Foundation to Honor State's Top Educators, Students at 35th Academic Awards Celebration May 22 in Tulsa

Five outstanding Oklahoma educators will be honored along with 100 of the state’s top public high school seniors when the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence hosts its 35th Academic Awards Celebration at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 22, at the Cox Business Convention Center, 100 Civic Center.

Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, attendance for the 2021 Academic Awards Celebration is limited to honorees and their registered family members. The public is encouraged to view the awards ceremony broadcast at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 29, or 10 a.m. Sunday, May 30, on OETA Public Television. The broadcast will also be available on the foundation’s website at

“Rising Above, Going Beyond” is the theme for this year’s celebration, which will feature a keynote address by award-winning teacher and education activist Erin Gruwell. She is the collaborative author of “The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around them.”

Emmy Award-winning television journalist Scott Thompson – an Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence trustee – will serve as the emcee for the afternoon ceremony honoring “the best of the best” in Oklahoma’s public schools. Foundation Trustee Ken Busby, executive director and CEO of the Route 66 Alliance, serves as chair of the event.

“The Academic Awards Celebration is such an inspiring, entertaining, and important event for public education in Oklahoma,” Busby said. “Some have described it as the ‘Academy Awards’ of public education in Oklahoma because we really roll out the red carpet to honor extraordinary teachers and students. Top that off with an inspiring address by educator Erin Gruwell, and you have a very memorable celebration.”

The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is a nonprofit, charitable organization founded in 1985 by then-U.S. Sen. David Boren to recognize and encourage academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. Through its Academic Awards Program, the foundation has awarded more than $5 million in merit-based scholarships and cash awards to honor outstanding graduating seniors as Academic All-Staters and exceptional educators as Medal for Excellence winners.

The foundation will present its 2020-21 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence Award in Elementary Teaching to Michelle Rahn, a sixth-grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher at Will Rogers Junior High in Claremore; in Secondary Teaching to Shelley Self, an art teacher at Coweta High School; in Elementary/Secondary Administration to Chuck McCauley, superintendent of Bartlesville Public Schools; in Regional University/Community College Teaching to Dr. David Bass, professor of biology at the University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond; and in Research University Teaching to Dr. Edralin Lucas, professor of nutritional sciences, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. The honorees, who were unable to be recognized in person in 2020 due to the pandemic, will receive awards at this year’s awards ceremony.

Each Medal for Excellence recipient receives a $5,000 cash award as well as a glass “Roots and Wings” sculpture. With support from scholarship sponsors, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence will also present merit-based Academic All-State Scholarships of $1,000 each and medallions to 100 Academic All-State Scholars.

The 2021 Academic All-State class hails from 77 schools in 69 Oklahoma school districts. The honorees were selected from 379 nominations in what is described by Boren as “Oklahoma’s most rigorous academic awards selection process.”  Four high schools will celebrate their first Academic All-Stater: Davenport, Porum, Soper and Stigler high schools.

For more information on the Academic Awards Celebration and this year’s honorees, visit the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence website at or call (405) 236-0006.

Stratton Named Multicultural Citizen of the Year

OKLAHOMA CITY – Norman resident Emily Stratton, executive director of the nonprofit Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, has been awarded the 2021 Multicultural Citizen of the Year by the Multicultural Education Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Stratton was recognized at the institute’s recent virtual conference for her leadership in developing and coordinating the Teachers of English Learners Project, a collaborative online training platform to provide professional development, networking and support for classroom teachers in schools with a high enrollment of English Learner students.


The Multicultural Education Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma is a two-day networking and training opportunity for education professionals that embraces diversity in the classroom and seeks to improve academic success. Each year, the institute honors individuals and organizations for their positive influence in diversity and cross-cultural efforts in Oklahoma.

“I am very honored to be the recipient of this special award and represent the team that brought success to our Teachers of English Learners Pilot Program,” Stratton said.

Stratton and her team, which included advisory and content committees made up of foundation trustees and English Learner specialists from school districts and colleges, created the platform in response to the rapidly growing diversity of Oklahoma’s students, and the unique challenges that this represents for classroom teachers.

“When we heard that 42 percent of the more than 50,000 English Learner students in our public schools were not graduating, we knew we had to do some type of teacher professional development to help teachers better assimilate these students into their classrooms,” Stratton said.

The online learning platform for the Teachers of English Learners Project was developed by NextThought, an Oklahoma company that specializes in online professional development and community networking. Following a successful pilot year serving more than 800 educators, organizers are planning a state-wide roll-out in partnership with the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

The platform includes a comprehensive English as a Second Language Certification Exam Prep Course complete with readings, videos, activities and quizzes tied to the 14 competencies required for state certification. As an incentive, the program provided exam fee vouchers for teachers who completed the course.

“This program fits the mission of our Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence so well – to recognize and encourage academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools,” Stratton said. “We hope the program will make a difference for the future of these English Learner students and the future of our state.”

Since 1999, Stratton has served as executive director of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a nonprofit that seeks to recognize and encourage academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. A strong advocate for public education in Oklahoma, she serves on the boards of OU’s Jeanine Rainbolt College of Education and the OU School of Dance and is active in the Downtown Rotary Club of Oklahoma City, where she was named Rotarian of the Year in 2009. She is a graduate of Leadership Oklahoma and has served on its Board of Directors. In addition, Stratton is a founding member of the Oklahoma Arts Institute and the Clinton Public School Foundation, for which she served as interim president.