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Ohio Department of Education Press Releases

McPherson, Ward Selected as Ohio’s Nominees for National Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award

Release date: 1/22/2021

Paraprofessional and Bus Driver Honored for Excellence in Serving Students and Schools

COLUMBUS, OHIO – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria together with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine today honored Cerssandra McPherson, a paraprofessional working with special education students in the Toledo Public School System, and Barbara Ward, a school bus driver for the Fairland Local School District, as Ohio’s nominees for the first annual national Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award.

“I am so grateful for caring, dedicated and enthusiastic Ohioans like Cerssandra McPherson and Barbara Ward who are encouraging and inspiring our young people each day. It is an honor and a pleasure to nominate them to the U.S. Department of Education for consideration for national RISE Award recognition,” said DeWine.
“It’s clear these professionals go out of their way to make every student feel seen, valued and significant. That sort of recognition is vital for our young people, and I’m so proud to recognize Cerssandra and Barbara today for their incredible work on behalf of Ohio’s students,” said DeMaria.

In nominating McPherson, Melissa Cropper, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers said, “She is flexible and dependable, ready to enthusiastically take on any task to which she is assigned. Given that Cerssandra is self-motivated, she often goes above and beyond the call of duty in her dedication to the success of each student in her purview. She also supports other paraprofessionals in her building and the district by taking on the responsibility of providing training and professional development that keeps them current with the latest educational trends and strategies. Cerssandra is a valued and respected member of her school community.”
Likewise, Joe Rugola, Executive Director of Ohio Association of Public School Employees /American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4 said of Ward, “For 40 years, Barbara Ward has been a shining example of what a school bus driver should be. She has driven more than a million miles through the hills of southern Ohio with special needs students in her care. Those students and their families have trusted Barb to safely travel her route — which has been as long as 183 miles each day — and she has never let them down. She is the first person from Fairland Schools to greet her students and the last one they see each afternoon. Barb is a true ambassador for the district and often develops lasting relationships with the families of her students. Barb has driven many students from their first day of kindergarten through the last day of high school. She gets to know them and treats each one with respect, dignity and love. She is known for her kindness and her commitment to her job.”
The RISE Award promotes the commitment and excellence exhibited by full- or part-time classified school employees who provide exemplary service to students in prekindergarten through high school. Each state may nominate up to two candidates annually for consideration for the national award. The U.S. Secretary of Education will announce the national award winner in the spring.



The Ohio Department of Education is a diverse team of passionate, education-focused professionals dedicated to fulfilling the vision established in Each Child, Our Future, Ohio’s strategic plan for education. The vision is, “In Ohio, each child is challenged to discover and learn, prepared to pursue a fulfilling post-high school path and empowered to become a resilient, lifelong learner who contributes to society. Ensuring this vision for each of Ohio’s 1.7 million students, in partnership with more than 240,000 educators across the state, is no small feat. Under the leadership of the superintendent of public instruction and governed by the State Board of Education, Department team members, in collaboration with a wide range of partners, are sharply focused on helping schools and districts continually improve to be the best they can for each child. Equity and impact are core to every program, service and action. The Department’s work is well regarded both in Ohio and nationally for being innovative, leading edge and forward looking. When the Department succeeds, students succeed, communities succeed and Ohio succeeds!