Each year, WestEd celebrates the dedication, hard work, and accomplishments of our agency’s exceptional staff members through our Staff Recognition Awards. The Paul D. Hood Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Field honors staff with outstanding bodies of work in research, development, and service. The Ed Myers Award for Exceptional Contribution to the WestEd Community honors staff who have made a positive impact on institutional operations, team performance, and workplace productivity.
Check out our winners and learn about their contributions to the field.
Paul D. Hood Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Field
This award is named after one of WestEd’s most committed and influential staff members, Paul Hood. Paul helped establish and guide WestEd’s research and systems work from the agency’s inception in 1966 to his retirement in 2015.
Jason Willis, Director of Strategic Resource Planning and Implementation
Jason Willis supports numerous state and local policymakers in using and aligning resources to provide adequate and equitable funding to K–12 school systems. His deep commitment to education equity, combined with his practical experience as a nationally recognized urban district finance director and chief business official, is bringing lasting change to how national, state, and local policies are created and supported. His work has led to meaningful change in state budgeting and/or state law, leading to positive transformations in the structure and level of preK–12 education funding.
NAEP Mathematics and Reading Framework Update
WestEd, in collaboration with the National Assessment Governing Board, facilitated the development and updating of math and reading assessment frameworks for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Our dedicated cross-agency team drew on their deep expertise and leadership skills to successfully guide this complex, challenging, and high-impact work.
The NAEP team is Lucia Yuan, Kamilah Wilson, May Chan, Charlie Mahoney, Megan Schneider, Mira-Lisa Katz, Shandy Hauk, Sarah Warner, Leslie Thornley, Sierra McCormick, Cynthia Greenleaf, Ann Edwards, Angela Bowzer, Matthew Rudoff, Chris Ruperto, Mark Loveland, Danielle Oberbeck, and Steve Schneider.
Ed Myers Award for Exceptional Contribution to the WestEd Community
Named after former Chief Administrative Officer Ed Myers, an instrumental and highly respected longtime leader at WestEd, this award honors staff who have significantly impacted internal operations, performance, and productivity. All winners demonstrate extraordinary professionalism, initiative, thoroughness, and thoughtfulness.
Amber Valdez, Senior Program Associate
As the driving force behind a burgeoning area of work related to school-based health, Amber Valdez facilitated a cross-agency team to help California policymakers reimagine how to finance and support school and county partnerships to address the mental health and emotional needs of students returning to in-person learning after a long absence due to the pandemic. She collaborated with multiple disparate teams and agencies and produced two timely policy reports.
Bryan Hemberg, Director of Assessment for Learning
Bryan Hemberg leads WestEd’s efforts to develop state and local capacity to use evidence to increase student agency and improve educators’ assessment practices. Hemberg serves as the Deputy Director of the Region 15 Comprehensive Center and leads WestEd’s Center for Standards, Assessment, and Accountability. In 2021, Bryan built WestEd’s Assessment for Learning content-area team from a diverse set of staff across WestEd, cultivating a sense of connection and community within the new team. He believes that empowering his colleagues to succeed improves the quality of everyone’s work and paves the road for more opportunity.
Malachy McCormick and Sharon Nelson-Barber, CIRCLE Co-leads
In establishing and leading one of WestEd’s employee resource groups (ERGs), the Council for Indigenous Relations, Careers, Leadership, and Equity (CIRCLE), Malachy McCormick and Sharon Nelson-Barber have fostered a welcoming, inclusive community that advances equity for Indigenous staff members and helps ensure that WestEd is working effectively with Indigenous communities.
As an Organization Development Program Associate, Malachy works to provide equity-focused technical assistance and support in the areas of change management, systems thinking, organizational restructuring, strategic planning, resource development, project management, and community engagement.
Sharon, a sociolinguist, directs Culture and Language in STEM Education within WestEd’s Science and Engineering content area. Her research centers on understanding how students’ sociocultural contexts influence how they make sense of schooling in mathematics and science.
The WestEd Proposal Production Team
This past year, the proposal production leads exemplified collaboration at its finest. They took the initiative to develop a variety of collaborative structures to ensure WestEd’s proposals stay on track and are submitted on time.
The WestEd Proposal Production Team is Amanda Allen, Elizabeth Arnett, Angela Chin, Kelly Collins, Gillian Kpodjie, Charlie Mahoney, Maria Martinez, Mansi Master, Robin Montoya, Kimberly Nguyen, Danielle Oberbeck, Ruchita Patel, Melissa Rego, Megan Schneider, Jessica Triant, Marina Varfolomeeva, Jacklyn Yani, and Lucia Yuan.
Digital Learning Team
During the pandemic, the Digital Learning Team helped bring everyone together. Extending their resources to the entire agency, the team designed and supported several important and highly valued community events, including the 2020 staff awards ceremony and staff memorial services. The team also provided a safety net of supports, conceptualizing and producing just-in-time resources and training that helped staff and clients adapt to interactive digital learning environments.
The Digital Learning Team is Jennifer Folsom, Patrick Moyle, Diana Mejia, Becah Busselle, and Jennifer Mendenhall.
Erin Browder, Senior Program Associate
Erin is highly regarded as a generous and humble bridge-builder whose relational style feels compassionate and human. She is masterful at cultivating bonds, building community, and facilitating collaboration. Erin leads by example when it comes to equity work at the agency. Infusing race, class, and gender equity throughout her team’s work has changed their perspective on equity, enabling them to meet needs they didn’t realize they had.
Her expertise in social and emotional learning and trauma-informed practices helps her lead in a way that leaves her team feeling welcomed, valued, and affirmed.
Fiona Read, Project Manager
Colleagues describe Fiona Read as an ardent advocate for an equitable work environment. She created an equity audit process that is now a core resource associated with WestEd’s Equity Framework. Fiona also skillfully managed processes that brought several new members to the agency, all of whom have expressed a commitment to equity and more than half of whom identify as BIPOC. As part of this effort, she collaborated with the HR department to rewrite job descriptions and set new norms and interviewing protocols to ensure a level playing field for all applicants. Her capacity-building efforts have contributed to increased productivity throughout the organization.
Marley Arechiga, Communications Coordinator
Marley Arechiga is the Communications Coordinator for Carnegie Math Pathways, providing written and visual communication strategies for the program. She also co-leads WestEd’s Latino employee resource group, advancing cultural awareness and coordinating professional learning events in support of career advancement. Marley is also deeply committed to the equity mission of Carnegie Math Pathways and WestEd. While she coordinates communications for Carnegie Math Pathways, she helps her colleagues think more carefully and critically about how they can expand their capabilities and reach in providing better and more equitable mathematics education.
Natalie Walrond, Director, Resilient and Healthy Schools and Communities
As director of the national Center to Improve Social & Emotional Learning and School Safety, Natalie builds state and local capacity to integrate evidence-based approaches to social and emotional development and to school safety with academic teaching and learning.
Natalie also serves as WestEd’s Director of Cross-Sector Initiatives, helping the agency develop bodies of work that invite partnership across social sectors (such as education, health, justice, and child welfare) to strengthen children, families, and communities. Natalie is driven to grow personally and contribute to making WestEd a stronger and more supportive, diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.
Patty Armstrong, Director of Assessment Content
Patty directs the development of assessment services and products for both general education and special populations. She previously served as SAAS’s Director of Mathematics Development, working closely with state departments of education to develop customized mathematics standards and item specifications.
Colleagues note that “on almost every call I’m on with Patricia, she has her pom-poms out and is cheering us along.” For Patty and her team, pom-poms represent her commitment to developing a cohesive unit from a group of geographically dispersed staff. A powerful advocate for creating a positive work culture, she mentors new leaders, supports her team, and keeps morale up, even during difficult times.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Joy Zimmerman, Co-Director of WestEd’s Communications Department
During her 30 years at WestEd, Joy has ensured high-quality products and resources that showcase the agency’s research findings, insights, and guidance. Under her exceptional leadership as Co-Director of Communications, WestEd has been highly regarded for the quality and usefulness of its publications. Joy’s dedication, keen insights, and abundant curiosity made her a stellar editor and an invaluable thought partner to staff across the agency.
Over the years, she worked with WestEd leadership to develop and refine the agency’s quality assurance processes, craft key agency messaging, and address thorny Communications issues. On top of everything, Joy fostered deep, meaningful connections with her colleagues—always sincerely interested in sharing stories and learning about their lives outside of work. A coworker summed up: “Her thoughtfulness and genuine nature has made her not only a great editor and leader, but also a great friend.”