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Adult Educator of the Year

The Adult Educator of the Year award honors an educator, paid or volunteer, who makes significant contributions to the work of Adult Education in Middle Tennessee. Past honorees include ESL teachers, High School Equivalency instructors, and financial counselors. Through exceptional dedication and innovation, our city’s adult educators foster the English language, basic literacy, and life skills learners need to achieve their personal and professional goals.

Nominate an Educator

Nominations for Adult Educator of the year typically open in late fall. Sign up for the Adult Literacy Newsletter and get notified when submissions open, along with other news and tips about Adult Education.

Please direct any questions about the award to the adult literacy team at

Current Recipient


Marnie Huff, 2023 Adult Educator of the Year

Marnie Huff has been an exceptionally dedicated teacher of adult students in the Nashville area for more than 17 years. She teaches at Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC).

Adult education colleagues have shared the following: "Marnie has shown a willingness to go beyond routine curricula and activities to enrich the learning experiences of students. Her qualities and characteristics reflecting those of an Educator of the Year include innovation, preparation, empathy, and effective communication."

Marnie's innovative approach to English instruction includes creating original lesson plans to address current needs and interests. She is always thinking about what information will benefit students. She is known for her level of preparation and empathy. She creates lesson plans with meticulous steps for presenting, practicing, and reviewing information, and uses her wealth of teaching experience to constantly analyze her instructional methods.

Marnie has a powerful drive to collaborate with other adult educators in Nashville, sharing resources and ideas and seeking information and expertise to improve her teaching methods. She has gone above and beyond to provide quality services to immigrant families. She is a believer in the aphorism, “Learn while you earn”, and has donated recycled ring binders to students. She also provides connections to community services, such as mediation and tax return preparation, and provides information on where to go for free tax return preparation.

Marnie is a dedicated teacher who helps students find scholarships, free internet connections, support for family members, remedial lessons, and other programs. She is a "gateway" for students seeking more education.

Past Recipients

Crystal Gimesh

Crystal Gimesh, 2022 Adult Educator of the Year

Crystal Gimesh is the Office Manager and Tutor at Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC). She is an advocate for learners and tutors at the NALC.

Adult education colleagues have shared the following: "Crystal is an experienced and gifted educator. Her mission is to provide the best education and educational environment possible for the continued success of all. She focuses on developing strong relationships which include continuous education and check-ins."

Gimesh oversees the yearly publication titled "In Our Words." This publication features the writings of NALC students, tutors, and staff. She organizes the typing, editing, and documentation required for all submissions. She prepares lesson plans for students to help them in the creative process of telling their story. These publications provide written testimony of the value of adult education.

According to her nominator, "Crystal Gimesh is an outstanding teacher, mentor, coworker, consultant, lifelong learner, and advocate for learners and tutors at the Nashville Adult Literacy Council. Her mission is to provide the best education and educational environment possible for the continued success of all our current (and future) students. Because of her hard work, services have not only continued, but we’ve learned that for many of our students, virtual learning results in higher goal achievement. Her dedication to our learners is unmatched. We are beyond grateful for the work she has done throughout the last decade, but especially in 2021."

Lisa LeMaster

Lisa LeMaster, 2021 Adult Educator of the Year

Lisa LeMaster is the Office Manager and Antioch Start Now Coordinator at Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC). Through her work with NALC, LeMaster guides numerous adult learners who pursue a wide array of educational paths. From preparing and interviewing for new jobs to learning a new language, LeMaster is a mentor who plays a crucial role in helping each learner achieve their goals.

According to her peers, “Lisa LeMaster is an experienced and gifted educator. Lisa is a creative and diligent innovator. She is a role model for excellence in education. Lisa is relentless in her pursuit for the success of each student.”

Comments from Lisa’s students support those of her peers, demonstrating Lisa’s strong impact in adult education. Her students say “Lisa is my teacher and my friend,” and “She is a nice person and part of my family.”

As a manager, LeMaster also prioritizes recognizing student achievement and ensuring her staff are empowered to help them succeed. She started a “Student of the Month” board to recognize a new student each month. She also personally creates lesson plans for both students and volunteers to ensure that every student’s unique goals are clearly understood, and that a clear path to achieve them is set.

According to her nominator, “Lisa is a leader in Nashville’s adult education field. When we value people, our community strengthens. Lisa values people and her career exemplifies this.”

Chaney Cruze

Chaney Cruze, 2020 Adult Educator of the Year

Chaney Cruze serves as the Director of Education for Monroe Harding "where she has co-created, with her students, an interactive and comfortable learning environment".

Her students, all former foster care youth, face an array of challenges from English language fluency to homelessness to learning disabilities. When Cruze identified that the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test) was not meeting the needs of the young adults in her program, she researched solutions. Ultimately, Cruze found an online diploma program and secured the funding to implement it—graduating 13 students in the first year.

According to her nominator, Cruze's "own curiosity fosters her belief that everyone is capable of learning - it's just finding the way that will work for each individual to put them in a position to succeed."

In 2019, Cruze founded Monroe Harding's first creative journal which features students’ writing and art. Not only does the journal raise awareness for the program, it also spotlights student voices. As an educator Cruze works tirelessly to develop her students’ self-confidence as they take steps towards a brighter future.

Judy Rye

Judy Rye, 2019 Adult Educator of the Year

As Director of Adult Education at the Martha O'Bryan Center, Judy Rye "never stops asking how we can do better". Her passion and dedication impact the learners enrolled in her program, her agency, and the greater adult education community.

Rye's nominators shared that "[her] innovation becomes most apparent when she is rethinking systems and re-imagining the program so that it best benefits the student. Those who work with her are stunned that someone with so many years of experience is also so willing to change and explore new ideas."

Under Rye's leadership, every adult education student is given a customized online learning plan and curriculum, restoring each individual's control over their education. In addition, Rye has partnered with other adult education organizations to provide the adult learners of East Nashville with a convenient place to study in the program that best fits their needs and goals.

In the words of her colleagues, Judy Rye's "creativity on behalf of her students' education is stunning and inspires all of us".

Cheryl Hadley

Cheryl Hadley, 2018 Adult Educator of the Year

Cheryl Hadley has been a pioneer in the Nashville ESL community for seventeen years.

According to her nominators at Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC), Hadley "is one of those rare individuals who is [sic] both truly selfless and professionally exceptional." If you walk into Hadley’s classroom, "you will see her radiating warmth, joyfulness, and understanding and her students reflecting these qualities back."

Hadley once drove to Memphis with a student for her naturalization test. When NALC experienced a reduction in funding, she offered to take a pay cut and raised money for student scholarships.

In response to long waiting lists, Cheryl Hadley developed the Start Now program at NALC which provided students with services while they were waiting to be matched with a tutor. The Start Now Program was awarded the 2008 Frist Foundation Award of Achievement for Innovation in Action.

Robbie Hunter

Robbie Hunter, 2017 Adult Educator of the Year

Robbie Hunter is a teacher and tutor with the Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC), Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE) and Workforce Essentials.

Hunter’s nominators and the selection panel praised her dedication to helping immigrant learners understand math concepts and translate those concepts into skills needed to gain high school equivalency certification and workforce skills. Her unique position as an employee of three agencies allowed her to build bridges between them which resulted in better service for her students and greater success along their learning pathways.

In their nomination, Hunter’s colleagues at Workforce Essentials noted how her ability to communicate complex mathematical ideas effectively had earned her the nickname of "Math Jedi."

As Adult Educator of the Year, Robbie Hunter represented Nashville’s adult education community in a special audience with Representative Jim Cooper.

Stephen Edwards

Stephen Edwards, 2016 Adult Educator of the Year

Stephen Edwards served as World Relief Nashville's Adult Education Coordinator.

In this role, Edwards went above and beyond to meet the needs of his students, both inside and outside of the classroom. He gained his TESOL certification in order to master best practices and, drawing on his past experience living abroad, created a more comprehensive and relevant cultural orientation curriculum.

Known for building deep relationships, Edwards became such a key part of one family’s integration into the United States that they named their baby after him. According to his nominators at World Relief, Edwards is not only "a great educator but also a great mentor, coworker, and friend."

Shortly after receiving this recognition, Edwards relocated to Greece to lend his talents to an initiative which addresses the migrant crisis in that country.

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