Each year, the National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators honors an individual that has made an exceptional contribution to the field of education and has demonstrated a dedication to meeting the needs of all students in a School, Community, State, or Nation. Award recipients have, through their actions, made a substantial contribution towards advancing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s purpose to provide all children with significant opportunities to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.



  • Made an exceptional contribution to the field of education
  • Demonstrated dedication to meeting the needs of all students in a School, Community, State, or the Nation
  • Through their actions, made a substantial contribution towards advancing the purpose of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.



The nomination process is open to NAESPA members annually in the summer, with the awardee being selected in the fall. The awardee is recognized for their achievements at the National ESEA Conference.


Bob Harmon Bio

Bob Harmon - Inaugural 2022 Recipient


Anita Villarreal, 2024 Recipient

Anita comes from a family of migrant farm workers. Both of her parents and extended family migrated from Texas to many northern states to do field work. Anita’s immediate family settled in Idaho. One of Anita’s greatest achievements is becoming the first person in her family to earn a college degree.

After earning her degree, she was hired by Boise State University as a HEP/CAMP recruiter. When she and her family moved to Texas, she started her first teaching position with West Oso ISD in Corpus Christi. She taught grades 3-5 at West Oso ISD and Corpus Christi ISD. While teaching, she earned her master’s degree from Corpus Christi State University, now Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi.

Anita Villarreal has worked for over 30 years on multiple ESEA programs designed to positively impact disadvantaged children in the state of Texas. Anita’s professional career includes working as a Paraprofessional and Migrant Education Program Recruiter in rural Idaho to serving as the Highschool/College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) Recruiter at Boise State University, to the State Title I Director for the state of Texas. While working at the Texas Education Agency, Anita has worked with many ESEA programs being implemented in the state of Texas for the last three decades.

While working for Head Start, she began going to night school to become a teacher. She attended Boise State University. It took ten years to get her bachelor’s degree since she worked full-time, raised her children, and served as an active community leader. She and her husband also served as foster parents and were small business owners. Their businesses were focused on serving the local Mexican-American community.

In the 57 years that Anita has worked in public education, she has been an advocate for Title I students, migrant students, and many other special populations, Anita has focused her efforts on implementing programs that will bring the most benefit to students and their families. She is a living example of how the Elementary and Secondary Education Act can transform the lives of students and increase the opportunities they have to receive a quality education.


Kelly Foster, 2023 Recipient

Dr. Kelly Foster is a twenty-five-year educator serving in numerous capacities that positively impact improving the instructional environment. Dr. Foster's work from the classroom to district administrator to school improvement specialist preceded her current role as Associate Commissioner, where for over nine years, Dr. Foster has utilized her expertise in the field of school improvement. Her commitment to sharing practices that lead to school improvement is evidenced by the book she co-authored, Without Trumpets: Continuous Educational Improvement, Journey to Sustainability (2018).

Dr. Foster prioritizes the needs of students in low-performing schools. She works to ensure all schools in Kentucky have effective teachers and administrators, where students have opportunities to excel.


Bob Harmon, Inaugural 2022 Recipient

Robert H Harmon – known as Bob to his friends

Bob started his education career as a teacher of mathematics and the Arts. He held several teaching and administrative jobs before moving to Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. His first assignment was as the director Title I and the state’s sister program, the Learning Assistance Program (LAP). His leadership skills were quickly noticed by the then-state superintendent, Terry Bergeson. She advanced him to the position of Assistant Superintendent for Special Programs and Federal Accountability. In this role, Bob managed a majority of the federal ESEA programs and a number of state programs. He worked with state Indian Education leaders to institute the Tribal Education Compact Schools. He filled in as the Director of Migrant and Bilingual Education when the position was vacant while still managing his role as assistant superintendent. He led the move to implement No Child Left Behind programs in Washington’s 296 school districts.

While serving as a state administrator in Washington, Bob became a member of (what was then) the National Association of State Title I Directors (or NASTID)—with 2 terms as President. After his initial retirement, Bob worked in support of the National Title I Association; now the National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators (NAESPA). He served as the Association CEO for 9 years leading the association through multiple points of transitional growth. Bob retired as NAESPA CEO in 2022, to which his 50 years of educational service were marked by NAESPA with the initiation of the Bob Harmon Service to Education Award. Bob currently serves as the Superintendent of Quileute Tribal School, situated on the ruggedly beautiful northwest coast of Washington state.