter Johnson High School, makes a huge difference in the lives of these students as he walks them through the entire college application process, helps them get scholarships, and plan for their futures.  All of the students he works with get into four-year colleges or universities, and many receive significant financial aid through grants and scholarships.

Stuart and Marilyn Morrison have volunteered at Summit Hall Elementary school for more than five years. Although they do not have children who attend the school, they selflessly dedicate numerous hours of their time, assisting the school in any way possible. They provide assistance during many facets of the school day, including math, language arts, fitness, and technology.  They visit the school multiple times a week to organize the school book room, as well as the math manipulatives used for instruction. The Morrisons spearheaded and advocated for Summit Hall to be the recipient of their church's 50th Anniversary fundraising campaign.  The money raised from this fundraising effort was used to start an afterschool program offering martial arts, fitness, and science to students, at no charge to families.

Sherry Reba has served in all the schools her children attended and maintained support to those schools even after her children transitioned to other schools. Reba is actively involved in parent liaison committees, the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) and the Student Government Association (SGA). She is involved in the Gifted and Talented/Learning Disabled (GT/LD) Network, GT/LD Liaison Committees, and Special Needs committees. She can be seen early in the morning before school, during class time, during lunch periods, on fieldtrips and after school helping with the Homework Club, or attending meetings and events.

Emily Talaga has taught more than 600 students at Rock View Elementary School how to play chess. Talaga created her own 25-page, nine-lesson chess guide for the students to use when she was unable to find suitable resources to meet the needs of the students. The book is comprehensive and includes the history of chess, chess etiquette, and detailed instructions on how to play. Many of the students that worked with Talaga have gone on to participate in local chess competitions. Talaga inspires students at Rock View to be all they can be and teaches them the importance of fairness and kindness.

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