Sherry Shaw

National Education Support Professional of the Year
Tanaina Elementary School

In an environment known for its icy cold climate, Alaskan Sherry Shaw knows how to keep warm. She stays busy, inspired by her work as a special education paraeducator and coach at Tanaina Elementary School in Wasilla, and member of NEA-Alaska and the Matanuska-Susitna Classified Employees’ Association (MSCEA).

Her advocacy on behalf of students and colleagues includes extensive volunteer work with the Special Olympics and other community organizations. Earlier this year, Shaw was named the 2018 NEA Education Support Professional of the Year.

“I work in special ed and I just love my students! I dedicate every moment I’m there showing them love and what they can do without limits. I’m at a loss for words right now, thank you so much!” said Shaw when accepting her award in March.

“Now, some people will tell you it’s not what you do but how you do it that counts,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle of Shaw. “Sherry not only does 12 things at once, but she does them all phenomenally well.”

For 13 years, Shaw has worked closely with teachers to prepare classroom materials, modify curriculum, work one-on-one and in small groups with special education students, as well aid in the students’ socialization and behavior management.

“First in the building every day and typically last to leave, she is focused on creating the best experiences for all students as well as adults,” Tanaina Elementary School Principal Cheri Mattson stated in her recommendation letter to the ESP of the Year Selection Committee. “If it needs to be done, she is doing it, knowing it will help the students or adults gain confidence and success in the end.”

In addition to a career as a special education paraeducator, over the years Shaw has coached volleyball, basketball, cross country running, track and field, and cross-country skiing.

“My goal is to ensure students have a positive, fun experience,” she said. “But not that they should just learn the fundamentals of the sport, but also the fundamentals of life, such as integrity, sportsmanship, working together as a team and how to be successful and achieve their full potential.”

Within the 900-member MSCEA, Shaw is a building representative at Tanaina while also representing MSCEA at other schools during discussions about workplace issues.

“I enjoy sharing how our union is working hard for us and answering questions they may have,” she states. “I encourage all paraprofessionals to take a more active role in our local chapter.”

As a local leader, Shaw has helped to promote ESP Appreciation Week in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District by raising funds for gift packages to ESPs in the district.

In Wasilla, Shaw helped to establish and manage a program to help families affected by drug abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness by providing food, clothing, hygiene products, and advice on how to access resources from the state.

“I have seen her in the hallways, on the field, and in the classroom doing what she does best … being an amazing educator,” stated MSCEA President Karen Salisbury. “She works with students, parents, staff, and community members with such uniqueness that each person feels special.”