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Heart of Education Awards seeks teacher nominees

On May 7, hundreds of Clark County residents are set to come together at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts for an inaugural awards event, much like the Oscars or the Emmys, with live entertainment, striking award statues, and gift bags for all of the attendees.

However, unlike many awards ceremonies, such as the Country Music Awards that take place in Las Vegas, the Heart of Education Awards are going strictly to locals: The event is for and will exclusively be attended by Clark County School District teachers.

Preparations are well underway, but organizers still need something from the community: more nominees.

“We want to hear from other teachers, parents, and from community leaders,” said Rory Reid, president and chief operating officer of The Rogers Foundation, which has partnered with The Smith Center, 361 Symphony Park Ave., to bring the Heart of Education Awards there. “It’s a grass-roots effort, and the process is wide open.”

Being involved in the project was a no-brainer for the privately funded charitable foundation.

“Our mission is to transform lives through education and the arts,” Reid said. “Nothing can influence a child’s experience in our education system more than a teacher.”

The program was inspired by a similar program in Washington, D.C., and seeks to retain and attract the highest quality teachers to the area.

“We became involved through George Stevens, who produced our opening night television show for PBS,” said Myron Martin, president and chief executive officer of The Smith Center. “Stevens created the Kennedy Center Honors 27 years ago and was very involved in D.C. in a program called A Standing Ovation that honors public school teachers at the Kennedy Center.”

The D.C. schools were suffering some of the same problems that Clark County schools are, and Martin and the other organizers of the Heart of Education Awards were inspired by that city’s success.

“They knew there were teachers who might leave because they felt underappreciated and overwhelmed,” Martin said. “They were looking for a way to make them feel appreciated and respected. Now their superintendent will tell you that the program has transformed the city and the school district, and they’re now recruiting great teachers and retaining the best teachers.”

The May 7 event will be the culmination of Teacher Appreciation Week, and hundreds of the Las Vegas Valley’s best teachers will be invited to watch the ceremony and entertainment at The Smith Center.

“We’re going to honor all of them,” Martin said. “Everyone who is invited is a finalist and will receive a gift bag with all kinds of wonderful gifts, things that teachers will appreciate. It’s all intended to take the time to say thank you for great teachers and all their great work.”

Out of those hundreds, 20 will be singled out as award winners and will receive a check for $5,000 and an award.

“It’s a beautiful, really substantial award designed by Roger Thomas, Steve Wynn‘s designer,” Martin said. “It will be an impressive thing for parents to see on the teacher’s desk when they visit their student’s classroom.”

Martin is aware that more often than not, headlines about the county’s school system focus on low standings in comparison with the rest of the country. He isn’t convinced that those standings reflect what’s really going on here, and regardless, he feels the Heart of Education Awards will have a similar or greater effect as the Standing Ovation Awards. He believes Clark County Schools are already in better shape than the D.C. schools were.

“In this school district, there are great teachers who go above and beyond and put the kids first,” Martin said. “They go to school early, and they stay late. They take on extra responsibilities. We want them to know we see that, and we appreciate it.”

Both Reid and Rogers feel that the Heart of Education Awards will become a highlight of the school year and something everyone prepares for well in advance. This year, with the event still unknown to many, they’re pushing to get the word out so that they can honor the valley’s best and brightest. Parents and other interested people can send a letter to a teacher they want to honor to start the process, and the teacher then fills out paperwork and attaches the initial letter to complete the process.

The deadline to nominate a teacher and for them to complete their application is 5 p.m. Jan. 29. Each application must be accompanied by the recommendation letter.

Visit theheartofeducation.org.

— To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email ataylor@viewnews.com or call 702-380-4532.

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