Neal was selected from the five 2019 Ambassadors for Excellence that were identified by the foundation last month and announced at the Arizona Educational Foundation’s annual luncheon today in front of more than 600 Arizona educators, elected officials and business leaders. Of the five Ambassadors for Excellence, Neal is the only high school teacher.
Arizona Educational Foundation Video: 2019 Arizona Teacher of the Year and Ambassadors for Excellence:
Neal has taught for 20 years, including 11 at Maryvale, teaching Community Based Training for students who have moderate to severe disabilities to access academic content standards through modified curriculum. CBT is designed to help students perform as independently and productively as possible in their home, school, and community environment.
“It looks like I won’t make it back to my students today,” Neal said. “When I see them tomorrow, I think I’m going to come in and I’m going to tell them thank you also. Then we’re going to get to it, because we love learning, we love teaching together. For them, it’s much more important to just have me there.”
Neal said it was different for him being at the event, because he never misses work.
“For them, I was worried it was going to throw them off,” Neal said. “How are they doing right now? My paraprofessional is here checking in because for them it’s all about me being there and for me it’s all about them being there.”
— AZ Ed Foundation (@azedfoundation) October 25, 2018
Neal has a B.S. in chemical engineering and an M.A. in special education and has extensive training in applied behavior analysis and sensory integration techniques. He has developed the curriculum that the district uses for every subject in the self-contained special education classes.
“I stumbled into the Special Olympics one day,” Neal said, after the luncheon today. “These students are the best people ever.”
Neal said he wants to make his classroom a community and his school a community.
“I feel that particularly in school when you teach self-contained special education students they need a chance to talk with students in the general ed curriculum, some of those AP students,” Neal said. “We can find ways to connect student communities and I think it will make all the students there love school more and I think that’s what it’s all about.”
Neal said the biggest reward of teaching for him is a simple daily thing.
“It’s that coming into school and seeing my students happy to see me, and I’m happy to see them,” Neal said.
He is also the sponsor of his school’s diversity club and the vice-president of the Phoenix Union High School District’s Black Alliance. He has been recognized for the National Education Association’s Diversity Grant, The Maryvale Revitalization Committee’s Educator Excellence Award, and Teacher of the Year at Maryvale High School.
There needs to be more black men teaching, Neal said.
“Just .3 percent of the National Board Certified Teacher submissions were from black male teachers,” Neal said. “I know that’s unrepresentative of the population. There’s a bunch of black male boys at school, and they need to see people like me who love their job, but not just that they have knowledge of lots of jobs and college and graduate school and things like that so I think that’s important.”
Neal said his mother and grandmother really stressed the importance of education to him.
“I was one of the rare 6’7″ guys who got more positive reinforcement for everything education and the rewards I got from school for academics than sports awards,” Neal said.
Neal is also a Restorative Justice regional trainer for Phoenix Union High School District. He sponsors the Community Skills Club and Panthertown. He has coached girls basketball, is the football game announcer, and works volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball games.
“I believe developing meaningful relationships is critical to student success, and encourages a lifelong love of learning. Building relationships is the key to eliminating bias and moving forward in growth,” said Neal.
As Arizona’s Teacher of the Year, Neal becomes a candidate for National Teacher of the Year, has the opportunity to meet the U.S. President, and receives $15,000, along with many other honoraria, including a week at the International Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., professional speech training, consideration to receive an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University, a full scholarship to Argosy University in Phoenix, and an Arizona K12 Center Scholarship to pursue National Board Certification. He will also be a participant in the Fiesta Bowl Parade.
The Teacher of the Year and Ambassadors have multiple opportunities during the year to make public appearances throughout the state, speaking to professional, civic, educational, parent and student groups.
Neal said he’s always been a strong advocate for teacher pay and teacher retention.
“I talked about teacher retention a lot in my interviews because I’m seeing a lot of young teachers who are good being lured away by a business that says, ‘Hey, that person is sharp and that person is smart and their educated and they’re barely making $30,000 teaching. I can swoop in and offer them more. We lost one teacher to a furniture store. We lost one to Kazakhstan. My friend is Kazakhstan teaching and she was a fourth year teacher who taught AP English and she did student government and she did yearbook. And we lost her to another school.”
Additionally, AEF named its four Teacher of the Year finalists, called “Ambassadors for Excellence,” who will serve with Neal as spokespersons for their profession, advocating for excellence in the classroom by making presentations statewide to education, civic, government, and professional organizations.
The four 2019 Ambassadors for Excellence are:
- Maria Barker, Early Childhood Special Education Teacher at Red Mountain Center for Early Education of Mesa Public Schools, Mesa; (This is the first year the Foundation has celebrated a preschool teacher in the Teacher of the Year program.)
- Lee Ann Howell, 7th Grade Science Teacher at Colonel Smith Middle School of Fort Huachuca Accommodation School District, Fort Huachuca;
- Sheri Loyd, 3rd Grade ELA and Math Teacher at Mountain View School of Dysart Unified School District, Waddell;
- Jonathan Perrone, 8th Grade STEAM Teacher at Mountain Sky Middle School of Washington Elementary School District, Phoenix.
Five additional teachers were selected as Semifinalists (not in contention for the 2019 Teacher of the Year award):
- Joshua Farr, 10th – 12th Grade Science Teacher at Cienega High School of Vail Unified School District, Vail;
- Amy Komitzky Henning, English and ELA Teacher at Chandler High School of Chandler Unified School District, Chandler;
- Benjamin Lebovitz, Choir and Drama Teacher at Walden Grove High School of Sahuarita Unified School District, Sahuarita;
- Rachel Lodge, 9th Grade History Teacher at Flowing Wells High School of Flowing Wells Unified School District, Tucson;
- Dr. Lettice Pelotte, English and History Teacher at Metro Tech High School of Phoenix Union High School District, Phoenix.
At the luncheon, Metro Tech English and history teacher Dr. Lettice Pelotte was also recognized as one of ten semifinalists for the 2019 Teacher of the Year. Phoenix Union was the only district to have more than one semifinalist.
AEF’s annual Teacher of the Year program is the only statewide program to spotlight and honor Arizona’s public school teachers.
The annual Teacher of the Year program is the premier event of the Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF), a statewide nonprofit organization that promotes and awards the exceptional efforts being made in Arizona public schools.
“Mr. Neal and the other teachers honored at today’s luncheon are outstanding examples of Arizona’s public school educators. I have the utmost respect and admiration for all of our teachers and the efforts they make daily to improve the lives of Arizona students.” said AEF Executive Director Bobbie O’Boyle. “Today is a celebration of Arizona Teachers.”
Thanks to its generous sponsors and donors, the Arizona Educational Foundation continues to be able to provide this distinguished award for the 36th consecutive year.
The AEF™ Arizona Teacher of the Year program is the only statewide program that spotlights the contributions of Arizona’s public school teachers.
Slideshow by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews: Arizona Educational Foundation 2019 Arizona Teacher of the Year Luncheon