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Alaska Paraeducator Named Education Support Professional of the Year

Special education paraeducator has been a student advocate and coach for 23 years

WASHINGTON - March 23, 2018 -

Sherry Shaw, special education paraeducator at Tanaina Elementary School in Wasilla, Alaska, has been named the 2018 National Education Association’s Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year. Shaw received the honor on March 24 at the NEA ESP Conference in Orlando.

For 13 years, Shaw has been a special education paraeducator, working closely with teachers to prepare materials, modify curriculum, and work one-on-one and in small groups with special education students, as well as aid in the students’ socialization and behavior management. In general, paraeducators assist with classroom instruction and provide direct services to students and their parents. Throughout her career, Shaw has advocated for students and also championed her colleagues.

“NEA congratulates Sherry and thanks her for the dedication and passion she has for her students and her job,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “She understands that in order to nurture student success, educators must work hand-in-hand. Sherry’s drive and dedication to making sure her students start and finish the school day on a positive note serves as a reminder of just how important education support professionals are as members of the education team, helping students succeed and achieve.”

“Alaska is lucky to have dedicated education support professionals like Sherry Shaw,” said NEA-Alaska President Tim Parker. “Reaching every student and finding ways that inspire their learning is what great educators do every day. Sherry has gone where very few ESPs have gone before in pursuit of great student learning. Educators in Alaska and across the country are incredibly proud of her commitment to her students and her profession.”

In addition to her career as a special education paraeducator, Shaw has coached volleyball, basketball, cross country running, track and field, and cross-country skiing.

“My goal is to ensure students have a positive, fun experience,” she stated in her letter to the selection committee. “They not only learn the fundamentals of the sport, but also the fundamentals of life. Sports can teach them integrity, sportsmanship, teamwork and how to be successful and achieve their full potential.”

Cheri Mattson, principal of Tanaina Elementary School, says Shaw is “first in the building every day and typically last to leave,” constantly focused on “creating the best experiences for all students as well as adults.”

As a local leader, Shaw has helped to promote ESP Appreciation Week in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District by raising funds for gift packages for local education support professionals. Beyond her work at Tanaina, Shaw helped to establish and manage a program to help Wasilla families affected by drug abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness by providing food, clothing, hygiene products, and advice on how to access community and state resources.

As 2018 ESP of the Year, Shaw will represent NEA and education support professionals at national education conferences, media events, and other community occasions. She also will deliver a speech this summer at the NEA Representative Assembly in Minneapolis.

“Education support professionals work hard every day,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle at the ESP conference. “Whether you drive a bus, work in a computer lab, assist a teacher in the classroom, serve lunch to students, or make sure the building is clean and healthy, you do your jobs knowing the important role you play in creating a learning environment that helps all students reach their fullest potential.”

“Some people will tell you it’s not what you do, but how you do it that counts,” she added. “Sherry not only does 12 things at once, but she does them all phenomenally well.”

More than 900 education support professionals and other educators are attending NEA’s 27th annual three-day ESP Conference. The conference is the premier professional development gathering for education support professionals across the nation, providing hands-on workshops to foster career growth and opportunities to explore social justice, leadership development, and all issues related to the work ESPs do to keep students healthy, safe, engaged and challenged.

Education support professionals, who work in schools and on college campuses, are categorized into nine career families: paraeducators; clerical services; custodial services; skilled trades; technical services; security services; transportation services; food services; and health and student services.

The nation’s public schools employ more than 2 million school support staff, comprising one-third of all public school employees. More than 75 percent of education support professionals live, shop and vote in the communities in which they work. For more information on Education Support Professionals, visit: Follow @NEArESPect on Twitter for the latest school support staff news. Follow #ESP2018 on Twitter for updates on the 2018 ESP Conference

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The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. Learn more at

CONTACT: Celeste Busser, 202.262.0589


NEA: Education Support Professionals