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State Board of Education Members Wilson Hess, John Kelly, and Maria Gutierrez 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, Mississippi, and the U.S. Territory of Guam are recipients of NASBE’s 2020 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.

Wilson G. Hess is chairman of the Maine State Board of Education. A member of the board’s Legislative Action Committee, he excels in building relationships with local, regional, and state legislators. Hess has been particularly instrumental in ushering in policies on higher education, career and technical education, school construction, and expanded internet access.

“He is a tireless educator who does not sit on the sidelines,” said board colleague Fern Desjardins, who nominated Hess. “Wilson was in constant contact with the department of education and other legislators this year on CTE matters and expanding broadband access to rural communities. Both initiatives received boosts in funding as a result of his efforts.”

Another board member, John Bird, notes of Wilson: “He enables me to be more effective [as a board member]. He understands the politics of education and the framework of education in Maine. He attends to details while focusing on a broader vision to make something better happen.”

Hess worked over 40 years in higher education, including more than 20 years as college president in private and two- and four-year public institutions. As president of the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Wilson instituted a series of successful online degrees and the state’s largest dual enrollment early college program. He is involved in several advisory councils, boards, and committees in higher education and countless other business, entrepreneurial, economic, and development initiatives. An active member of NASBE, Hess has served on the editorial advisory board since 2016.

Dr. John Kelly is vice chair and previous chair of the Mississippi State Board of Education. He also served as NASBE’s board chair in 2018 and oversaw the organization’s strategic planning process.

After witnessing the success other state boards had in engaging student voice, Kelly led the effort to create a seat for two student board members on the Mississippi board in 2018. According to Jason Dean, chair of the Mississippi board, “Our student members have added tremendous value to our discussions and deliberations.” Kelly also recommended that a state superintendent’s student advisory council be established to provide diverse thinking on student interests across the state.

Kelly has a solid record of community and social involvement and has received several honors. He has been Gulfport’s chief administrative officer since 2007; was regional director for community and family support with Navy Region Southeast in Jacksonville, Florida; and managed his own consulting firm, Resources Management Inc. Kelly was also an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Mississippi–Gulf Park Campus, chairman of the National Board of Directors for the American Cancer Society, and president and chief volunteer officer for South Mississippi’s United Way.

“John Kelly is a tremendous asset as a board member,” said colleague Jason Dean. Not only does he bring a discipline to our strategic objectives honed from his years serving in the U.S. Navy, he brings moral compass that ensures we are doing what’s right by all of Mississippi’s public school students. It is truly an honor to know him and serve with him.”

Maria Gutierrez is the longest-serving member of the Guam Education Board. In her 23 years of service, Gutierrez has been a strong advocate for students and families, always ensuring their voices are heard by the board.  She was instrumental in creating a seat for a parent and student on the Guam board and for the last six years has served as the board’s advisor to student board members.

Gutierrez has been both chair and vice chair of the Guam Education Board. Under her leadership, the board developed several policies to prevent student and educator harassment, intimidation, bullying, and cyberbullying and to ensure student safety and data privacy on the internet. She testifies regularly on the department of education’s annual fiscal budgets and led the approval of Guam’s school reopening plans this summer. Gutierrez has been actively involved in NASBE study groups and is a member of the Public Education Positions Committee.

“Her exemplary leadership, unselfish service, commitment, and passion for providing students with opportunities to explore and learn has been the catalyst for improving public education on Guam,” said board chair Mark Mendiola. “She is devoted to ensuring Guam students receive the skills they need to succeed and believes it is critical that every student have the opportunity to get a good education on Guam without having to endure extreme hardships and hurdles, most especially now during the global pandemic.”

“The 2020 Distinguished Service Award winners represent the very best in citizen leadership in America,” said NASBE President and CEO Robert Hull. “State boards of education remain a steadfast bastion of nonpartisan discourse and policymaking at its very best, and this year’s distinguished service awardees represent all that is good about that process. Strong proponents of stakeholder engagement, strategic planning, and a firm focus on equity are but a few of their stellar traits. Hats off to our 2020 Distinguished Service Awardees!”

The 2020 Distinguished Service Awards will be presented October 21 at NASBE’s virtual annual conference. Learn more about the conference.

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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