The UConn Alumni Center at UConn’s Storrs campus was filled on Saturday, March 11, with Neag School of Education Alumni Board members; Neag School faculty, staff, and administrators; friends of the University; and guests honoring eight esteemed Neag School alumni at the School’s 25th annual Alumni Awards Celebration.
“Today, we are celebrating this event for the 25th consecutive year, thanks to the Neag School Alumni Board,” said Jason G. Irizarry, dean of the Neag School of Education. “A big thank you to all of the Board’s past and present members for their continued support in making this annual celebration possible. I’m also delighted we can hold this year’s celebration in person. It’s nice to see you all and spend the afternoon together.”
Before the 2023 Alumni Awards presentation, emcee Kim Wachtelhausen –Alumni Board president and outreach director for U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes – recognized an additional award recipient on behalf of the Neag School.
Matthew Bowers of Durham, Connecticut, a speech-language pathologist at ACES at Chase in Waterbury, has been named the fourth annual Neag School of Education’s 2023 Rogers Educational Innovation Fund award winner, which will support his classroom project titled, “Service Learning Through Assistive Technology Engineering.” Bowers’ project includes creating a curriculum that teaches hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) skills while also building disability awareness and empathy in young learners.
“Individuals who make distinctive sources of support a reality, like the Rogers Award, are so important to us and the Neag School,” Wachtelhausen said. “Their selfless contributions remain vital in providing our talented students, faculty, and education community members with much-appreciated financial support.”
Following the networking reception, eight Neag School alumni were recognized in the following categories, with each awardee being featured in a short video and then giving brief remarks:
Outstanding School Educator – Kristen N. Negrón ’12 (CLAS), ’15 MA
Negrón earned her master’s degree in counselor education in 2015. Negrón recently joined Connecticut RISE Network, where she is a freshman success coach working with core network schools on closing educational and achievement gaps for ninth grade students. She previously served as the school counselor and on-track coordinator for Middletown High School in Middletown, Connecticut. She is fluent in Spanish and has a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in Latino studies from UConn.
In her prior role at Middletown High School, Negrón worked with an identified population of at-risk freshmen to ensure they were on track throughout the school year and provided necessary support. In addition, she was a co-advisor for the Middletown Minority Student Coalition (MSC), where she sought to empower minority students of various backgrounds within the school to create an environment that offers freedom of expression. In addition, Negrón co-authored a chapter in Irizarry’s book “Diaspora Studies in Education: Toward a Framework for Understanding the Experiences of Transnational Communities.”
“Thank you for this incredible honor,” Negrón said. “I’m forever thankful for Dean Irizarry’s guidance and support throughout my education journey. He’s been a huge inspiration for me.”
Outstanding Professional – Margery H. Daniels ’71 (ED)
Daniels earned her bachelor’s degree in special education in 1971. For the past 15 years, she has been the executive director of Massachusetts Partnerships for Youth (MPY) in Wakefield, Massachusetts. In that role, Daniels manages a nonprofit organization’s programmatic and fiscal operations, providing more than 250 school districts and community agencies with professional development activities in mental and behavioral health, social and emotional learning, and anti-racism.
Daniels also is an adjunct professor at the C. Louis Cedrone International Education Center at Framingham State University. She previously served as the assistant superintendent for pupil services for Newton Public Schools, director of special services for Lynnfield Public Schools, and director of special education for Georgetown Public Schools, all in Massachusetts. Daniels began her education career in 1971 as a Title 1 teacher in Lawrence, Massachusetts. In addition to educational licenses in Massachusetts, Daniels is a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) and has had a private practice serving individuals and families for more than 25 years.
“I think that more than the actual learning, it’s caring that we feel when we work together,” said Daniels as she spoke of the relationships with colleagues, parents, and students she built at UConn. “Thank you for this recognition. It means the world to me.”
Outstanding Early Career Professional – Andrew Alexi Almazán Anaya ’18 MA
Almazán earned his master’s degree in educational psychology in 2018. Almazán is the director of the department of psychology and coordinator of the project research unit of the Talent Attention Center in Mexico City. He also is a professor in the Intellectual Enhancement Program at the Mexican School of Gifted Students.
Almazán has published numerous articles on gifted education and is a frequent speaker worldwide. In 2021, he was recognized by the World Council for Gifted and Talented with the 2021 Emerging Leader in Gifted Education award, and Harvard University recognized him in 2020 with the Harvard Derek Bok Award for Public Service. Other notable awards include Mexico’s National Prize of Psychology from the Mexican Federation of Psychology and the Extraordinary Award of Research from Universidad Panamericana.
“I am so honored to be here, and I greatly appreciate this incredible recognition,” Almazán said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Outstanding School Administrator – Emily B. Gomes ’06 (ED), ’07 MA
Gomes earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Neag School, both in special education. She has served since 2019 as principal of Ivy Drive Elementary School in Bristol, Connecticut. Ivy Drive was identified as a “School of Distinction” in 2022. This honor follows the release of the Connecticut State Department of Education’s New General Accountability data from 2021-2022, in which Ivy Drive was highlighted for high academic growth and improvement in student achievement and performance.
Gomes works tirelessly and relentlessly to ensure her building meets expectations for rigorous and highly effective instruction in all content areas. She’s the sole administrator of the pre-K-5 elementary school of 400 students and 70 staff members and runs the climate/culture, equity, and school leadership teams.
“I’m honored to be recognized as the 2023 Outstanding School Administrator by the Neag School Alumni Board,” Gomes said. “It was a very humbling experience to be surrounded by the inspiring leaders being recognized. I want to thank the incredible people who continue to nurture and push me as I grow my skills as an educator and leader.”
Outstanding School Superintendent – Joseph P. Macary ’94 (CLAS), ’05 ELP, ’16 Ed.D.
Macary earned a doctorate in education (Ed.D.) in 2016 and an Executive Leadership Program (ELP) certificate for superintendency in 2005 from the Neag School. He also has a bachelor’s degree in political science from UConn, with a concentration in economics. Macary has been the superintendent of Vernon Public Schools in Vernon, Connecticut, since 2015. Macary serves as the chief executive officer in his superintendent role, advocating for students’ academic, social, and emotional growth and development while focusing on student learning and achievement.
Some of the district’s specific accomplishments under Macary’s leadership include: Rockville High School named to the 10th Annual Advanced Placement (AP) District Honor Roll, one of 250 schools in the U.S. and Canada to receive this honor; 89% of Rockville High School graduates going on to further their education at institutes of higher learning; and the Vernon Public School District awarded a $1 million grant for family and community engagement by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. In addition, Macary is an active member of the professional education community and has served as a mentor for the Neag School’s ELP program and as president of the Hartford County Superintendent Association, among other positions. He was previously recognized as “Educator of the Year” by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Waterbury. In addition, he was selected for three consecutive years for the “Who’s Who Among America’s High School Teachers” list.
“There is no greater honor than to be recognized by your peers,” Macary said. “The Alumni Award is a distinction granted by the UConn family for putting forth our best efforts and always doing what is best for kids. This is an ultimate affirmation of the core beliefs, personal values, and high standards that the Neag School of Education has instilled in me and became a reality in my professional career.”
Outstanding Higher Education Professional – Raymond L. Pecheone ’78 Ph.D.
Pecheone graduated with a doctorate in measurement and evaluation from UConn’s Neag School of Education in 1978. Since 2009, Pecheone has served as the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) executive director at Stanford University. He works with schools, districts, states, and federal agencies to develop performance assessments for teachers, administrators, and students. At SCALE, he also supports a network of states working to create curriculum-embedded performance assessment tools and policies that leverage inquiry-based pedagogies and instructional improvement in teaching and performance assessments in English Language Arts, math, and science.
Pecheone has published numerous articles and technical reports and frequently presents them at educational conferences across the U.S. and abroad. In addition, he has a long history of serving on advisory boards, including with the Global Educational Community, Buck Institute, and Oracle Education Foundation. Pecheone has secured grants with notable organizations such as the Hewlett Foundation, Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, and George Lucas Foundation, among many others. His colleagues know him as an innovator who has contributed enormously to the capacity of schools and universities to assess learning and performance in authentic ways.
“UConn has been so instrumental in my life, and for education, there was no [other] choice for me when it became time to figure out where I was going to get my doctorate,” Pecheone said. “At UConn, I’ve had just tremendous professors and connections. I’m so honored to be here and reconnect with the amazing Neag School faculty I’ve known over the years.”
Outstanding Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Professional – Roszena L. Haskins ’17 Ed.D.
Haskins graduated with a doctorate in education (Ed.D.) from the Neag School in 2017. As West Hartford (Connecticut) Public Schools’ (WHPS) executive director of equity advancement for the past 12 years, Haskins leads, monitors, and evaluates district-wide equity, diversity, and inclusion programs; policy development; professional development; practice; and conditions concerning 9,500 students, families, and over 1,000 staff members. Haskins was also recently appointed to the same role for the Town of West Hartford, serving 65,000 residents and over 200 town employees.
Haskins has been recognized with numerous accolades, including the State Education Resource Center’s Excellence in Equity Award, West Hartford’s “Hometown Hero,” and 100 Women of Color for Connecticut. She previously served in administrative leadership roles for schools in West Hartford and began her education career as a special education teacher in Hamden, Connecticut. One of her most notable accomplishments was designing and implementing the district’s first-ever and largest professional Equity for Excellence Conference for over 1,000 educators and administrators. This professional equity platform was inspired by her co-creation of a high-tech multimedia exhibit focusing on West Hartford residents’ personal stories, funded by a $50,000 Inspiring Equity Grant from the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund.
“Thank you for allowing me to share this spotlight with so many distinguished UConn alumni awardees, and congratulations to my fellow honorees,” Haskins said.
Distinguished Alumnus – Richard L. Schwab ’79 MA, ’81 Ph.D.
Schwab earned his master’s degree in 1979 and doctorate in 1981, both in administration, from UConn’s Neag School of Education. Schwab had an exceptional 25-year career at the Neag School, including two stints as dean. He is recognized as the longest-serving dean in the history of the Neag School and the only UConn alum to hold that position. During his 14 years as dean, Schwab worked with faculty to craft and implement two strategic plans to raise the quality of programs, research, and scholarship while moving the Neag School toward its goal of becoming one of the top education schools in the country.
The Neag School’s accomplishments sparked the interest of Ray Neag, a UConn alum and successful entrepreneur, who decided to make a “strategic investment” in the Neag School and public education. Neag’s $21 million gift in 1999 was, at the time, the largest any school of education had ever received. Schwab also raised an additional $25 million for the Neag School, including the prestigious $5 million Teachers for a New Era grant from the Carnegie Corporation. Other accomplishments include taking the Neag School from unranked in 1997 to No. 21 in 2012 on U.S. News & World Report’s best education graduate school rankings; establishing a Neag School of Education Alumni Society; constructing a new addition and renovating the Gentry Building with a $22 million grant from the UConn 2000 initiative; and creating new programs in all the regional campuses of the University.
“It was public school teachers who cared for me, supported me, and encouraged me to go to college and to be where I’m right now,” Schwab said. “So those values, I’m very, very proud of them. I think a lot of you in this room share that you’re first-generation college students, too. Look at this great day – all supported by teachers.”
“I want to recognize someone who is the main reason I survived this job. And that’s my wife, Kristin Schwab. … Thank you, Kristin. Thank you, all of you. This is an award for being part of the Neag School of Education family … So, thank you for this wonderful recognition.”
To close out the afternoon, the awards ceremony included a video performance of Neag School music education students singing and playing “Let It Be” by the Beatles.
“Thank you to our amazing music education students,” Wachtelhausen said. “We’re fortunate to have such talented artists in our School. To conclude today’s event, I would like to thank our University Events staff and Neag School alumni relations director Emily Murray, who has done a terrific job with today’s event.”
“Congratulations again, and thank you, everyone, for joining us,” Wachtelhausen concluded. “Safe travels and enjoy the rest of your weekend.”