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Past Winners

Making a Difference in Education: Iowa’s AEAs Award Recipients

Senator Charles Grassley named 2022 Friend of the AEA

Two AEA chief administrators present Charles Grassley with award
John Speer (left) and Bill Decker (right) present Sen. Charles Grassley with a Friend of the AEA award during a trip to Washington, D.C. to advocate for education in Iowa. Speer is the chief administrator of Grant Wood AEA, and Decker is the chief administrator of Mississippi Bend AEA.

Senator Charles Grassley has been named a Friend of the AEA by Iowa’s Area Education Agencies. The Friend of the AEA award acknowledges contributions by policymakers, citizens, board members, school district partners, businesses and organizations who have been great partners and demonstrate strong support for furthering the mission of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs). Grassley received the award during a recent meeting with Iowa school superintendents and AEA chief administrators to recognize his longtime work to support Iowa students, including ensuring all students have access to equal educational opportunities through AEAs.

As an Iowa State Representative, Grassley introduced legislation creating the AEAs in 1974. 

 “One of the reasons we created the AEAs was because the county school system at that time wasn’t a very effective and efficient organization for delivering services to small schools. We wanted the AEAs to supplement services that local schools could not afford to supply. We wanted equal educational opportunity, efficiency to cover more students, and obviously, we’re trying to accomplish excellence in education,” Grassley said. “I’ve enjoyed watching the success and profound impact these agencies have had on education in our state. It’s an honor to work on behalf of Iowa students in the Senate, and I’ll continue doing my part to ensure that they have the resources needed to reach their full potential”  

The legislation passed and Iowa’s Area Education Agencies began operating in 1975 with the purpose to be an effective, efficient, and economical means of identifying and serving children from birth to age 21 who require special education services. This decision was a result of the federal law mandating a free, appropriate, public education for children with disabilities.

“Without the hard work of Senator Grassley and others in advocating and introducing state legislation the AEA system would not exist. Senator Grassley’s vision then and the AEAs’ work today ensure that every student in Iowa has effective and equitable access to important educational services and programs. In every school building, every day in Iowa, AEA staff work hand-in-hand supporting school staff in educating students,” said John Speer, chief administrator, Grant Wood AEA.

For almost 50 years, Iowa’s nine AEAs continue to provide those services to every public school district and accredited, non-public school in Iowa. While special education comprises about 75 percent of the services offered, Iowa’s AEAs also provide professional development, school improvement, media, technology and creative services. 

2021 Awards suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

2020 Award Recipients

Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs) are recognizing individuals who are amazing ambassadors for Iowa’s education system and Iowa’s Area Education Agencies. Each year, Iowa’s AEAs seek nominations for three awards as a way to celebrate those who are making a difference for kids, families, schools and communities. Whether it be helping keep our communities strong and thriving, volunteering in schools, standing up for causes they believe in, helping a friend or neighbor, being a mover, a shaker and a motivator, it’s important to honor and thank those who make a difference in the lives of our students.

  • Innovative Creator Award – Shandra Meyer, Central Rivers AEA
  • Dr. E. Robert Stephens Award – Carlene Lodermeier, Heartland AEA
  • Friend of the AEA Award – David Hammer, Aaron Cook, & Jenny Ugolini from Heartland AEA

Innovative Creator Award – Shandra Meyer

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The 2020 Innovative Creator Award is presented to  Shandra Meyer from Central Rivers AEA. Shandra serves as both the Lead Teacher for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing at Central Rivers AEA as well as the state leader for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing teachers. The Innovative Creator Award celebrates innovative and creative thinking and actions to enrich student learning.

Shandra was nominated by Anna Crenshaw and Melissa Schossow, who wrote:

“Shandra is a hard worker who supports so many different people and groups within and outside of Central Rivers AEA. She is the discipline lead for the Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing where she leads and supports her team with grace and dedication. Shandra directly serves students across multiple districts. She writes excellent IEPs and supports her team members in doing the same. Shandra also serves as the Co-Chair for Hearing State Leadership in Iowa. Even with all of these responsibilities, she always has time for a quick chat or problem solving session. Shandra goes above and beyond for everyone that she interacts with in all of her different roles and deserves recognition for this work.”

Dr. E. Robert Stephens Award – Carlene Lodermeier

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Known to many as “Dr. Bob” and the father of Iowa’s AEAs, this award acknowledges contributions in the area of innovation and support to local districts, AEAs, the Department of Education and other partners/organizations. This year’s award is presented to Carlene Lodermeier, a regional director at Heartland AEA, who serves Des Moines Public Schools. 

Carlene’s nomination included a letter of support from many administrators with Des Moines Public Schools:

From Superintendent Tom Ahart: “Carlene’s leadership has been instrumental in establishing a relationship between Heartland AEA and DMPS that is more beneficial to our students and staff than it has ever been.”

From Brenda Colby, Chief Academic Officer: “Three words I would use to describe Carlene: dedicated, determined and devoted. She is a servant leader for all!”

From Gilmara Mitchell, Heartland AEA Professional Learning & Leadership Consultant who serves on Carlene’s DMPS team: “Carlene is authentic, honest and trusting. She rolls up her sleeves and works alongside us serving DMPS. We have reached unimaginable milestones in our partnership with DMPS under Carlene’s leadership.”

Friend of the AEAs – Jenny Ugolini, David Hammer and Aaron Cook

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Each month, leaders from Iowa’s nine AEAs meet at the Heartland AEA campus in Johnston.  From meeting room organization to tech support in two buildings to making catering reservations and assisting with meal set-up, we want to recognize three members of the Heartland AEA team for going the extra mile. Jenny Ugolini, David Hammer and Aaron Cook may prefer to work behind the scenes and away from the spotlight. 

The Friend of the AEAs Award is a fitting way to recognize this team for all that they do to support the AEA system. This honor is given to those who demonstrate strong support for furthering the mission of Iowa’s AEAs and who serve as an advocate on our behalf. Iowa’s AEAs are grateful to them, and the entire Heartland AEA team who welcome us each month.

Congratulations to our 2020 award recipients!


AEA Award Winners 2019On March 28, 2019, Iowa’s AEAs presented their 3rd annual AEA Awards to three deserving recipients: Dr. Tom Lane, Diane John, and Kim Owen.

Friend of the AEA Award

Dr. Tom Lane, Executive Director, from Iowa’s Area Education Agencies received the 2019 Friend of the AEA Award. The Friend of the AEA acknowledges contributions by policymakers, citizens, board members, school district partners, businesses and organizations who have been great partners and demonstrate strong support for furthering the mission of Iowa’s AEAs.

For the past two years, Tom has served as Iowa’s AEA’s Executive Director after serving as legislative liaison for four years. One of Tom’s greatest strengths is building relationships and the AEAs have benefited from his experience as a teacher, counselor, principal, and superintendent.

Tom, we are grateful for your leadership. Our system is stronger thanks to you.

Creative Innovator Award

Diane John, Speech-Language Pathologist from Great Prairie AEA, received the 2019 Creative Innovator Award. The Innovative Creator award celebrates innovative and creative thinking and actions to enrich student learning. She received multiple nominations from co-workers, colleagues, and friends including the following:

  • Diane John goes above and beyond her job! Not only does she do an amazing job with her speech students, she also will take her own time to help teachers plan, brainstorm, and develop ideas to better the learning of the students.
  • I am the instructional coach and Diane has helped me in so many ways to be more effective with my work with teachers and that in turn helps all of our students.  She helped me develop an intervention system to look at our students closer and make instructional decisions we need to sooner, she helps me to develop those interventions with teachers, and the development of a program with dialogic reading with our mentors coming from the high school working with our students.  
  • She has been instrumental in teaching classes to our staff on vocabulary and strategies to use in their classrooms and she is always on the lookout to find any way that she can help.  She is positive, shares strategies, and problem solves with staff about student needs. She is a great asset to our school!
  • Diane is always willing to find supplemental resources and share her vast knowledge to better the learning experiences for our students.  On a personal level, I was able to go to her with a question about my 2-year-old at the time and she told me about the Early Access program. Because of that, she helped my son receive speech intervention faster than if I would have waited until he began school. Now he is thriving in preschool and it’s all because Diane was an advocate for the AEA.
  • Diane is a great speech pathologist, who goes above and beyond to make sure students receive the best services available and teachers have adequate resources to support learning.  She is a phenomenal asset to our school district and someone who brings happiness wherever she goes! We love her and so do the students.
  • She is our sunshine!

E. Robert Stephens Award

Kim Owen, Regional Administrator, from Grant Wood AEA received the E. Robert Stephens Award. The Dr. E. Robert Stephens award acknowledges contributions in the areas of innovation and support to local districts, AEAs, the Department of Education and other partners/organizations.

Kim has been the catalyst of innovation to put a system of support in place for AEA partners to collaborate and work across AEAs in service to accelerating and advancing teacher classroom practices that support the academic, social, and emotional needs of students. Kim has dedicated her career to creating partnerships with staff from AEAs to collaborate and work together in building the capacity and efficacy of instructional coaches and mentors that impact teaching and learning.


On April 5, 2018, Iowa’s AEAs presented their 2nd annual AEA Awards to five deserving recipients. This is the second year for the awards, which are an opportunity to recognize and celebrate outstanding candidates for their contributions to education and the AEA system.

E. Robert Stephens Award

Evan Abbey, Project Director of AEA Learning Online, was awarded the Dr. E. Robert Stephens Award. The Dr. E. Robert Stephens award acknowledges contributions in the areas of innovation and support to local districts, AEAs, the Department of Education and other partners/organizations.

Over 50 years ago, Stephens was a graduate student at The University of Iowa. He was asked by the Iowa Department of Public Instruction and rural superintendents in the state to direct a study to find a prototype to distribute instructional services equitably and efficiently across Iowa. His vision eventually found its way to the Iowa Legislature in 1974, when Iowa’s AEAs were passed into law. This award is named after “Dr. Bob” to honor exemplary work by those associated with educational service agencies and AEAs.

Evan has been the driving force behind instruction in the areas of online and personalized learning in Iowa. His vision for AEA Learning Online has transformed how schools in Iowa use blended and online learning opportunities. With Evan’s support and expertise, AEA Learning Online has developed multiple systems with learning opportunities for adults and students.

“We are honored to present this award to Evan Abbey,” said Tom Lane, Executive Director of Iowa’s AEAs. “Evan provides strong leadership for this work and his vision benefits Iowa’s educational system.”

Friend of the AEAs

Miller Roskamp was named a Friend of the AEA. The Friend of the AEA acknowledges contributions by policymakers, citizens, board members, school district partners, businesses and organizations who have been great partners and demonstrate strong support for furthering the mission of Iowa’s AEAs.

Roskamp was nominated for his support of the River Hills School, a public sponsored special school for students with moderate, severe and profound developmental disabilities. The school serves students from age 3 through age 21. Approximately 120 students from local school districts within Central Rivers AEA attend River Hills School. The parent of a Rivers Hills graduate and respected community philanthropist, Roskamp took on a leadership role in renovating the infrastructure and spirit of River Hills. His motivation and leadership with a variety of initiatives and campaigns has resulted in significant building and grounds improvements. Students now enjoy safe and modern outdoor adapted playgrounds, and the learning environments in all 24 of the building classrooms have been enhanced.

“Miller is not only a friend of the AEA but also a friend to all children with special needs,” said Sam Miller, Central Rivers AEA Chief Administrator. “His support for the integrity-filled work of River Hills School and the larger community it represents has literally changed lives.”

Friend of the AEAs

Dr. Janet Stutz, superintendent of Grinnell-Newburg Community Schools, was also named a Friend of the AEA.

“Each day finds Janet focused on doing the best for the students of Grinnell-Newburg,” said Sam Miller, Central Rivers AEA Chief Administrator. “She openly admits the district can’t do the work that needs to be done without the support and cooperation of the AEA. Her administrative team meets regularly with the AEA regional administrator, who is always viewed as a partner at the table. Janet supports the AEA staff assigned to her district and believes they play an important part in the achievement of students.”

Innovative Creator Award

Cindy Cavanagh and Teresa Wyant, staff at Mississippi Bend AEA were selected for the Innovative Creator Award by Iowa’s AEAs. The Innovative Creator award celebrates innovative and creative thinking and actions to enrich student learning. Cavanagh and Wyant were instrumental in creating the Assistive Technology Team at Mississippi Bend AEA. For over 25 years, they have worked with teachers, students and families to ensure each child has voice and an environment in which to thrive.

“It is with great appreciation that we present Cindy and Teresa with this award,”  said Tom Lane, Executive Director of Iowa’s AEAs. “We also thank you for the creative ways you offered students to stretch their minds in school and engage them in thoughtful, meaning activities.”

99% of educators surveyed report that they are satisfied with AEA graphic design, specialty print and audio/video production services.