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Celebrating Excellence Awards: Meet the Winners

Congratulations to the 2017 honorees!

Adler Friend of Education - Butch Santicola 

Community Leader - Individual - Charlie Batch

Community Leader - Organization - Beverly's Birthdays

Educational Leader - Todd Russell, Hollidaysburg EA

Local Association - North Star ESPA

Student Leader - Shane Thompson

Meet this year's winners

Adler Friend of Education: Butch Santicola

Francis “Butch” Santicola’s distinguished career at PSEA spanned more than four decades, but his influences do not stop there. As a staff member, he demonstrated leadership, expertise, dedication, and advocacy. Santicola’s work is well-known – as an organizer, presenter, negotiator, communicator, spokesman, leader, advocate, and friend. Santicola’s continued commitment to children, public education, and labor is unique. Although he retired from PSEA in 2013, he continues to be a voice for public education.

Community Leader - Individual: Charlie Batch

To many in western Pennsylvania, Charlie Batch is a hometown quarterback who spent most of his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But to thousands of kids and families, Batch is also the “Best of the Batch.” Through his foundation, the Best of the Batch, as well as countless other community projects, Batch has become widely known as a service leader who gives back to his hometown. Batch started the Best of the Batch Foundation in 1999, in memory of his sister, to help underprivileged youth. 

Community Leader - Organization: Beverly's Birthdays

Beverly's Birthdays provides the simplest joy of a birthday celebration to children who are less fortunate. The organization was founded when Megan Yunn was tutoring a young lady named Beverly who expressed that she had never had her own birthday party or cake. Inspired by Beverly’s story, Yunn decided to start an organization that provides birthday celebrations for homeless children in the Pittsburgh area. Beverly’s Birthdays partners with more than 44 agencies throughout the Pittsburgh region to provide children and families facing difficult times with the means to celebrate their children’s special birthdays. 

Educational Leader: Todd Russell, Hollidaysburg EA

A chemistry and biology teacher at Hollidaysburg Area Junior High School, Todd Russell dedicates his time and efforts to his local, cluster, and region, as well as his community. As the Cluster Liaison for Cluster II in Central Region, he has engaged his colleagues in countless community service activities, raising thousands of dollars each year for students and families in need. What began as an annual trivia night grew to become a successful food drive for the St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry in Altoona. This year the Cluster eclipsed the $2,000 food and gift card donation mark. As a solidarity event, Russell also began organizing outings to Altoona Curve games to get members and their families out to the ballpark for an evening of fun. Thanks to the efforts of Russell and Cluster II, their Books for Babies project donated more than 3,000 brand new books to newborns at local hospitals. 

Local Association: North Star ESPA

Members of the North Star Education Support Professionals are dedicated to helping the children in their schools and community – even when school isout for the summer. In 2016, the local worked on a community service project to help meet students’ nutritional needs during the summer. Members also made sure the students had the supplies they needed to start the school year. Members gave students in need home with book bags filled with pencils, crayons, and folders, and worked with PSEA and Partners for Public Education to donate $5,000 to the Helping Hands Food Pantry in Somerset to help them support local families.

Student Leader: Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson, a fifth-grade student in the Cumberland Valley School District, is a healthy 10-year-old with a contagious personality and a passion to change the world. Thompson was born prematurely, with a rough start in life. He is motivated to help others, especially those with health problems, because he is so grateful for his good health. He started Shane's Lemonade, organizing lemonade stands in his community to raise awareness and collect donations for people in need. Every morning he watches the news to see if there is a family or local charity that needs help. He is always looking for the next charity or person in need.

History of the Awards

Since 2005, PSEA's Celebrating Excellence Awards Dinner honors winners of the PSEA Adler Friend of Education Award and the PSEA Human and Civil Rights Awards.

PSEA hosts the dinner each May to provide a special opportunity to recognize individuals, local associations, and organizations going the extra mile for our schools and communities.

The Adler Friend of Education award recognizes an individual who has made significant statewide contributions to public education. Adler Award recipients have included PSEA leaders, public officials, and others whose work has improved public education in Pennsylvania.

The Human and Civil Rights Awards are intended to applaud the outstanding work occurring every day in Pennsylvania's public schools and in our communities.

A selection committee meets each January to review the nominations submitted and select winners in four categories: Student Leader, Educational Leader, Community Leader, and Local Association, along with the Adler Friend of Education Award. 

Among the past winners: an educator who organized Unity Week activities to raise awareness of harassment, bullying, and intimidation; an ESP leader who works with Hispanic students and their families; a special education advocate; a former congressman who worked tirelessly to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” a student who fought to create a safe haven for fellow students by forming a Gay-Straight Alliance at his school; and a Philadelphia organization that delivers means, counsel, and hope to people with life-threatening illnesses - and many other exceptional individuals and organizations who make a difference each day in our own lives and those of our students, families, and societies.

Past recipients of the Adler award include Fred Rogers, Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg, Sen. Bob Casey Jr., State Sen. J. William Lincoln, Gov. George M. Leader, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and PSEA Board member Marylou Stefanko.