Mary Peake Award for Excellence in Education Equity

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“What would the best soil produce without cultivation? We want to get wisdom. That is all we need. Let us get that, and we are made for time and eternity.”

 -Former student of Mary Peake

Education equity in Virginia is largely indebted to a brave humanitarian, Mary Peake. Peake is known for educating both enslaved and free Black people during a time when such an act was illegal. Her classroom was the foot of a grand tree known as Emancipation Oak, located on the grounds of what would later become Hampton University. Her fortitude to educate her people, particularly during a time when it was forbidden, demonstrates an understanding of the value of education and a commitment to serving those intentionally marginalized. Mary Peake is one of Virginia’s first education equity pioneers and her contribution to education in the Commonwealth is a true testament to the ongoing journey towards education equity. Her example has been emulated time and time again. This award recognizes her contribution and continued inspiration.

About the Award

The Mary Peake Award for Excellence in Education Equity highlights individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the advancement of equity in education for students in Virginia. The award offers the Commonwealth an opportunity to recognize educators, policy makers, education advocacy groups, and stakeholder organizations whose service and leadership is impacting equity outcomes for Virginia students. 

The Commonwealth is committed to ensuring that its public education system is positioned to achieve equitable academic outcomes for all students. The Virginia Department of Education’s equity framework, Navigating EdEquityVA, outlines our commitment to eliminating the predictability of student outcomes based on race, gender, zip code, ability, socio-economic status and/or languages spoken at home. This requires that ALL students have access to high quality learning programs by developing a culturally proficient educator workforce and eliminating opportunity gaps to maximize student potential. Every day, all across the Commonwealth, countless individuals and organizations work tirelessly in various capacities to help achieve this goal. The Mary Peake Award recognizes those efforts.  

Award Categories

  • Educator (Teacher, Paraprofessional, Support Staff, Specialist, Professor or Educator Preparation Program (EPP) Staff, etc.)
  • Policy Maker (General Assembly Member, School Board Member, Elected Official) 
  • School Leader (Principal, Vice-principal, Superintendent, Central Office Staff, etc.) 
  • Organization/Stakeholder Group/School or Division Team (e.g. Grade Level Team, Professional Learning Community (PLC), Educational Support Organization, Out of School Time Provider, Advocacy Organization, etc.)

Review and Selection Timeline

March 2021 Nomination Process Opens
May 14, 2021 Nomination Process is Closed
July 2021 Nominees are Notified
Fall 2021 Award Ceremony: Nominees Honored, Award Winners Announced

Nomination Process

Any Virginian or Virginia based organization is eligible for nomination. In addition to the nomination form, the committee requires a letter of support from an individual other than the nominator describing how the nominee has exemplified the award-related criteria. Nominators must attach a signed PDF version of the letter to the nomination form. Nominators may only submit one nomination per category. Note, applications without all necessary components will be considered incomplete and ineligible for scoring.

Previous Mary Peake Award winners are ineligible for nomination for 2 years following their recognition. For example, 2020 Mary Peake Award Winners will become eligible for nomination beginning the 2023 award cycle.


The Mary Peake Award for Excellence in Education Equity will honor individuals and organizations that have demonstrated a commitment to reducing inequity or to remedying the effects of inequity in education. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • -advancing the critical competencies necessary to achieve education equity in the commonwealth, which comprise the EdEquityVA 5 Cs: Continuous Reflection, Compassionate Student and Family Engagement, Curriculum Reframing, Courageous Leadership, and Cultural Responsiveness,increasing the cultural proficiency of Virginia’s educator workforce and advancing culturally responsive practice,
  • -closing opportunity gaps for Virginia students,
  • -eliminating disproportionality in school discipline,
  • -advancing programs that support multilingual language and literacy development for English Learner Students,
  • -advancing education equity through policy action,
  • -advancing education equity through the development of pre-service teachers,
  • -advancing equity through a focus on school culture and climate,
  • -cultivating affirming and inclusive school environments for LGTBQ+ students,
  • -increasing access to gifted education and advanced education programs for marginalized student groups, 
  • -eliminating disproportionality in graduation and dropout rates,
  • -implementing authentic and intentional strategies to engage marginalized and/or non-English speaking families and caregivers, or
  • -advancing equity in early learning opportunities and supporting school readiness for marginalized student groups.

Strong nominations for the Mary Peake Award for Excellence in Education Equity will demonstrate:

  • -A commitment to advancing education equity through teacher preparation, policy, instruction, and/or leadership.
  • -A significant and quantifiable impact on education equity in Virginia.
  • -A commitment to addressing institutional and systems level barriers to access and success for marginalized student groups.
  • -A commitment to advocacy for equity initiatives, programs, or activities that support marginalized student groups and/or their families.
  • -A commitment to creating a culture of inclusion and cultural responsiveness within their areas of influence as evidenced by recruiting, retaining, and professionally developing staff who increase cultural competence, inclusion, and equity.

Nominators may include additional artifacts that convey the impact of the nominees work. The selection committee will review up to 3 PDF pages of content. Please note that if additional pages are included, reviewers will only consider the first three.


Award winners will be selected based on established criteria. The selection committee will evaluate each nomination using a pre-established rubric. Nominators and nominees are kept anonymous throughout the selection process to maintain integrity in selections.

For the purpose of the award, the following definitions are being used:

  • Education Equity: eliminating the predictability of who succeeds and who fails based on race, gender, zip code, ability, socio-economic status and/or languages spoken at home. (VDOE. Adapted from the National Equity Project. Educational Equity Definition.)
  • Anti-Racism: Acknowledges that racist beliefs and structures are pervasive in all aspects of our lives and requires action to dismantle those beliefs and structures. This requires that school leaders hold educators and students accountable when they say and do things that make school unsafe, and that they dismantle systems perpetuating inequitable access to opportunity and outcomes for students historically marginalized by race. (Christina Torres and Teaching Tolerance. “All Students Need Anti-racism Education”. July 30, 2020)
  • Marginalized Student Groups: Marginalized students are those that have been systematically excluded and relegated to lower educational opportunity generally. In Virginia specifically, it is those groups of students whose life readiness and academic success inequities are overly represented in VDOE’s state-wide data collections: Black and Hispanic students, economically disadvantaged students, English Learners, and students with developmental or learning disabilities.
  • Cultural Competency: Having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families. It is the ability to understand the within-group differences that make each student unique, while celebrating the between-group variations that make our country a tapestry. (National Education Association. “Why Cultural Competence?” August 27, 2020.)
  • Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning. (Gloria Ladson-Billings, The Dream Keepers. 1994)
  • Culturally Relevant/Responsive Teaching: The behavioral expressions of knowledge, beliefs, and values that recognize the importance of racial and cultural diversity in learning. An approach that emphasizes using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them. (Geneva Gay, Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice. 2000).
  • Culturally Relevant Teaching Practices: expect and yield academic success, help students develop positive ethnic and cultural identities while simultaneously helping them achieve academically, and support students’ ability to recognize, understand, and critique current and past social inequalities. (According to definitions coined by Gloria Ladson Billings in her 2009 text The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children)
  • Culturally Responsive Educators:
    • -See cultural differences as assets;
    • Validate the inequities impacting students’ lives;
    • -Cultivate relationships beyond the classroom anchored in affirmation, mutual respect, and validation;
    • -Believe that ALL students can succeed and communicate high expectations for all students;
    • -Engage in reflection of their beliefs, behaviors, and practices;
    • -Utilize students’ cultures as vehicles for learning;
    • -Challenge racial and cultural stereotypes, prejudices, racism, and other forms of intolerance, injustice, and oppression;
    • -Mediate power imbalances in classrooms based on race, culture, ethnicity, gender, and class.
  • Cultural Proficiency: Environments that create opportunities for access, empowerment, and achievement by acknowledging, valuing, advocating, and empowering cultural diversity in all aspects of the educational process. (Adapted from: Cultural Proficiency, A Manual for School Leaders, 2nd Ed. Lindsey, Robins, and Terrell, 2003)
  • Inclusive School Communities: Environments where all students, educators, and families feel supported and are extended a sense of belonging regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, identity, learning preferences, socio-economic status or education. (Adapted from “Inclusive Classroom Climate”. Strategic Resources & Digital Publications. The Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning)
  • Opportunity Gap: Describes the complex issues that contribute to achievement gaps and recognizes the historical and societal implications of the way race and class influence the kind of education and access to support a student is likely to receive. (Adapted from “Let’s Stop Calling It an “Achievement Gap” When It’s Really an Opportunity Gap”. Mike Yates.
  • Achievement Gap: Achievement Gaps are multi-dimensional and are revealed through various measures including state and national assessments, enrollment in rigorous courses, and differential placements in special education and gifted programs.  Additionally, measures of behavioral indicators like school drop-out and exclusionary school discipline rates correlate to academic gaps in achievement. (Adapted from: Creating the Opportunity to Learn by A. Wade Boykin and Pedro Noguera)
  • In Virginia, the following student groups have been identified as having significant achievement gaps in state level data: Black Students, Hispanic Students, Economically Disadvantaged Students, English Learner Students, and Students with Disabilities.
  • Disproportionality: Refers to a group’s over representation in a particular category or an increased risk of a population of students to be identified in a category. For example, disproportionate school discipline (with an emphasis on exclusionary discipline) or identification practices that contribute to the likelihood that one racial group will be identified, as compared to the likelihood of that outcome for students of all other races. (National Association of School Psychologists Diversity & Social Justice Resources)

Congratulations to the 2020 Recipients of the Mary Peake Award for Excellence in Education Equity

It is with great pleasure that we congratulate the recipients of the inaugural Mary Peake Award for Excellence in Education Equity.

Educator Category:

Dr. Shantha Smith, Equity and Excellence Coordinator, Gunston Middle School, Arlington Public Schools 

Dr. Shantha Smith

Dr. Smith places an emphasis on culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy and remains a champion for children through her instructional approaches and advocacy for resources that are current, varied, and mirror the children in our classroom. The instructional experiences she provided students has been supportive, culturally responsive, and engaging. Dr. Smith created an affirming and inclusive education environment that was supportive, culturally responsive, and engaging. She is recognized for her work to promote equity in practice at the school level, supporting students and teachers, and influencing the instructional system. Dr. Smith also led professional development which promoted consistent best practice to support students of color. She continues to ameliorate academic inequities through the creation of student affinity groups, book clubs, and activities tailored to meet the needs of marginalized student groups. Dr. Smith’s work continues to address the disproportionality in student outcomes that has disparate impact on students of color

Policymaker Category:  

Mr. Rodney A. Jordan, Virginia School Board Association President and Norfolk City School Board Member

Mr. Rodney Jordan

Mr. Jordan has dedicated his career to advocating for programs and policies that increase student opportunity and access to the resources necessary to be successful. He has championed initiatives that promote digital literacy, economic inclusion, and equitable opportunities for students and families that have faced systemic oppression and economic hardship. In his role as Co-Chair of the Virginia School Boards Association’s “Task Force on Students and Schools in Challenging Environments,” Mr. Jordan championed innovative policies and practices that serve to reduce inequity and its effects with a focus on research, best practice, and strategies that empower Virginia’s schools and leaders. As the Chair of the Norfolk City School Board, Mr. Jordan established the division’s first Equity Policy, strategically focusing the division’s efforts on meeting the diverse needs of students. For years, Mr. Jordan has been a leader in the pursuit of educational excellence and continues to leverage collaboration, innovation, and his personal passion for this work to reduce disproportionality in student outcomes.

School Leader Category:

Dr. Jeffery Smith, Superintendent, Hampton City Schools 

Ms. Ayanna Mitchell.

Dr. Smith transformed teaching and learning in Hampton City Schools by implementing innovative strategies to close achievement, opportunity, and equity gaps that exist among marginalized student groups. His development of Hampton City Schools’ College and Career Readiness Plan increased access and opportunity for students across the division by creating a blueprint for PreK-12 instruction and real-world experiences that embed core academic skills, career-aligned technical skills, and lifelong learning skills with college and career exploration and work-based learning. Under Dr. Smith’s leadership, the Academies of Hampton (AoH) were created, which transformed the cities four traditional high schools to college and career academies where students learn through a career-focused lens and graduate prepared for 21st century careers. Thanks to Dr. Smith every Hampton student is connected with college and career pathway opportunities in the community through every level of their educational track.

Organization/Group Category:

Albemarle County Community Engagement Equity Specialists, Albemarle County Public Schools

The Albemarle County Community Engagement Equity Specialists team, under the direction of Dr. Bernard Hairston, are committed to marginalized students who have been underrepresented in the past through focus on advocacy, inclusiveness, cultural responsiveness and educational innovation. The team has addressed inequities such as achievement gaps around standardized testing, disproportionality in school disciplinary practices, family partnerships, and curricular representation. The team has worked to increase the culturally proficiency of Albemarle County Public School educators through the development of a Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) micro-credentialing program and facilitated the certification of 63 educators and the micro-credentialing of 68 educators through a year-long engagement with the county’s Culturally Responsive Teaching programs, including a rigorous assessment process. The model they have created can be scaled up to reach the entire 1200-person teaching staff.  Additionally, the Equity Specialists organized a team of Diversity Resource Teachers in each school building in order to provide site-based CRT professional development (PD) on a monthly basis and lead school-based book studies focusing on Culturally Responsive Teaching.

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