Mary Peake Award for Excellence in Education Equity

- Share This Page

“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.

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

Policymaker Category:  

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

School Leader Category:

Ms. Ayanna Mitchell.
Dr. Jeffery Smith, Superintendent, Hampton City Schools 

Organization/Group Category:

Albemarle County Community Engagement Equity Specialists, Albemarle County Public Schools

Review and Selection Timeline

March 6, 2020 Nomination Process Opens
DEADLINE EXTENDED: August 1 Nomination Process is Closed
August 2020 Award Winners are Notified
December 3, 2020 Award Winners are Announced and Honored

Nomination Process

Any Virginian or Virginia based organization is eligible for nomination. In addition to the nomination form, the committee requires an additional letter of support 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.


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

  • eliminating disproportionality in school discipline,
  • closing opportunity and achievement gaps,
  • advancing programs that support multilingual language and literacy development for English Learners,
  • advancing culturally responsive practice,
  • advancing education equity through policy action,
  • advancing equity through a focus on school culture and climate,
  • 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 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 demonstrate the impact of the nominees work. The selection committee will review up to 3 PDF pages of additional 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:

  1. 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.[1]

  2. 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.

  3. Culturally Relevant:[2] According to Gloria Ladson-Billings, culturally relevant pedagogy and practices recognize the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning. Culturally relevant practices:

    1. expect and yield academic success.
    2. help students develop positive ethnic and cultural identities while simultaneously helping them achieve academically.
    3. support students’ ability to recognize, understand, and critique current and past social inequalities.

  4. Culturally Responsive Competencies:[3]

    1. Reflect on one’s cultural lens
    2. Model high expectations for all students
    3. Draw on students’ culture to shape curriculum and instruction
    4. Promote respect for student differences
    5. Recognize and redress bias in the system
    6. Bring real-world issues into the classroom
    7. Communicate in linguistically and culturally responsive ways
    8. Collaborate with families and the local community

  5. Opportunity Gap: Opportunity gaps in education often refer to a combination of factors external to educational experiences and access within our schools. In that context, opportunity gaps can be defined as 1) lowered expectations for underrepresented/marginalized students; 2) lack of equitable and consistent access to rigorous courses and learning opportunities that prepare all students for life readiness and 3) lack of access to high levels of support that measurably increase achievement levels.

  6. 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.[4]  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, EL Students, and Students with Disabilities.

  7. 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.

[1] From Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Hammond 2015

[2] According to definitions coined by Gloria Ladson Billings in her 2009 text The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children

[3] As defined in New America’s 50 State Survey Report on Culturally Responsive Teaching

[4] Adapted from Creating the Opportunity to Learn by A. Wade Boykin and Pedro Noguera.

Sign Up For Education Updates

Subscribe to receive news and updates from the Virginia Department of Education.

Keyboard with email button