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Current Awardees

2023 Award Winners

Alexandra Hall is the 2023 Outstanding Advocate of the Year Award winner.


Alexandra serves as the Principal Consultant for Pretty SMART, a dedicated technical assistance provider in the early learning and out-of-school time space. In the past decade that Mrs. Hall has spent in the field of early childhood, particularly in communities of color, several disparities have been exposed. She firmly believes that high-quality environments and education are essential for ALL children despite their family’s socio-economic status. Equitable access to education and intervention services are rights often denied to our community’s most vulnerable children.  She contends that it is not enough to simply cast a vote or respond to surveys regarding the inequities that are prevalent in our educational system.


In 2022, Alexandra was appointed to the Interagency Coordinating Council for Infants & Toddlers with Disabilities (ICC) & the Marion County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team (DVFRT) by the Governor and City-County Council, respectively. She is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., where she serves as Connection & Social Action Coordinator for the State of Indiana. Alexandra passionately advocates for Exceptional Children through the First Steps LPCC, IN DEC (Secretary), MSD of Pike Township Equity Council, FSSA Office of Early Childhood & Out of School Learning Registered Ministry Advisory Board (Chairman), Early Childhood Leaders of Color Collaborative and the ACES Indiana Coalition (Master Trainer).


Alexandra earned her BA in Sociology and Linguistics from the University of Michigan.  She went on to earn her MA in Human Resource Management from Marygrove College. In recent years, she has studied special topics such as education, perinatal, infant and youth mental health, psychotherapy, ACES, and neurodevelopmental disabilities at Southern Indiana University.  She has earned Child Development Associate (CDA), Child & Youth Care-Professional (CYC-P), and Infant Mental Health Endorsement® (IMH-E®) credentials and is an ACES Master Trainer. As an emerging leader in the field of youth development, she has completed fellowships with The Journey & EmpowerED Families. She was an inaugural fellow in the Early Learning Indiana (ELI) Early Education Director’s cohort.


Alexandra is the two-time winner of the First Steps Parent of Power Award.  This award, from the Central Indiana First Steps LPCC was earned for her outstanding support and advocacy for early intervention.


Additionally, she was a 2022 fellow in Indiana University School of Medicine’s LEND training program. Her research focus was Family Perspectives: A Qualitative Study Examining the Lived Experience of Black Families Navigating Diagnosis and Early Intervention. This study aims to raise awareness about the lived experience of black families with children with neurodevelopmental disabilities (NDD) and global developmental delays (GDD).  The study results were presented to the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC). Invitations to the LEND poster session were extended in an effort to ensure Indiana lawmakers are aware of what their black constituents experience while seeking early intervention and/or special education services for their children.  

Leanna Walsh is the 2023 Distinctive Service of the Year Award Winner.


Leanna Walsh has demonstrated exemplary personal and professional qualities while making outstanding contributions to children with exceptionalities. Leanna is a Physical Therapist for the MSD of Wayne Township in Indianapolis. Leanna seeks to ensure appropriate accommodations are in place, allowing the students she serves to access all aspects of the school environment. After school, Leanna can be found taking students to adapted rock climbing. This is another environment where she ensures that all students have access to physical activity in the most fun way. She has been known to place prizes at the top of the rock wall to help students bravely climb up. She has also been known to deliver birthday cards to students who may be homebound. She even brings her own children along to ensure students have a friend to celebrate with. Leanna was integral in helping launch the school’s coffee cart program, helping students make and serve coffee to teachers. Leanna also leads the Achilles Marathon Kids program for our district, ensuring all students have access to learning the importance of lifelong physical activity.  

Dr. Jennifer Smith, 2023 Outstanding Professor of the Year Award winner.


Dr. Smith often goes above and beyond what is normally expected. Dr. Smith serves as the Special Education Undergraduate Program Coordinator and the coordinator for Student Teaching for special education and dual education (i.e., special education and elementary education) majors at Purdue University. In these roles, she ensures each student is launched into their career fully prepared and confident. She regularly meets with student teachers in the evening, on weekends, before and after the semester, for individual mentoring sessions. Dr. Smith created an event for all Purdue Special Education majors to gather and socialize with peers and faculty. The Purdue Inclusive Education Program (IEP) gatherings in the fall of 2021 and 2022 were important to the faculty and students for getting to know each other and returning to in-person learning and events.


Dr. Smith is the co-director of the Center for Resources and Equipment for Assistive Technology (CREATE), which provides opportunities for students and faculty across the university to increase their knowledge in both pre-made assistive technology and instructional materials, as well as in developing low-cost solutions for do-it-yourself assistive technology and instructional materials. CREATE provides opportunities for students to engage with commercially developed AT and learn how to create, modify, and adapt AT solutions. The center also employs the use of Creative Assistive and Rehabilitative Technology Solutions (CARTS) that course instructors can check out to use or request demonstrations of AT within their courses.


Dr. Smith is an exemplary teacher. Within her courses, Dr. Smith is actively working to provide opportunities for pre-service teachers at Purdue to develop positive, collaborative relationships with the students, families, and faculty within the classrooms and schools in their field experiences to work towards greater outcomes for their students. One way this is done is through targeted assignments within her courses that ask students to participate in non-academic activities to recognize the diversity of students and families and create positive partnerships across all stakeholders (i.e., students, families, and the greater school community). Data collected from this indicate positive responses from the pre-service teachers and have been presented at conferences to disseminate the idea to other teacher preparation programs nationwide. She is a role model for her students inside and outside the classroom. She loves teaching and makes others want to excel in the classroom. She brings new and innovative ideas and practices to the classroom.  

Lisa Knepp is the 2023 Paraeducator of the Year Award winner.


Lisa Knepp goes above and beyond daily to ensure that the needs of the students she provides services to are met and the needs of the special education teachers she works with. Lisa serves as a special education paraprofessional at Wawasee High School in Syracuse, Indiana. Lisa has become knowledgeable enough to provide support in nearly all subjects at the high school level, which has been extremely helpful in providing the academic support needs of the students she works with.  In addition, she is an excellent role model for the students and adults she supports.  Along with academic support, she often supports students who are struggling emotionally.  She provides them with the safe space they need to become regulated and return to class.  In addition to providing support to her students, Lisa often provides support or answers questions for the other paras she works with.  When a new para is hired, she is trusted to provide them with the training necessary for success.  Lisa is the perfect example of an exemplary paraeducator.   

Myra Dunfee is the 2023 Special Educator Rising Star of the Year Award winner.


Myra Dunfee is a special education teacher serving Emotionally Handicapped Special Education students at Rochester Middle School in Rochester, Indiana. Myra works tirelessly to serve one of the most challenging populations of students-the students with severe behaviors. She has taught paraprofessionals and general education teachers how to engage the students in learning while minimizing behaviors.

Kristen Stratton is the 2023 Outstanding Administrator of the Year award meeting.  As Director of Student Services, Kristen goes above and beyond for the United Schools of Indianapolis network. She has spent countless hours training the staff on best practices, the law of special education, and how to write high-quality IEPs. She always makes herself available to help proofread documents before finalizing them, answers every question, and provides feedback to each special educator as they continue to develop and grow in the field. She also gets to know each person she works with personally. She makes each person feel valued as a member of her team. Kristen helps talk through evaluations, feedback, IEP goals, IEP writing, and personal areas of growth.

Jingyuan Zhang is the Outstanding CEC Member of the Year award winner.


Jingyuan Zhang is a graduate student and serves as a Teaching Assistant in Special Education at Purdue University. Jingyuan is enthusiastic about supporting undergraduate students in school learning and passionate about advocating for students with disabilities.


In her research, she has expressed a strong interest in implementation science to ensure the use of evidence-based instructional practices for helping at-risk students. In community engagement, she continues to lead and develop the Disability Awareness Program at local elementary schools.  In this program, she uses age-appropriate activities with young children to promote their understanding of disability, inclusion, respect, and equity.


Jingyuan is a bright, mature, dependable, responsible, and hard-working individual. She has a strong work ethic and often goes above and beyond what she is asked to do. She is always ready to give a helping hand to others when needed. In addition to academic work, she also devoted herself to leading volunteer programs for helping the underprivileged.  She also supports individuals and groups and promotes legal awareness in the community.  

Queen Dancy is the 2023 YES, I CAN! Student Award winner.


In the fifth grade, Queen suffered a non-accidental spinal cord injury due to a violent act. She has C4 quadriplegia and Type 2 diabetes. She uses a power wheelchair for mobility and depends on others for movement. 


Queen is an incredible young woman who has continually amazed the Ben Davis High School and Wayne Township staff since arriving this school year. Queen has technology support to assist her with access to her educational curriculum.  Her goal is to go to college to study business and to live as independently as possible. Queen continually advocates for herself and finds solutions as an active problem solver!


This year, Queen has joined BPA and DECA (the two co-curricular Business clubs at Ben Davis). She placed in the STATE competition for business!  All her teachers report that she actively participates in her classes and strives to complete all her work. Given her physical limitations, it would be easy to give up, but Queen is consistently a driven student! She truly believes that she CAN!  

2022 Award Winners

Trisha Hutchison

Trisha Hutchinson

Trisha Hutchison graduated from Warsaw High School. She is originally from North Webster, Indiana.  She began working with people with disabilities when she was in her early twenties which included group homes and day service providers for years. She eventually studied special education at IU South Bend.


In 2007 she received a job with Elkhart Community Schools as a special education paraprofessional. Mrs. Hutchison worked with exceptional learners at every grade level and ability level.


She has also raised two children with special needs of her own.  She realized with her second child how isolating having a high needs child can be so she started a facebook group for parents.  With this she created a space where they all share their knowledge and advice, and support each other through difficult times.


She needed a better way to show the community how valuable these individuals are as employees. She then went to the Director of Exceptional Learners and asked if she could just open their own business.  This is how Hart City Coffee Company in Elkhart was born.  The students have a small cafe inside the school and also a coffee company for ground and bagged specialty coffee for the public that started this semester. 


Trisha is a hard working and kind person who was able to come to the Board Meeting and explain how the process works with her students.  They sold almost 15lbs of coffee before the board report was completed.

“Trish loves kids, loves to see students thrive and has a heart for getting the best out of others.  She is the perfect example of someone who is doing this work for the right reasons.  Trish works with employers in the community often advocating for students and employees with disabilities.  She is able to help educate employers and others about the amazing work these students can do. Trisha states, “I am living my Purpose.  I am not very good at telling people about myself, but I love to tell people about my students.  They inspire me every single day.  We all as humans want the same things in life.  We all want to love and be loved, and we all want to have purpose.  I want to help all of our exceptional learners find purpose, and to help their families navigate this wonderfully crazy journey.”


It is our honor to award the Outstanding Advocate of the Year to Trisha Hutchinson.


Scarlett Lux

Scarlett Lux

Scarlett has been doing what she loves to do for the past 20+ years. She knew she wanted to work with students with special needs since she did her cadet teaching class during her junior year of high school.  She attended Ball State University for her bachelor’s degree in Moderate/Severe Profound/Multiple Disabilities K-12.


She began her teaching career at Fayette County Schools in a high school setting, teaching students with multiple disabilities. She took a few years off to raise a family and then started back teaching in a special needs preschool.  A few years later, she began teaching at an elementary school and taught there for 5 years before moving to her current position as a high school life skills teacher. She has been at the high school for the past 10 years and during those years she states, “I have been blessed with amazing students and supportive staff.  While teaching functional academics and creating independence, I focus on making sure each day is full of laughter and love!”


“The BEST Teacher! These three words describe Ms. Scarlett Lux but it does not capture the magic that she creates in her classroom and with her students.”


Throughout her career as a teacher for students with moderate to severe disabilities, Ms. Scarlett has implemented innovative teaching techniques into her classroom that bring out the best in her students. Whether is it creating an underwater world through activities that integrate fine motor and language rich directions or shaping skills and behaviors through real world task application and everything in between; Ms. Scarlett does it all with specific care and adaptations for her students.


The smiles as students arrive excited to start the day along with the classroom visitors who tend to just show up to be part of this amazing classroom speak volumes about what Ms. Scarlett Lux has created in her classroom. It is a home and a community.  While Ms. Scarlett is an outstanding teacher within the school, her influence does not stop there. She has tirelessly worked to help students transition successfully to adult services after high school. She is often the point of contact for adult agencies to ensure all details are in place, so when a child leaves the four walls of the schoolhouse, they are set up for the absolute best life can offer.


Ms. Scarlett is a specialist at seeing the potential, seeing the unseen, and seeing the joy.


It is with high regard that we recognize Scarlett Lux as the 2022 Indiana CEC Special Education Teacher of the Year!


Don Phillips

Don Phillips

Don has dedicated his life to students in need. Bashor Children's home serves students from around the state of Indiana. Don's motto was always we will take the kid if they need help. 


He made Bashor into a facility that treated students with dignity and care.  When the teen homeless population grew to a point that it gained attention for practitioners around the Northern Part of the State it was Don who developed a drop in temporary center for youth with the goal of clinical intervention and reunification with permanency. 


Don developed a day school for students, almost exclusively with special needs, to allow them to come to a protected school with clinical services during the day and to their own homes at night.  Don's desire to help ALL kids is awe-inspiring.  He is an inspiration to all who work with special needs children.


We would like to honor Don Phillips with the 2022 Distinctive Service of the Year Award.


Theresa Knipstein Meyer

Theresa Knipstein Meyer

Theresa Knipstein Meyer is on faculty at Butler University in the College of Education. She graduated from Ball State University with an elementary and special education degree. She did all her graduate work including a director’s license in special education at Indiana University. Theresa mostly works with student teachers and instructs in method classes for special education at Butler. She is also the director of the graduate program for the initial licensing in special education accelerated program.  Professor Meyer speaks often on brain research and retention of teachers in the field. Theresa has been a teacher for over twenty-five years. She was a Digital Age literacy coach in the MSD Lawrence Township in Indianapolis, Indiana. In this role, she supported 34 literacy coaches in 21 buildings (K-12) with 21st century goals and best practices in teaching. Her specialty is working with diverse learners, particularly those students labeled with disabilities.  

Professor Meyer has done a lot of work with mentors and beginning teachers in school districts around the state. Professor Meyer completed a two‐year professional leave as a teacher‐in‐residence with the Indiana Department of Education. In this role, she was able to support beginning teachers in the state and work in a variety of ways at the state level.  Professor Meyer presents to educators and administrators on a regular basis about educational issues.  She has consulted with the Children Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana and is very active with the National Milken Educator network, Zionsville Education Foundation, and serving on several other community boards.  Theresa continues to learn and grow from her husband, two daughters and many students who she has had the privilege to instruct. 


The President of Butler University's chapter of CEC and Vice President have worked with Theresa since their freshman year, starting by having her as a professor for class, then by having her as the CEC advisor, and now that they’re in student teaching, she is their mentor and friend. They would like to honor her with these comments, “We would like to start off by saying that Theresa is the most life-changing educator we have ever had. Theresa makes every student a priority and will drop whatever she is doing to make sure students' social/emotional needs are met, along with their academic needs. Since our freshman year, she has believed, encouraged, and motivated us by getting to know us personally so that she could recognize our strengths and guide us in reaching our full potential, not only as future educators, but also as people. She welcomed us into her home for a pasta dinner, has sat with us to talk about our personal life struggles, and has taken extra time out of her day to observe us as student teachers and write us constructive observational notes. When Theresa approached us about restarting a CEC chapter at Butler University, we were both new to the profession of education but excited by Theresa's recognition of our leadership potential. Since then, we have worked through the pandemic to create a welcoming and successful CEC community on campus, all with Theresa's support and expertise. Theresa is amazing about helping us make professional connections with the speakers that come in for our monthly meetings. She always furthers our passions and interests within education by aiding us in planning and executing these meetings that are relevant and specific to our professional growth journey. In the classroom setting, Theresa's passions shine through her enthusiasm, and it's obvious to students that she has a big heart, as she is consistently overjoyed about getting the opportunity to teach and learn from future educators in this field. Something that is also unique and awesome about Theresa is how involved she is with her fellow professors. Theresa makes excellent connections across courses and involving CEC, so she is always partnering with other colleagues to facilitate the most productive learning experiences. She invites different classes and professors to our CEC meetings and will coordinate curriculum so that students have the opportunity to dive deeper into what they're learning. She is always thinking in a student-centered mindset and wants students to get as much hands-on experience as possible. I know that Theresa takes so much pride in being a part of inspiring the next generation of educators, and thanks to her involvement in my life, I am so much more confident, knowledgeable, and competent as a young teacher. We honestly can't think of a more deserving educator or person to receive this award. Theresa has inspired and provided so much support to countless people. She truly touches the lives of everyone that she encounters, and we feel so lucky to have gotten to learn from her and get to know her over the past four years.”  


It is with great honor that we present Theresa Knipstein Meyer with the 2022 Outstanding Professor of the Year Award.


Johannah Siers

Johannah Siers

The CEC 2022 Littlejohn Scholarship Award goes to Johannah Siers. Johannah Siers is from Elgin, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She is a senior at Grace College and will graduate with a degree in elementary education and special education. She also completed her intense intervention certification this past fall.


She has had the privilege of being a member of Grace’s chapter of CEC her 3 years at Grace college, and president from 2020-2021. When she graduates, she looks forward to investing in the lives of her students and challenging them to be the best they can be.


Johannah’s advisor really helps us understand how she exemplifies the dedication to the principles and high professional standards of Dr. William Littlejohn. “Johannah Sier's compassion and commitment to students with disabilities was evident from the first day I met her; first as an advisee, then as a student, and finally as the president of the Grace College CEC chapter. In the classroom, Johannah demonstrates academic excellence and continuously strives to learn and seek out opportunities that enlarge her knowledge about the field of special education. In fact, Johannah just completed an initial licensure preparation program in intense intervention that culminated in a successful clinical practice in a self-contained educational setting. This is in addition to her elementary and mild intervention licensure programs of which she is currently student teaching in. Johannah has demonstrated her commitment to the profession through her leadership in the CEC Grace College Student Chapter. As an undergraduate student, she participated as a member of the chapter then during her junior year served as the President of the executive board. During her leadership, Johannah led the chapter into a virtual world of service and community. In the midst of a pandemic, Johannah continued to seek ways for the chapter to creatively serve those in our community with disabilities. She provided virtual opportunities for the CEC members to collaborate and grow professionally. She did a remarkable job in this leadership capacity and comes highly recommended from the School of Education Faculty as well as the Grace College Administration as an exemplary prospective special education teacher.”


Therefore due to these accolades, it is our pleasure to present Johannah Siers with the 2022 Littlejohn Scholarship Award.

Hannah (Rose) Maschino

Hannah (Rose) Maschino

Hannah is a Special Education teacher at Robey Elementary in the MSD of Wayne Township who recently graduated from Grace College where she was also an integral member of their CEC chapter and then began teaching during a Pandemic.  When you hear what colleagues have to say about her accomplishments, there is no debate that she should be celebrated. Hannah demonstrate CEC’s core values, which are:

  • Visionary Thinking: Demonstrated by forward-thinking and courageous decision making dedicated to excellence and influence in an evolving environment
  • Integrity: Demonstrated by ethical, responsive behavior, transparency, and accountability
  • Inclusiveness: Demonstrated by a commitment to diversity, caring, and respect for the dignity and worth of all individuals


You can see these core values in these words written by her colleague:

“If you are looking for a rising star in special education, there is no star shining brighter than Hannah (Rose) Maschino. Mrs. Maschino began teaching in our THRIVE (life skills) program last November directly out of college and in the middle of a pandemic, therefore, this is her very first full year as a classroom teacher of students with mild and severe disabilities. At the end of last school year, Mrs. Maschino was told she was moving schools, so she packed up everything she had and moved into a converted science lab. Mrs. Maschino spent the summer setting up her new classroom in her new building, while also taking courses in intense disabilities, and then got married the weekend before school started. This brings us to the day I had the opportunity to be part of a team with Mrs. Maschino.


Although she has only been in her current building a short time, she has made a lasting impression on staff and students. Not only is Mrs. Maschino a gentle soul who speaks with genuine concern in a soothing and adaptive classroom environment with intentions of moving the students as far as they can to meet the standards designated for her curriculum, she is also inclusive in all she does. She is dedicated to the diversity and inclusion of her students in as many facets of the school as possible. Mrs. Maschino has worked with classroom teachers, special education teachers, counselors, certified staff, special area teachers, and anyone else whom her students may encounter in the school to ensure they are respected and understood, accepted and welcomed into every school environment. Her students move throughout the building as a class or with their buddies with smiles on their faces, excited to be in an environment that is individualized for them to meet their goals and inclusive with peers of the same age. She encourages her students to build relationships with classmates and typically developing peers by providing training, encouragement, and social lessons to her students. Mrs. Mashino is not afraid to problem solve social situations with teachers and students that interact with her students outside of her self-contained classroom either. Additionally, Mrs. Maschino inspires her students to continue learning as much as possible by setting high expectations despite his/her disabilities. Mrs. Mashino is not complacent in allowing her students to rest on typical life skills goals, but strives for them to reach their true academic and social potential by writing lofty goals which require hard work on the part of both herself and her students.


Mrs. Maschino is also a visionary thinker in every sense of the word. She has sifted through her students’ data to make sure all students have as much exposure to typically developing peers and grade level curriculum as possible. In her short tenure at Robey, she has challenged typical thinking and general stereotyping of her students and engaged in creative scheduling by a team to support her students in an effort to increase their access to additional curriculum, social experience, life skills, and inclusive practices. She holds both herself and the entire special education team to a high standard of accountability for the progress of her students. More so, Mrs. Maschino works hard for her students and families to feel comfortable with decisions being made, welcomed into the environment, and heard.” 


It is truly our honor that we recognize Hannah as the 2022 Indiana CEC Special Educator Rising Star of the Year!


Tara Rinehart

Tara Rinehart

Dr. Tara Rinehart has had the opportunity to lead at many levels in education. Dr. Rinehart has been in MSD of Wayne Township as an Assistant Director and now the current Director of Special Services since 2011. She was an Elementary Principal in North Montgomery School Corporation prior to her move to the urban setting. Her previous experience includes work at the Indiana Department of Education as the State Response to Intervention Specialist as well as an Exceptional Learners specialist with Special Education Complaints, Disproportionality and the opportunity to influence the reauthorization of Article 7. Prior to joining the Indiana Department of Education, Dr. Rinehart was a Special Education Department Chair and teacher for the Brownsburg Community School Corporation. She has also taught Special Education K-12 in Arizona and Iowa.


She graduated with her PhD and EdS from Indiana State University’s Wednesday Residency Program, her MS in Educational Administration from Butler University’s EPPSP program, and received her Bachelor of Arts in Special Education from Arizona State University. In addition, she holds a K-12 Mild Intervention License, an Intense Intervention License, a Building Level Administrator license, and a Superintendent license. As the Child Advocacy Network (CAN) for the Indiana CEC Executive Board since 2014, then President-Elect for the last two years, and now President, Dr. Rinehart has been able to lead as a board member in strategic planning and legislative advocacy in Washington, D.C. She also provides leadership through providing presentations around the nation and has published in the Journal of Special Education Leadership. She works alongside the Indiana Department of Education in the creation and implementation of the New Educator Institute, which allows all new special education teachers a CEC membership along with tools for their first year. She is a true advocate for students, educators, and families at the school, community, state, and national level. She is a mom to three amazing children and married to her biggest supporter, Scott Rinehart who all have encouraged her every step of the way.   


Dr. Rinehart is an innovative educational leader and advocate in an exemplary school system that encourages all students and staff to learn the skills and acquire the knowledge necessary for them to reach their full potential. As a lifelong learner who is compassionate, caring, and advocates for all students, she also serves as a mentor to colleagues from around the district, state, and nation. As a student-centered coach, she challenges stakeholders to create opportunities and successful experiences for ALL individuals. As an advocate, her belief that all students deserve an inclusive educational experience that supports them in meeting their individual goals and dreams while reducing racism and ableism in our schools and society. When you hear these accomplishments, there is no debate that she has demonstrated her knowledge, skill and sensitivity in advancing the opportunities, life potential, and achievement of children and/or adults with disabilities, (2) often goes above and beyond what is normally expected in her profession, and (3) serves as a role model and inspiration to her students, teachers, colleagues and community. A colleague stated, “Dr. Tara Rinehart is an amazing educator, administrator, and innovator in education. She fully supports and promotes inclusion for ALL students. She cares deeply about all students, staff members, schools, and stakeholders. During my years working with Dr. Rinehart I have grown immensely. She is knowledgeable of best practices for all students and continues to grow mightily as she continues her commitment and work toward inclusive educational experiences for ALL students. I am inspired, motivated, and encouraged daily by the opportunities I have to work with her.” A principal stated, “In her 11 years in the district, she has been instrumental in changing the way that restraint and seclusion is viewed and has worked diligently to help her staff become well versed in the area of trauma informed care in an effort to provide a better learning environment for all students. She is approachable and down to earth, and an expert in cultivating relationships, which makes working with her a wonderful opportunity.”


Another colleague said, “Publications, presentations, workshops, panels, and service represent Dr. Rinehart.  She is always willing to help, mentor, lead and be involved when someone needs assistance.  She works with those inside the district, in the state and around the country. And she does it all with passion, integrity and pure joy! Dr. Rinehart’s resume is outstanding.  Her accomplishments are numerous, but what is not seen on a resume is her interaction with students; especially with students whose voices are not being heard. Watching Dr. Rinehart interact with a student in a crisis is like watching magic happen! She models for teachers, parents and most importantly she models for students through kindness, acceptance and understanding.” 


It is our pleasure to present Dr. Tara Rinehart with the 2022 Outstanding Administrator of the Year.

2021 Award Winners

Amy Dixon & Evan Burton

Amy Dixon
Evan Burton

It is with great pleasure that we award 2 administrators this year - Amy Dixon and Evan Burton collectively for the Indiana CEC Administrator of the Year Award.  These two administrators can’t be singled out as they work collaboratively and effectively together as a team.  Mrs. Dixon has been the principal at Northside Middle School for the past 14 years and Mr. Burton has been the Assistant Principal for the past 6 years.


Mrs. Dixon and Mr. Burton are both student-centered and have direct contact with all students in their building on a daily basis.  Their collaborative leadership style provides a positive environment for all students and staff within the building.    


Together they have created an inclusive environment in which all students thrive by implementing the principles of Universal Design for Learning within their building. They truly take responsibility for their students and provide opportunities for them to succeed.  Both Mrs. Dixon and Mr. Burton have created an environment within the school that allows for 100% of students who receive special education support to attend at least one general education class on a daily basis.  This highlights their dedication to providing a school culture that supports the  educational needs of students within their building.  This effort has provided opportunities for both students and staff to learn from one another.  Students of all cognitive abilities are learning beside each other and supporting one another throughout the day.  


Mrs. Dixon and Mr. Burton have a high degree of competency in addressing the needs of special education students, providing services, thinking critically about how to support students, and helping to develop opportunities for both special education teachers and general education teachers to collaborate on a daily to bi-daily basis.  


They collaborate with teachers and brainstorm ways to help kids be successful.  They firmly believe all students should have the opportunity to learn next to their peers and that inclusion should be meaningful.  It is not uncommon for Mrs. Dixon and Mr. Burton to share their passions with the students and model lessons to provide meaningful learning opportunities for all students.  Mrs. Dixon has been known to share her passion for baking with students in the Life Skills classroom and Family and Consumer Science Classes by teaching them to make pumpkin and sugar cream pies.  Mr. Burton is known for sharing Tik Tok videos on Thursdays during morning announcements and wears a bow tie every Wednesday as a way to create relationships with the students.  


Mrs. Dixon and Mr. Burton provide professional learning opportunities for their staff and encourage all staff to take responsibility for every student within the building.   Teachers at Northside perceive special education students and regular education students as one entity and take pride teaching all students within their classrooms.


Both Mrs. Dixon and Mr. Burton's interest in building relationships not only with their staff and students but with parents as well is truly admirable.  They effectively communicate, listen, and truly work with parents so that each child can be successful within the school environment.  They are very student-centered and want the best possible outcome for each student in their building.  Their team approach of working with students, staff and parents has created a welcoming environment for all who enter the building.  


Mrs. Dixon and Mr. Burton are exceptional administrators that have made a huge impact in the field of education.  It is our pleasure to present Amy Dixon and Evan Burton with the 2021 Outstanding Administrators of the Year.

Sarah Cassavaugh

Scarlett Lux

Sarah Cassavaugh is an IN*SOURCE Advocate for the Lawrence Region which includes Bartholomew, Brown, Lawrence, Jackson, Monroe, Crawford, and Orange Counties. IN*SOURCE is a Parent Information Center for the state of Indiana with the role of equipping families & partnering with professionals to help students with special needs realize their potential.


 Mrs. Cassavaugh consistently demonstrates a desire for collecting information to form an accurate picture of how best to serve students while approaching all who are involved with respect and compassion.  She is a talented communicator and educator who models her approach through her process.  Mrs. Cassavaugh has consistently demonstrated that she is dedicated to advocating for the students that she serves.


At the heart of Mrs. Cassavaugh’s approach is the desire to gain a complete understanding of the student.  It is clear that she does not form an opinion of how to best support a student until she has reviewed all the relevant information and spoken with those who are most familiar with the student.  Mrs. Cassavaugh is detail oriented and skillful in asking questions.  She considers all this information and data before developing a hypothesis.


Mrs. Cassavaugh is an effective communicator and a gifted listener.  She listens deeply to both what is said and, at times, not said.  Her questions both help her to gain more information while simultaneously shedding light on what needs may be unmet to those being questioned.  She will take this information and distill it into a clear message that reflects all perspectives with understanding and respect.  This thoughtful listening and rephrasing of ideas with the emphasis of supporting the child has allowed teams working for the benefit of our students to become more understanding of one another and stronger as a whole.


Mrs. Cassavaugh has been endlessly compassionate in her approach.  She understands the challenges that teachers face while also supporting guardians who understandably want what is best for their children.   Everyone involved in Mrs. Cassavaugh’s process is heard and represented.  That feeling of support allows the team to maintain a clear view of what is important, namely, supporting the child.


 It is our honor to award the Outstanding Advocate of the Year to Sarah Cassavaugh.   

Katelyn Hardesty

Don Phillips

In the movie The Hangover, Zach Galifianakis’ (ga/la/fah/nac/kus) character Alan says, “You guys might not know this, but I consider myself a bit of a loner. I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack.”


The MSD of Wayne Township has one Thrive Coach, a one woman wolf pack if you will,  and her name is Katelyn Hardesty. She serves students from ages 3-22. When the pandemic hit, everyone wondered if we would continue to serve students. Katelyn did not wonder ‘if’ she envisioned ‘how’. She has spent numerous hours learning new online strategies, holding professional learning opportunities and advocating for student success.  She has done an outstanding job during this pandemic preparing teachers to teach our most marginalized student population virtually and in person and sometimes simultaneously.


She has been pivotal in MSD Wayne Township in challenging mindsets and increasing skill sets. She has upheld the tenets of the program to: Create a transformational and individualized, student-centered journey that provides greater access to rich and balanced experiences that ensures meaningful outcomes for students after age 22. She has been both relentless and fearless in speaking for those who sometimes cannot speak for themselves. 


She is willing to help students whether they qualify for special education or not to ensure that they have appropriate support and the best experience possible. This occurs even when students are not physically located in our buildings - she has proactively partnered with a local ABA center to assist with students who may potentially be Wayne students. 


Prior to this new role, Katelyn served as a THRIVE paraeducator and teacher. In just two years, her passion and fierce advocacy has catapulted her into various leadership opportunities. She has presented to Superintendents, Principals and teachers alike. She has shared her work at State Conferences. She is consistently depended upon for her experience and knowledge to support students, staff and families. Her authentic partnership with our families creates an environment that fosters collaboration and trust. 


The nominator stated, “I believe that Katelyn’s WHY is in alignment with our district’s: All students deserve an inclusive educational experience that supports them in meeting their individual goals and dreams. Advocating for students in conjunction with multiple stakeholders will help to reduce ableism in our schools and society. Through advocacy we will continue to dismantle inequitable practices and reduce disparate outcomes for students with disabilities.”  This also emulates the mission of what our 2021 Distinctive Service of the Year award is about. We would like to honor Katelyn Hardesty with the 2021 Distinctive Service of the Year Award.

Dr. Andrew Marklez

Theresa Knipstein Meyer

Dr. Andrew Markelz’s vast knowledge and experience with working with persons with disabilities makes him an excellent representative for the Indiana Council for Exceptional Children’s 2021 Outstanding Professor of the Year category.  Dr. Markelz teaches a vast array of undergraduate and graduate level special education courses at Ball State University, and he is also the program coordinator for Ball State University’s Director of Special Education licensure program.


Dr. Markelz frequently goes above and beyond what is expected of him within the profession.  Through his encouragement and guidance, many of his undergraduate and graduate students, such as myself, pursue additional certifications and degrees which will in turn positively impact persons with disabilities.  Dr. Markelz is also actively involved in many professional committees. He is a member of ICASE, a member of the East Director’s Roundtable, and he is an active member of the Council for Exceptional Children.  Dr. Markelz presents at many local and national conferences, and is also the founder and editor of the Journal of Special Education Preparation (JOSEP).


Dr. Markelz serves as a role model to many others within the profession.  He is very knowledgeable within the field of special education and he is seen as a leader within the community.  Dr. Markelz is very passionate about special education advocacy, and he has helped to strengthen the bridge between the medical environment and school community for many students with complex health conditions.  


Michelle Curtin, D.O., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics within Indiana University School of Medicine, said this about Dr. Markelz: “Dr. Markelz has been a resource to our team across multiple projects, driving quality improvements to clinical care and spurring our collaborations across disciplines for the care of children throughout Indiana. As a physician who serves children and families with neurodevelopmental disabilities, he has helped push the clinical care process in helping children with medical complexity needing school supports.” 


Dr. Markelz has many strengths as an amazing professor, but what makes him extraordinary is his passion for seeing his students succeed.  Through his encouragement, feedback, and overall positivity, Dr. Markelz makes his students feel that they matter and that they will make a great impact on the profession.  During such a time of uncertainty, Dr. Markelz is the role model that so many of us need.   It is with great honor that we present Dr. Andrew Markelz with the 2021 Outstanding Professor of the Year Award.   

Grace Calabria

Johannah Siers

The CEC Outstanding Student Member of the Year goes to Grace Calabria. Grace is Butler University University's 2020-21 student CEC president.  She is a gift to CEC and to our educational world by who she is to us all.   We appreciate most of all in how she leads.  Grace is the future of what we know to be best practices for all learners.  Grace is a secondary English major who took on CEC roles without any minors or majors in special education because that is what she is a person.  Her nominator stated,  “I have known this wonderful woman since she came to the University in her first year.  She really has a mind set for inclusive practices without even working at it; she just does the right thing for all learners in how she thinks.   To say Grace has brought a new energy and focus to our student chapter and Butler College of Education over the years  is to put it mildly.   She makes myself think differently on what the vision of inclusion, leadership, and special education is really about in this world. “  Because she truly comes from a growth mindset , Grace leads with union and inclusivity and a broader vision than just CEC on campus.  Grace is an active leader with her sorority, equestrian team, other roles in her writing world as well as CEC student president.  She  has created an executive team who come from other backgrounds than special education to work within this CEC vision. Her vision is to support them to become stronger leaders in their own educational arenas and help them be their personal best.  The nominator further stated, “We all have grown into better thinkers with Grace as an officer the last few years and now as president.  That is leadership and what I believe CEC stands for now and into the future.  When COVID hit, this team came together and organized ways to still share topics of inclusive practices by podcasts and zoom.”  Last year the Butler chapter celebrated 10 years of having an active chapter and  we could not have been more proud of the innovative practices led by Grace Calabria this year.  We know that she and the leaders she brought alongside her are going to change the world.  It is our pleasure to present Grace Calabria with the 2021 CEC Outstanding Student Member of the Year.

Traci Henn

Hannah (Rose) Maschino

Mrs. Traci Henn is the epitome of what an educator strives to be. As the Department Chair of Special Education at Wawasee High School she has led the team with leadership that is praised and recognized by her peers and colleagues. Her guidance and knowledge are forefront in taking initiative to ensure students are receiving the most up to date resources available in Special Education. Traci advocates for the needs of students and for her colleagues. She is resolute when it comes to creating time saving processes such as templates, documents, and spreadsheets that allow teachers to spend more time meeting the needs of students while also guaranteeing they are keeping up with best practices and standards that are ever changing.


Her nominator stated, “As a student myself who Transitioned Into Teaching a few years ago, Traci has been demonstrative of the pedagogy, practices, and rules of law that I was and still am learning. She is an excellent teacher who values serving others.  Traci has made a significant impact on my career in education.” She designed and developed one of the most successful programs in our school system. A collaboration of Special Education and CTE that provides students opportunities to learn life skills, job and employment skills, and get hands-on experience through work-based learning. This program is self-sufficient and continues to thrive after three years. We are grateful for her vision and believing in others to help fulfill that vision for students who have gained so much through this program. 


Her nominator added, “In all of my life, a professional career prior to education, and now as an educator, I have rarely seen or met someone with such a passion, drive, and excellent work-ethic. She has goals and meets them. She raises the bar for her students and colleagues alike. As she continues to forge ahead the direction for our department, she never turns away a question or a request for help. I could describe Traci in one word, it would be “sparkle”.”  That’s what she brings to her students and to those of us that look to her as our leader throughout our state. It is with high regard that we recognize Traci as the 2021 Indiana CEC Special Education Teacher of the Year!  

Yosef Solomon

Yosef Solomon

Yosef Solomon is a senior at Ben Davis High School and one of the hardest working young men both academically and athletically. Yosef first off excels academically despite his learning disability; always pushing himself to get the best score or grade possible. While this may not reflect in him being in the Top Thirty (currently ranked 127 of 1077), he many times has missed practice to stay after to work on improving his academics. He currently holds a 4.1 GPA. While many other students are focused on video games, TV shows, etc Yosef has become a dedicated student. He studies and works to be the best student he can be. It’s his other characteristics; however, that make him such a special young man. Running cross country and track, especially distance, requires dedication and perseverance. He is continually trying to improve himself and his times by running every single day. Yosef has dealt with some injury issues over his four years of running. While many athletes would give up, Yosef has always bounced back from the injury ready to train and try and better himself. Yosef has, similar to his academics, always pushed himself to be his best. He went from being an average runner his freshmen year to being our number one runner the past few years on very good teams. He has been instrumental in helping Ben Davis qualify for the Semi-State meet the last 2 years (their first time being back-to-back since the early 2000s.) He also has been All-MIC, All-County, All-Sectional and All-Regional. As you can tell, Yosef is not fine with being mediocre. No matter what it is whether academics, athletics or other areas of life he wants to be the best and do his best. He is very driven to be better and not settle for mediocrity.


In addition to the above listed abilities by Yosef to become a great student and athlete, Yosef is also involved in several other organizations to better himself. He has been a participant and mentor for YOuth Leadership Opportunity (YOLO) due to his leadership abilities. He was also one of only seven juniors at Ben Davis last year chosen to attend the Corteva (formerly DOW Agrosciences) Leadership Initiative with six other high schools like Zionsville, Tindley and others. He stays connected to his Jewish Synagogue giving back and leading there also. He has helped to organize and lead fundraisers and other activities for his synagogue and others around Indianapolis. He also helps outside the school and in our community by volunteering at his local humane society. Being a member of track and cross country, YOLO, and the other organizations listed above, Yosef comes in contact with more than just one clique or group at Ben Davis. This shows the type of well-rounded student and person that he is. It will also serve him well as a class officer and when he attends college. He will be able to work with people from all backgrounds regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, areas of interest, and academic levels. He is the true epitome of a student-athlete - someone who can balance a busy schedule, yet also be successful in all areas that he pursues and not just be average.  As you can tell, Yosef demonstrates his traits as a Yes I Can Student everyday. Congratulations, Yosef on being presented the 2021 YES, I CAN! Award for the Indiana Council for Exceptional Children.  

2020 Award Winners

Jennifer Nichols

Jennifer Nichols


2020 Outstanding Administrator of the Year Award Winner


MSD Wayne Township

Jenny Snyder

Jenny Snyder

2020 Outstanding Advocate of the Year

AWS Foundation

Nancy Zemaitis

Nancy Zemaitis

2020 Distinctive Service of the Year Award Winner

Indiana Department of Education - Retired

Dr. Cheryl Bremer

Dr. Cheryl Bremer


2020 Outstanding Professor of the Year Award Winner


Grace College  

Hannah Rose

Hannah Rose


2020 Outstanding Student Member of the Year Award Winner


Grace College

Emily Alaimo

Emily Alaimo


2020 Special Education Teacher of the Year Award Winner


MSD Washington Township  

Kyndal Gary

Kyndal Gary


2020 Yes I Can! Award Winner


Columbus East HS Graduate

2019 Award Winners

Learn more about the Indiana Council for Exceptional Children (INCEC)'s 2019 award winners by watching the 2019 Award Ceremony video and reading more below!

2019 Award Winners

Todd Sheely

Todd Sheely is a Social Studies teacher at Elkhart Memorial High School and co-teaches with his special education colleagues. In addition to being a teacher, he is a high-school coach, the Director of Olympic/Player Development for Indiana Youth Soccer, and the Unified Track coach of the Elkhart team that were state champions last year. Todd is an outstanding advocate for students with exceptional needs. He raises money for Special Olympics and, in so doing, advocates for students with exceptional needs in a variety of public forums. He graduated from Center Grove in 1997 and IUPUI in 2001, where he is very well-known for his soccer career. He was named the Indiana High School Girls Coach of the Year in 2007 and Center Grove High School Teacher of the Year in 2009. Todd has two sons, Mayson (11) and Brennan (9). He holds a National Youth License and NSCAA Premier Diploma.

Tamra Ummel

Tamra Ummel is the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Professional Development for Goshen Community Schools. Tammy has been a leader in the field of education for many years. As Tammy has moved into various administrative roles, she continues to use her areas of responsibility to influence the general education environment to support children with disabilities and to employ and train educators to serve ALL students. Tammy has been a positive, influential administrator and a leader in the field of special education. 

Amanda Lessick

Amanda Lessick is a senior at Grace College completing her B.S. degree with a dual licensure in Elementary Education (K-6) and Mild Intervention (P-12). Amanda has served on the Executive Board of the Grace College Student CEC Chapter for the past two years. She played an integral role in creating and implementing an annual, community-wide dress drive for the Tim Tebow Foundation Night to Shine Event. Amanda was also actively involved in hosting a Transition Exploration Day in which area high-school students with disabilities  were invited to participate in a campus-wide event that included Tim Tebow as the keynote speaker, a Transition Expo, lunch, and other events throughout the day. Although Amanda's involvement outside the academic realm has been remarkable, she maintains academic excellence in her college courses. This has been reflected by being on the Dean's List each semester, and most currently on the Honor's List. She was recently inducted into Alpha Chi Honor Society for her academic achievement and character, and has also done a remarkable job as a student teacher. 

Austin Freeman

Austin is a ninth grade student at Ben Davis Ninth Grade Center in the MSD Wayne Township. Austin is an amazing student. He never lets any task intimidate him. Whether it's his class work, access to the community, or sports, Austin attacks it with gusto. He never lets failure get in his way. If he doesn't succeed the first time, he doubles down and tries harder the next time. He is a star in the classroom but also in our entire community. Austin asks for no alterations when completing activities and very rarely asks for help. Whether it is wrestling or dancing, he gives it his all and genuinely has fun doing it. He comes every day to the Ben Davis High School wrestling practice and greets every member of the team as they enter the door with a smile and a high-five. He then works hard to overcome physical barriers in order to practice a sport he loves. His attitude shows that he loves being part of the wrestling team, and the team is happy to have him be a team member. He is internally motivated to better himself every day and a positive force for his peers and teachers. He is such a kind, happy boy who is always willing to give you hug. He is empathetic towards others and wants to see his peers succeed. Austin is type of person that brightens your day just by being in his presence. You can't walk down the hall with him without one of his friends stopping to talk with him. Austin demonstrates his traits as a Yes I Can student everyday.

Jennifer Volheim

Jennifer Volheim is a paramedic for Wayne Township Fire Department. Jennifer is passionate and responsive to our students with disabilities as well as those who sometimes struggle with challenges in their lives. One example of that was when she responded to a suicide threat of one student late at night. When she found out that non of his family members were willing to go with him to the hospital, she spent the entire night with him so he wouldn't be alone. During this time, she learned how special he was and how difficult his home life was. She rallied her family around him and they all pitched in to provide a wonderful Christmas for him. She regularly checks on him and has made such a difference in his life! This emulates what our 2019 Distinctive Service of the Year Award is about.

Dr. Denise Whitford

Dr. Denise Whitford was nominated on behalf of the Awards Committee for the Department of Special Education at Purdue University. Dr. Whitford is an exceptional professor. She specializes in school discipline disproportionality as it related to underreported student populations. She is particularly interested in a) investigating patterns of disproportionality, b) examining the effects of disproportionality on student achievement, post-academic outcomes, and emotional well-being, and c) determining methods for decreasing disproportionality in K-12 settings. As a co-advisor for the Purdue Chapter and previous treasurer for INCEC, she has not only lead at the state level, but also serves as part of the Diversity Committee at a National level. She is an outstanding professor advocating for our mission and vision. Dr. Whitford received her Ph.D. in Special Education with an emphasis in Emotional and Behavioral Disorders from the University of Arizona. She's also received two masters—one in Special Education from San Francisco State University and one in Social Work from the University of Hawaii—and her Bachelors in Psychology from University of California, Riverside.

Julie Brummett

Julie Brummett is a developmental preschool teacher at Eastside Elementary in Edinburgh, IN. As an employee of Earlywood Educational Services Interlocal Cooperative, Mrs. Brummett has served preschool children with disabilities and their families for over eighteen years. Mrs. Brummet consistently demonstrates her knowledge, skill, and sensitivity in teaching students with exceptional needs. Step through the door to her classroom and one will instantly observe the implementation of evidence-based practices to support her students' learning. Mrs. Brummett consistently goes above and beyond what is expected of a proficient professional in the field. Mrs. Brummett is sensitive to the needs, questions, and concerns of families who are new to special education services. Additionally, Mrs. Brummett is a role model and inspiration to others. She's hosted many visits to her classroom and patiently shares her methods for planning, implementing, and evaluating preschool instruction. Mrs. Brummett readily volunteers to assist new teachers with the IIEP system, navigating ISTAR-KR, and just generally being available to answer questions and offer support. Two years ago, Mrs. Brummett requested that we re-engage a professional learning community for the special education preschool teachers within our member districts. She felt that the need of these teachers was different from other educators and that they could benefit from professional development unique to their students. The Preschool PLC has been active for two years and is greatly valued by the members. Julie is an outstanding educator who quietly works to ensure her students have an exceptional early childhood education in order to prepare them to be integrated into a general education kindergarten. 

Last Updated:  9 November, 2020

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