The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) has opened up nominations for the Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award this week.

The new national award, created by Congress in 2019 and overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, honors classified school employees – such as administrative, food and nutrition, health and student service, transportation or custodial staff – who provide exemplary service to students and their communities.

Individuals, local educational agencies, school administrators, professional associations, labor organizations, educational service agencies, nonprofit entities, private schools and their representatives, parents and students, and other groups may nominate individuals for this award by Aug. 3. TDOE, in coordination with the Gov. Bill Lee’s office, will select up to two individuals to nominate to the U.S. Department of Education by Nov. 1.

“Over the past two months, Tennessee educators at every level have stepped up to teach our students in innovative and creative ways,” said Lee. “I am so thankful to the individuals working tirelessly every day to provide our students and families with much-needed supports during these challenging times, and their recognition through these awards is well-deserved.”

Tennessee finalists will be recognized at the annual Principal and Supervisor of the Year Banquet in the fall.  The U.S. Secretary of Education will select a single classified school employee from among the nominees to receive the RISE Award by spring 2021. 

“As we have seen so clearly this year, taking care of students goes well beyond the walls of the classroom,” said TDOE Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “From providing 1.5 million school lunches a week, to ensuring continued access to critical services, school staff do so much for our students and families every day. We are excited to recognize and elevate their critical work through the U.S. Department of Education’s RISE Award.” 

For the purposes of the award, a classified school employee is defined as an employee of a state or any political subdivision of a state, or an employee of a nonprofit entity, who works in any grade from pre-kindergarten through high school in any of the following occupational specialties: paraprofessional, clerical and administrative services, transportation services, food and nutrition services, custodial and maintenance services, security services, health and student services, technical services and skilled trades.

In order to be eligible for nomination, the employee must at minimum demonstrate excellence in work performance, school and community involvement, leadership and commitment, local support and enhancement of the classified school employee’s image in the community and schools.

Nominees and applicants may wish to cite testimony from letters of recommendation.

For more information on the award or to nominate an educator, search for RISE Award at

Erin McCullough may be reached at

Staff Writer

Erin McCullough has won awards for her news reporting, community lifestyles and education reporting in the three years she's been a journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently lives in Tullahoma with her cat, Luna.

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