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Former State Board of Education Members from Maine, Michigan, and Nebraska Receive National Public Service Award

Alexandria, Va.—The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) is pleased to announce that state education leaders from Maine, Michigan, and Nebraska are recipients of NASBE’s 2021 Distinguished Service Award. This national award honors current and former state board members who have made exceptional contributions to education. It is given to three outstanding leaders each year and is the highest award NASBE can bestow on a state board of education member.

Martha Harris served on the Maine State Board of Education for a total of 10.5 years, completing her service earlier this spring. During her tenure, she served as chair for three years and vice chair for one year. An active NASBE member, Harris served on the organization’s board of directors as northeast area director and chaired the Government Affairs Committee.

Harris served on numerous committees, commissions, and task forces during her time on the Maine state board. She was a strong advocate for Major Capital School Construction funding and the School Revolving Renovation Fund and was tasked by the commissioner of education to lead a review of Maine’s education standards and develop recommendations that would create critical thinkers and encourage students to be innovative and creative.

Demonstrating a profound commitment to education at the local, regional, state, and national levels, Harris has actively supported the Maine Teacher of the Year program for the last six years. She was also instrumental in guiding Maine’s student board members and spoke nationally on the importance of incorporating student voice in policymaking and advocated for student representation on state boards of education. Her influence on this subject is far reaching. At least 24 state boards now have a student board member.

“Though a lawyer by trade, education is Martha’s true passion,” said board colleagues Fern Desjardins and Peter Geiger, who nominated Harris. “It’s so evident in the energy and enthusiasm that she brings to her education undertakings. She often commented that her legal practice was what drove her passion for improving educational opportunities for all. Those she represented in protective custody cases, criminal cases, and domestic practice deserved more and better educational opportunities.”

Michelle Fecteau served eight years on the Michigan State Board of Education and just completed her elected term in January 2021. As secretary of the state board, Fecteau was instrumental in numerous education initiatives, especially those focused on serving children with special needs and those living in areas of concentrated poverty.

A key member of Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley’s Special Education Reform Task Force in 2015-16, Fecteau helped lead a statewide bi-partisan listening tour to ensure public input guided reforms for Michigan’s special education system. She also served on the policy committee of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren to improve the education and future for Detroit schoolchildren, the Michigan School-Justice Partnership Initiative to reduce truancy, suspensions, and expulsions, and was a leader of the Michigan delegation to the National Leadership Summit on School Discipline and Climate.

Dr. Casandra Ulbrich, president of the Michigan state board, noted Fecteau’s unwavering commitment to public service. “Michelle’s a champion for the rights of all people. She’s a passionate, dedicated leader and fierce defender of public schools, teachers, families, and especially our state’s most vulnerable students. Her work on Michigan’s state board was invaluable.”

Fecteau sits on the boards of Autism Alliance of Michigan, a statewide autism advocacy and education group that assists parents and people with autism in obtaining necessary services; Wayne State University’s CHAMPS Program, which seeks to improve accessibility and promote success of foster youth within the university. She was recently appointed by Governor Whitmer to the Michigan Tenure Commission.

She and her husband, a special education teacher, have parented nearly 20 children through birth, adoption, and foster care, many of whom have special needs. Together they were awarded Foster Parents of the Year from Michigan Lutheran Child and Family Services.

Rachel Wise served two terms on the Nebraska State Board of Education, representing District 3 from 2012 to 2021. She was president of the board and during her tenure chaired the Strategic, Planning, Performance, and Improvement Committee and the Legislative Committee. Wise also served as chair of NASBE’s board of directors in 2019 and led the revision of the organization’s public education positions in 2018.

Wise was a proponent of a useful, relevant strategic plan and developed a working committee structure for the state board. She coordinated with then Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt to hold visioning sessions with the board and key members of the commissioner’s staff on the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V). These sessions ensured that the board stayed informed on the major policy decisions and implications for both state plans and was able to play an active role in their submission.

With her professional roots in career and technical education, Wise sought to provide relevant, meaningful learning experiences for each student, and she championed an ad hoc study committee on competency-based education. She was instrumental in the development of Nebraska’s accountability system for schools and districts, AQuESTT. Her championing of a standards-based accreditation system built on evidence-based practices is an extension of the groundwork laid in implementing AQuESTT.

“Rachel’s contributions to Nebraska’s state board are far reaching and will endure,” said Maureen Nickels, chair of the Nebraska state board, who nominated Wise. “Her mind-set of continuous improvement transformed the board’s operations and policy development. Nebraska’s statewide assessment system is now more responsive to stakeholders’ feedback because of Rachel’s leadership. She will long be remembered as a champion for meaningful, dynamic, student-focused assessment policies.”

“The 2021 Distinguished Service Award winners represent the very best in citizen leadership in America,” said NASBE President and CEO Robert Hull. “Martha, Michelle, and Rachel embody such leadership by keeping equity, excellence, and students at the center of their work. Congratulations to the 2021 Distinguished Service Awardees!”

The 2021 Distinguished Service Awards will be presented at NASBE’s virtual annual conference, October 6–8.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances.


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