Recognizing Excellence

Each year KAGE presents a KAGE Distinguished Student award and KAGE Service and Advocacy Awards. The awards will be announced at the KAGE Annual Conference 2018 in Lexington February 26-27. KAGE thanks KHEAA for it’s continued support for the KAGE Distinguished Student Award.

Click HERE to read more about the KAGE Distinguished Student Award for 2017-18.

Click HERE to read more about the KAGE Service and Advocacy Awards for 2017-18.

Below are the recipients for the 2016-2017 year. You can also read about past KAGE Service and Advocacy and Distinguished Student recipients at the KAGE Hall of Fame HERE.

KAGE Distinguished Student, 2016-2017: LUCAS STRUNK

Lucas Strunk is a fourth grade student at Pine Knot Intermediate School. Last summer Lucas attended Camp Explore at WKU and realized “that learning can be made even more fun if you can add art to it.” Lucas recognized that all young people might not have the opportunities he does to enjoy art because of a lack of art supplies. Lucas came up with the project “Art for Everyone” to help provide “extra” things like markers and paint for students who need them.

Lucas and his parents contacted a local grocery store and were allowed to put a donation box at the store entrance.   Lucas contacted the local newspaper, which sent a reporter to meet Lucas at the grocery store and wrote a story about it. The family shared information about the project on social media. In just a few months, Lucas collected two large boxes of supplies — more than he could count! Lucas will be giving the materials to a church mission trip to distribute as well as the Family Resource Centers in his county school system.

Collecting art supplies hasn’t been Lucas’s only service project. He excitedly prepared shoeboxes for “Operation Christmas Child.” Another time, Lucas had an idea for a coin drive and collected a large amount of change to add to the hunger fund at his church. Through his service projects, Lucas has learned how much he enjoys doing things for other people. Lucas was surprised that his “Art for Everyone” idea would find so much support from the community. He realizes how lucky he is and wonders how he can help next. Lucas said he learned that “Small ideas can turn into big things that can change the world.”

Lucas’s GT teacher, Carol Jones said, “Lucas has always been a highly intelligent and inquisitive child who soaks up knowledge like a sponge. It has been such a privilege to watch him also begin to develop compassion for those less fortunate than him in his community and in the world. “

KAGE Service and Advocacy Awards, 2016-2017

In Kim’s classroom, students read a wide range of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. During the months leading up to the 2016 election her students compared and contrasted political speeches and debates, providing them with a framework to consider current events. Thanks to her teaching style, which encourages questions and independent analysis, students are learning to be critical thinkers: a skill that will serve them well regardless of the career they choose. Kim excels in making connections with her students. She takes the time to learn about their interests and their anxieties.

She often provides students with educational experiences that go beyond traditional ideas about an Language Arts curriculum. For example, she recently arranged for a marine biologist to visit MC2 students. The lesson made clear that good writing and speaking skills are important, even in scientific endeavors. Quite simply, Kim is as invested in helping her students make a good life enriched by arts and civic service as she is in helping them make a good living.

Dr. Matt Thompson, superintendent of Montgomery County Schools noted, “Ms. Barnes has the wonderful ability to connect in a meaningful way with every single one of her students no matter their background or interests. Ms. Barnes is a passionate advocate for her students and provides multiple, varied opportunities for them to showcase their talents and areas of expertise, sometimes in areas that are even surprising to the students themselves.”

Kim’s proudest moments as a teacher are when she sees one of her former students become successful after graduation. She said, “I’m so proud of my students who have found their niche in life and are happy doing what they love. At the moment, I’m watching as a former student is blossoming into a famous writer.  As a student, she was so unsure of herself. I watched her slowly gain confidence as a writer. To see her face appearing in the media as an upcoming writer has brought me back to my reason for becoming a teacher; —I became a teacher to help students make their dreams become a reality.”

Linda has been changing the lives of students since she first began teaching in Taylor County in 1975. In 1992, Linda began working with gifted and talented students in the Hardin County Schools, and in 2011 she became the GT coordinator there.

As coordinator, Linda encourages the GT staff to be active advocates for gifted students. She provides opportunities for the students of Hardin County and also shares those opportunities with students in surrounding counties. She has provided staff and bussing for her students to attend events like Super Saturdays at WKU and even hosted Hardin County’s own Super Saturday program.

Linda supports her colleagues as well as her students and does her best to teach and collaborate with the GT staff and classroom teachers throughout the district. While looking forward to retirement at the end of this school year, Linda is working to make the transition to a new GT coordinator as smooth as possible. Even so, her GT colleagues ask one another, “What will we do next year without Linda?” The Hardin County GT staff finds working with Linda to be “an absolute pleasure” and her service “truly inspirational.” Linda’s passion for gifted education shines through in all she does.

Pam Harper has been an advocate for gifted education in Pendleton County since her first days of teaching. As a history teacher in her early days, she always held high expectations for all of her students and sought to give them opportunities outside the classroom with National History Day activities and more. After becoming the first designated Gifted and Talented teacher in Pendleton County, she not only worked to get students identified and facilitate lessons during the school day to meet their needs, but also lobbied to get funding for additional programming. She later designed and implemented a summer and after-school enrichment program for students. Pam passed these programs on to future GT teachers who worked under her supervision when she was District Curriculum and GT Coordinator. Through many years of budget cuts, Pam fought to keep Pendleton County’s gifted program intact in order to meet the needs of gifted students. On a regional and state level, Pam has also been very active in the Northern Kentucky KAGE chapter and regional gifted programming as well as serving on the KAGE board, both as president and treasurer of the organization.

Pam lives a commitment of service to others. She developed programming, consistently lobbied to maintain and improve offerings for students, and stayed abreast of what was transpiring at the state and national level so that programming stayed aligned with standards. She is highly thought of and respected by students, parents, professional peers, and her community, placing her in a position to always help move the district forward. Pam would “dig in her heels” when gifted programming was slated for budget cuts and demonstrate that the programming is vital. Given budget cuts and financial struggles of late, it is felt that the district’s gifted programming remains because of Pam’s years of lobbying. City council members, school board members, and administrative personnel in the district have benefited from the program in the past. These individuals and others who have gone on to great success are a testament to the programming that she helped create. Pam retired a few years ago but remains “on call” when needed to help with various GT activities.

Michelle Lustenberg wrote, “I offer this nomination because of Pam’s teaching and administrative success as well as leadership ability, but, most importantly, because of her character. She has always demonstrated the leadership abilities and desire to bring people together, understand differences, and orchestrate plans to make positive change. She is tremendously tenacious when it comes to gifted programming. She believes in engaging every student and offering all students the opportunities to be challenged at their fullest potential. Pam Harper is a true advocate of Gifted Education.”

Jim Masters has been a visionary in Franklin County Schools in developing acceleration options for the gifted population. For the past several years, Jim has been collaborating with partners at Kentucky State University to strengthen dual credit offerings for high school students. Through this work, Jim envisioned creating a competitive program for high-ability students so they begin taking dual credit courses as freshmen. This dual-credit pilot program, named the Advanced STEM Pathway is unlike any other program in the area. Classes are mostly focused on advanced topics in math and science. In four years, the students graduate high school with a Kentucky High School Diploma as well as an Associate’s Degree. Their courses transfer to any public university in the state. Jim was resourceful in finding ways to help minimize the cost of this program for families.   Jim recognized the need to raise the bar in regards to providing more opportunities for the high achieving students in the district, and this program is one of the results. Jim’s “out of the box” thinking has made this possible.

Developing a program of this magnitude takes lots of planning and collaboration. Jim worked with numerous partners to outline the program goals and class offerings, to help develop an application process, arrange daily transportation, reflect and adjust the program along the way.

Jim is also coordinating an effort to create a district policy which will allow students in Franklin County Schools to accelerate through math courses in which they show mastery, beginning in 5th grade. This type of thinking provides a rigorous curriculum for students who need content at a higher level. The implications of this policy will allow high achieving math students the opportunity to take a variety of math courses that are more in-depth by the time they graduate high school. Jim has a vision to create multiple pathways for all students, including students in the gifted population. By providing these opportunities, Jim has given more students the chance to reach their full potential.

Vickie Moberly has been a Gifted Education advocate in Madison County for more than 30 years. Even though she retired from Madison County Schools several years ago, her work continues to live on in the schools and community. She currently works for Eastern Kentucky University as an Outreach Agent on a part-time basis to offer experiences and opportunities to the surrounding service regions. Many students have been given opportunities to excel in a variety of ways thanks to Vickie’s knowledge and skill.

Ms. Mob, as her students call her, arranged for the four high schools in Madison County to participate in Youth Leadership Madison County. She also established the Superintendent’s Teen Task Force and Student Voice in the Madison County Schools. These programs continue to be offered to students in middle and high schools in the county. She has also encouraged the local government to work with the high school students in the community. Students applied to take on a junior position in the local government such as mayor or commissioner.

Vickie has also established a STEM-H Academy that is offered each year for all of the identified students in grades 4 and 5 in Madison County. She coordinates this with the schools, Eastern Kentucky University professors, and experts in the area to offer unique learning experiences. Students come together to learn about all areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and health sciences. Vickie continues to be available as a knowledgeable resource who is merely a phone call away. She is also still the first on board when called with a crazy idea to implement.

She has even worked to educate the next generation of gifted teachers by teaching several of the courses and supervising practicum experiences at Eastern Kentucky University. Teacher candidates are able to learn from her experiences ranging from the work she did in her own classroom to the work that she led as the Gifted Coordinator for Madison County schools. Vickie is always willing to give her time to help a teacher, student, or parent in any way that she possibly can. She can be found in the halls of Model Laboratory Schools because she has been called in to help provide differentiation, read an application, or watch a student presentation. Ms. Moberly continues to serve on a weekly basis to support gifted learners in central Kentucky.

Carl Stoltzfus is an outstanding educator and advocate for gifted children. His career has exemplified commitment, advocacy, and compassion for students. He is not a man defined by the titles earned throughout his career — principal, supervisor of instruction, and director of gifted services. Rather, he is defined by the meaningful relationships he built with students. Carl is an advocate of all students, but his passion lies with gifted education. As gifted services coordinator, he was an advocate for students. Often, he would teach pull-out lessons and lead teacher professional development. He was an active member of various professional organizations and diligently promoted gifted education within the district.

Carl’s students had a definite advantage as he would ensure that all their academic and physical needs were met. He took them to college sporting events, plays, and dinner. He helped them see the potential within themselves and gave them a glimpse of the world outside their small town. A colleague explained, “In my 23 years of being an educator I have worked with no one who has a greater passion for enriching student learning.  He has such care and concern about each student, and he has served as a mentor to many.  He led gifted education in our district for many years.”

Hart County Schools’ Superintendent, Ricky Line wrote, “Carl captured the hearts of our students by his caring attitude and desire to help every student he served.  He was a leader-servant who always had our students’ interests at the forefront.” In 2008, KAGE recognized Carl for his advocacy and service for gifted students by presenting him with a KAGE Service and Advocacy Award. Carl continued his advocacy and hard work for students throughout the rest of his career. Carl retired last year still recognized as someone who does what’s right for students.

Carl’s proudest moments include promoting the needs of gifted students including helping teachers implement differentiation, working as a team with colleagues sharing successes and challenges, and making connections with hundreds of students with whom he has kept in touch from 1975 graduates to 2016 graduates. Former students shared memories to honor Carl’s retirement. One said, “His mentoring went well beyond the classroom. He taught by example.” Another said, “I can honestly say that Mr. S taught me to truly begin to think, not only with my mind, but also with my heart.”

KATHIE WRIGHTSON (Michael Caudill Educator Award)
Throughout her 25 years in gifted education, Kathie Wrightson has developed several literacy projects for school districts, including public and private schools in Shelby, Jefferson, and Franklin County. Most of her projects include ways to nurture gifted student writers using multiple forms of media for publication. Twice, she was invited to present at the National Association for Gifted Children, focusing on writing and publishing for gifted students. She has written for numerous publications, including University of Kentucky Information Services and Alumni News, Actors Theatre Critical Reviews for Teachers and Professionals, the Louisville Courier Journal, and Kentucky Educational Television. Her creative work is published in several anthologies.

For the past four years, Kathie lobbied her building and district level administration to open up more opportunities for gifted students to participate in Early College opportunities. She began a dual credit program with 10 students for Shelby County High School in 2012, teaching English Composition. This year, Shelby County implemented its first Early College partnership with KCTCS, with over 200 students currently participating.

A colleague wrote, “I have worked with Kathie for almost 10 years.  She is the ‘gifted guru’ of our county.  Whenever I am looking for resources or advice about gifted education, she always comes through.  She is talented and invested in providing the best educational experiences for the students she serves.”

In Memoriam: It is with gratitude for their legacies of advocacy and support that KAGE honors the memory of the three people named below.

Meg Gatten was involved in many capacities as a strong advocate for gifted and talented students in Kentucky. She wasa member of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Gifted and Talented Education, a KAGE board member, an attendee and presenter at gifted education conferences, a parent contact for The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky, and more. When she committed to a group or organization, she gave freely of her time and efforts.

Meg was the ultimate professional with a zeal for meeting students’ needs. She paid attention to the whole student, helping each to learn through his or her passions. She was an inspiration, guider and protector of her students. She ensured they receive the education they needed and would prosper. As a district gifted resource teacher, she touched many lives both formally and informally. Meg earned the “Extra Mile Award” from the Sturgis Elementary principal and staff for coordinating and implementing a free, weeklong day camp for gifted learners.

As a parent of four gifted children, Meg recognized the need for strong parent advocacy and educated parents to be powerful advocates for their own children and other children. Meg served schools as both a parent and faculty member on Site Based Councils. She was also a requested presenter at Union County Public Schools’ annual professional development seminars. KAGE recognized Meg with a Service and Advocacy Award in 2016.

Meg was a truly gracious, warm, positive person. Her impact will continue to be a positive influence on those lucky enough to have known her. She left a remarkable legacy in a wonderful family, the children for whom she dedicated her work, and for all of us who were so fortunate to call her friend.

Pam Geisselhardt was a KAGE Board Member from Adair County and a teacher in the gifted and talented program for Adair County Schools. She cared greatly for gifted children. April Rena Shepperd, a parent from Columbia, Kentucky, wrote “Pam was such a focused, giving, teacher who stood as a champion for Adair County students. Pam was an advocate for gifted students who needed more than just a regular classroom education. These students are sometimes lost and forgotten in the system, but Pam knew they needed more than what the current educational system could provide. So she made sure they were challenged and given the opportunity to shine.” Kayla Garrison, one of Pam’s students, wrote, “She gave me a true passion for learning that I am so thankful to have.” Pam’s advocacy was not limited to just gifted students but to all students and members of the education profession as well.

In 2011, U.S. Senator Rand Paul invited her to come to Washington and share her views on how to change the nation’s most comprehensive education law, No Child Left Behind. She and a team of educators from her district had met Senator Paul as part of the National Education Association’s first back-home lobby visit campaign staged online. Pam’s passionate advocacy on behalf of gifted and special needs students and against the overemphasis on testing made an impression on Senator Paul. Later in the fall, Pam was invited to D.C. to offer her perspective on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Pam retired from teaching after 27 years but continued to advocate for children and teachers. She liked to travel and was devoted to her grandson, Xavier.

At her passing, Adair County Superintendent Alan W. Reed wrote to his staff, “I had the privilege of working with Pam for a number of years. We all know that Pam was an innovative classroom teacher with a passion for young learners. She was also a champion for educators, heading the local teachers association for several years. Ms. Geisselhardt was a true scholar and will be missed by her many friends and colleagues in the educational community, within our district, and across the state.” Pam was a friend and a hard worker who did not seek the limelight. She had a dry sense of humor and called it like she saw it. We have missed that. We have missed her advocacy efforts and her friendship.

Ellen Napier worked as an educator for 38 years in the Bullitt County school district, where she left a legacy that emphasized advocating for gifted students. Ellen arrived in Bullitt County as a Math and Language Arts teacher in 1975. In 1979 she began working with the gifted and talented program. She worked in the gifted program as a teacher and coordinator until 2005, when she completed her first retirement. After retiring from education in 2005, she returned as a part-time gifted and talented coordinator until the 2012-13 school year. Even though she was part-time, she often worked full-time hours to ensure that everything ran smoothly with the program and that students were still being properly serviced. During her years of teaching, she also enthusiastically worked with the academic team. She volunteered to score results long after she served as coach.

Colleague Marcia Zinger said “Ellen’s greatest goal was always to provide the best services for all students in Bullitt County. She became very aware of the lack of services for gifted students. So this is where she worked tirelessly to make sure that these students were best served through the years. She worked meticulously on records and on getting students being properly identified.” Beth Vachon, another colleague, stated that “When I joined [Ellen] in teaching gifted, she was readily available to guide me every step of the way until I became familiar with the curriculum and program.  Ellen led us in constantly revising the gifted program to meet core requirements.  She was an unwavering advocate for the gifted students in our district.”

One of the things that Ellen was most known for in the gifted program was coordinating out-of-state field trip opportunities for fourth through eighth grade gifted students. She devoted her time and energy to successfully create learning environments outside of the normal classroom that benefitted both students and parents on these trips. Students participated in traveling to places such as Washington D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis, and Huntsville.

Through the years, she recruited some of the most dedicated people to be part of the gifted program. Ellen was always looking for people who shared her passion for gifted students and advocacy. She always worked with the Board of Education members to ensure gifted regulations and policies were in place.

Keith Davis, superintendent of Bullitt County Schools wrote, “Ellen Napier …was wholeheartedly dedicated to advancing Gifted Education in our district and throughout the state.  I first met her when I volunteered back in 1997 for a committee to review the GT curriculum.  Since then, we worked together on many issues. Ellen’s guidance and wisdom were always invaluable to me.  Her examples of professionalism and passion were recognized by all who came in contact with her.”

Ellen was a faithful KAGE member for years and attended meetings and state conferences regularly. She always stayed informed of issues regarding gifted education and the latest professional development to share with the district. She networked with surrounding counties and started a regional Gifted and Talented support group that met twice a year. These are just a few of the reasons why it is an honor to recognize the outstanding dedication that Mrs. Ellen Napier had for the Bullitt County Gifted and Talented program. Mrs. Ellen Napier passed away on August 24, 2016 but she left a lasting legacy.

Read about past KAGE Service & Advocacy and Distinguished Student recipients at the KAGE Hall of Fame – click HERE.


The KAGE Distinguished Student Award is designed to recognize a student from grades 3 – 6 who has distinguished achievement not only in academics, leadership, or the arts but also made a contribution to the community at a level beyond what is expected of a child in the student’s age group. One child from Kentucky will be named a Kentucky Association for Gifted Education Distinguished Student. The award recipient receives a College Entity Account from the Kentucky Education Savings Plan Trust (KESPT) and a Certificate of Excellence from KAGE. The award recipient will be honored at the 2018 KAGE Annual Conference in Lexington. Nominations for 2017-2018 will be due December 1, 2017.  Nomination forms will be available soon. 

The Kentucky Association for Gifted Education (KAGE) is now accepting nominations for the 2016-17 KAGE Service and Advocacy Awards.  The purpose of the awards is to provide recognition of exceptional service and/or advocacy in support of educating Kentucky’s gifted and talented children and youth. The award recipients will be honored at the 2018 KAGE Annual Conference in Lexington. Nominations for 2017-2018 will be due December 1, 2017.  Nomination forms will be available soon. 

The Michael Caudill Educator Award
Established in 2005 in memory of Michael Caudill, superintendent of Madison County Schools and friend to gifted children.

  • Nominee must be an administrator, counselor, teacher, or other professional in education.

  • Nominee has made significant positive contributions to gifted education in the school, district, and/or state, which has greatly impacted students and/or educators.

  • Nominee has a record of advocacy for gifted and talented children and youth.

Service & Advocacy Awards

  • Nominee has made significant positive contributions to gifted education in the school, district, community, and/or state, which has greatly impacted parents, students, and/or educators.

  • Nominee has a record of advocacy for gifted and talented children and youth.

  • Nominee can be a professional in education, a parent, a legislator, university staff or faculty, business leader, an alumni of gifted services in Kentucky, a KAGE chapter, or another entity.

Nominations for the 2017-2018 year will be due December 1, 2017.  For more information about these awards programs, contact KAGE at or 270.745.4301.

last updated 03/29/2017