Committee Members

The Graves Family Foundation, Educators 4 Excellence, and AchieveMpls reached out to teachers and administrators who represent educational leadership in the Twin Cities metro area and invited them to join the MELA committee. MELA committee members are not allowed to nominate others for an award or be nominated themselves. Committee members select both MELA finalists and award winners. Committee members are required to recuse themselves from voting for any candidate with whom they have a direct relationship. Names and other identifying information are also removed from nominations prior to review.

Courtney Bell

Courtney Bell is 1 of 4 children born onto astounding mother and matriarch Tosha Bell. Raised in the Sumner Neighborhood of Minneapolis’s Northside. Growing up on the Northside of Minneapolis afforded Courtney the opportunity to attend her Alma Mater and current place of career, North Community High School. In the fall of 2007 Courtney went on to attend the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities. During the completion of general education courses, she fell in love with the field of Sociology, which helped to provide historical and social understanding for the educational, racial and social inequality that had become far too common-place in her home community. Courtney graduated with  her B.A in the Sociology of Law, Criminology and Deviance from the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts in 2011 and went on to become a behavior dean at North High School. After witnessing firsthand the impact that enduring caring relationships and high expectations had on children, Courtney decided to return to the University of Minnesota to pursue her M.Ed. / Social Studies Teacher Licensure to become an educator. After completing her M.Ed program in 2014, Courtney returned to her Alma Mater as the 9th grade African American History/ Human Geography teacher. Courtney constantly reminds her Polar Scholars of Mandela’s words “education is the most powerful weapon in which to change the world”. Carrying on with the spirit of educational power, Courtney is currently still teaching at North High School and is in the midst of her second year in the Educational Policy and Leadership PhD program through the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development. Courtney’s developing research and dissertation focuses on African centered pedagogy and curriculum as antidotes for the existing education gap between students of African descent and their European-American peers.

David Butler

David “Bezhigoogabaw” Butler is an enrolled member of Lac du Flambeau Band of Chippewa in Wisconsin. David Graduated from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay and moved to Minneapolis in 2007 to learn Ojibwe Language. David Now has a Master’s in education from St. Thomas and teaches Ojibwe language at South High school in Minneapolis.

Jim Clark


Jim Clark  was born in Puebla, Mexico and grew up in Chile and Spain.  He graduated from the University of Navarra, Spain with a degree in Education.  He also holds a Master’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of River Falls-Wisconsin, and a Principal Certificate from St. Mary’s University.

Jim Clark has worked for Minneapolis Public Schools for 23 years.  He is now principal at Windom Dual Immersion School.  He taught 4th grade at Ramsey Fine Arts Center and 1st grade at Windom Dual Immersion.  He has also been assistant principal ,  TAP mentor, and Literacy Coach at Windom.


Madaline Edison


Educators 4 Excellence MN

Madaline Edison is the Founding Executive Director of Educators for Excellence-Minnesota. Originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from South Dakota State University. Following in her mom’s footsteps, she became a kindergarten and first grade teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she also earned a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Hamline University. During her third year of teaching, she helped start the third national chapter of Educators for Excellence, which now serves over 2,000 teacher leaders in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region.


Candida Gonzalez

A native of South Minneapolis, Candida studied Latin American Art and History at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, and went on to get her M.Ed. at The University of Minnesota. She is passionate about education, community engagement through the arts and equitable arts access. She began working for Minneapolis Public Schools in 2001 and has worked at Green Central, Jefferson, Ramsey (now Folwell Performing Arts) and Roosevelt High School, where she currently serves as Arts Coordinator. She also is a co-owner at GoodSpace Murals, serves as project manager on specific projects, manages social media and provides arts consulting and evaluating services.

Bill Graves


The John and Denise Graves Family Foundation

Bill is the founding executive director of The John and Denise Graves Family Foundation. Prior to his work with the foundation, Bill worked in the technology and creative consulting sectors as a business analyst, writer, producer, and resource manager. He lives in Northeast Minneapolis with his wife, Mary, and infant daughter, Fern.

Angel Jennings


Angel is the welcoming face of AchieveMpls, greeting visitors both on the phone and in person. She ensures the smooth functioning of their office and also administers mini-grants and scholarship programs for Minneapolis Public Schools students and teachers. Angel holds a degree in human services from Minneapolis Community and Technical College and has several years of experience in customer service. She’s also a licensed minister and church secretary and works with youth in her church.

Kyrra Rankine

Kyrra has 18 years of experience in the fields of education, social work, coaching, and organizing. After graduating from Minneapolis Public Schools, she went on to earn a B.A. in sociology and fiction at Northwestern University and an M.S.W. with concentrations on groupwork, youth development and community organizing at Hunter College in New York City. She taught middle school English and social studies in the South Bronx and worked as a youth advocate in Harlem. Since returning to Minneapolis in 2009, Kyrra has worked with educators and community members on issues of educational equity and social change. When she isn’t hanging out with her husband and two kids, Kyrra loves gardening, running, DIYing things, writing short stories, and hunting for good finds on eBay.

Crystal Spring

Crystal Spring is the founder and director of the Washburn Blackbox Acting Program, a Social Justice theatre program that centers youth voice. Since 2008, she has been guiding youth at Washburn High School to create original performances that tour throughout the Twin Cities. She trained at the University of Minnesota earning a BA in theatre and built her social justice foundation with mentor, Jan Mandell, formerly of St. Paul Central Touring Theatre. She has performed and directed in the Twin Cities community since 2003, using theatre as a way to create cross cultural dialogue, and encourage others to use theatre as a catalyst for change.

Scott Teigland

Scott Teigland has worked for Minneapolis Public Schools for 7 years.  He is now a third grade teacher at Lucy Craft Laney School @ Cleveland Park Community School.  Originally from Mankato, Minnesota, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Scott lives in the West Metro with his wife, Mandy and three children—Gloria, Miya, and Aksel.

Scott is also a recipient of a 2016 MELA award.


DeSeandra Sheppheard

DeSeandra has over a decade of experience in Human Resource Management, Leadership and Organizational Development. A Minnesota native, DeSeandra grew up in St. Paul’s Frog Town community, graduated from Metropolitan State University with a  B.S. in HR Management, and has worked with various Twin Cities non-profits and corporations. Most recently, she directed HR for a Private High School in South Minneapolis. DeSeandra lives in St. Paul with her Husband and son

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