To provide a balanced and objective evaluation of the candidates submitted for the Escalante–Gradillas Best in Education Prize, TheBestSchools has enlisted the following professional educators and scholars as judges. We are excited about each panel member and their impressive biographies. Please take the time to get to know them — we can’t wait to introduce them to your stellar nominees!
For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact us.
- James Barham, Ph.D. (Chair)
- Henry Gradillas, Ed.D.
- Erika T. Camacho, Ph.D.
- Christopher O. Blum, Ph.D.
- Lisa Kaplan, Principal, Andrew Jackson School
James A. Barham, Ph.D. (Panel Chair)
President & General Editor of TheBestSchools
A native Texan, James Barham earned his B.A. in Classics from the University of Texas at Austin, and his M.A. in the History of Science from Harvard University. He also pursued advanced study towards a Ph.D. under the auspices of Harvard University in Athens, Greece; and Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Barham then worked for the next two decades as an independent scholar, publishing some dozen articles on the physical modeling of value, purpose, and meaning in biology. Returning to graduate school in 2003, Barham earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Notre Dame. His doctoral dissertation explored teleological realism in biology.
Dr. Barham has served as President and General Editor of TheBestSchools since its inception in 2011. He and his wife, Nancy, live in Chicago, Illinois.
Henry Gradillas, Ed.D.
Veteran Educator, Speaker, and Author
A child of a professional boxer and an immigrant mother, Dr. Henry Gradillas flunked kindergarten because he spoke only Spanish. Mastering English, he quickly became an excellent student. In high school, he achieved the highest honor for a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) student and became the All City Cadet Colonel — making him commander of all ROTC units in the city of Los Angeles. Gradillas earned his BS in Agronomy from University of California, Davis, where he stayed active with ROTC and joined the California National Guard. Upon graduation, he accepted a regular Army commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Rising to the rank of Captain with Ranger, Airborne, and Expert Competitive Marksmanship awards, Gradillas earned further recognition as a training officer with his soldiers executing outstanding performances, earning recognition for breaking gunnery and tactics records.
While best known as the principal working with Jamie Escalante, the teacher portrayed in the film Stand and Deliver, Dr. Gradillas has coauthored a book describing his teaching principles (Standing and Delivering: What the Movie Didn’t Tell); has served as a Commissioner for the National Commission on Drug Free Schools; has been a Special Consultant on the staff of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction of California; has served as principal at several high schools in California and Michigan; has been a motivational speaker and consultant throughout North America; managed a working ranch; and continues to work as a tutor, substitute teacher, and court interpreter. At age 50 Gradillas went back to school to earn his Doctorate in Education Specializing in Secondary Curriculum from Brigham Young University. He and his wife Gayle live near Ashland, Wisconsin.
In 2014, TheBestSchools created the Escalante–Gradillas Prize for Best in Education and honored the late Jaime Escalante, Dr. Gradillas, and Angelo Villavicencio (a protégé of Jaime Escalante) as founding recipients. Together, they set the standard for all future prize winners. We are deeply honored, in turn, for Dr. Gradillas to sit on our judges panel.
Erika T. Camacho, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Mathematical & Natural Sciences, Arizona State University
Dr. Erika Camacho brings a wealth of STEM knowledge in the field of mathematics. Her notable teaching career includes serving as the Dr. Martin Luther King Visiting Assistant Professor in mathematics at MIT, assistant professor at Loyola Marymount (LMU), and co-director of the Applied Mathematical Sciences Summer Institute at LMU & Cal Poly, with additional work with Los Alamos National Laboratory, Hope College, and Cornell University.
Dr. Camacho also brings insights into one very special class of students: She was an AP Calculus pupil of Jaime Escalante at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.
She shares about Escalante (affectionately named “Kimo”):
“A former student of Escalante who worked as an engineer and had gone to MIT as an undergraduate came to talk to the class about his work as an engineer and his current life style that resulted from going to a very good university. I was so impressed that I told Escalante as soon as his student left, ‘Kimo, I want to go to MIT and be an engineer just like him.’ He told me, ‘I will take you to MIT, Flaca, if you work hard and stick with me. That is all you need to do. It is that easy.’
“A few years later, when I was a freshman in undergrad and I was depressed and considering dropping out, I called Escalante. I often called so he could remind me why I was there, why going back home without a degree was not an option for me for I had been given an opportunity that others had not, and why I had to succeed so the door may remain open for others. Once our conversation became less serious and he started joking and making me laugh, I reminded him of his promise: ‘Kimo, you said that you were going to take me to MIT, but instead I ended up at Wellesley College, an all-women’s school and not an engineering school.” He came back: “Come on, you went to Wellesley College. It is still a very good school, plus it is only about 40 miles away from MIT. I overshot by a little, but I got close. I’m just human, not an exact science.”
“But Kimo was right—he took me to MIT in 2013-2014 when I was the first women in mathematics to be an MLK Jr. Visiting Scholar at MIT. While I did not get to sit in a classroom as a student, I got to be in the classroom as a professor teaching.”
Camacho’s leadership, scholarship, and mentoring have won her national recognition, including the 2012 SACNAS Distinguished Undergraduate Mentoring Award, the 2011 National Hispanic Women Corporation Latina Leadership Award, one of 12 Emerging Scholars of 2010 recognized by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, and a citation for undergraduate research mentoring by the U.S. National Security Agency. Local recognition includes the 2013 Dr. Manuel Servin Faculty Award for excellence in exemplifying achievement in research, mentoring of Hispanic students, and leadership at ASU and in the community, the 2013 New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Faculty Service Award, the 2012 40 Hispanic Leaders Under 40 Award, the 2011 ASU Faculty Women’s Association Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award, and the 2016 STEM-TRIO Supporter of the Year award. She also received the 2016 Outstanding Mentor Award from University of Texas–Arlington department of mathematics.
She has been profiled and featured in multiple media outlets, including Univision Nightly News in “Erika Camacho’s Inspirational Story,” the SIAM News in “The Intersecting Lives of Two Mathematicians in East L.A.,” and recently in Voces, “I Am the American Dream: Erika Tatiana Camacho, Ph.D.” CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News both interviewed her in a segment honoring Jaime Escalante.
We at TheBestSchools.org are honored to have such an esteemed professor, mentor, and educator join our panel.
Christopher O. Blum, Ph.D.
Professor of History and Philosophy, Academic Dean, Augustine Institute
Dr. Christopher Blum is Professor of History & Philosophy at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado, where he also serves as Academic Dean. During his undergraduate years, Dr. Blum spent his summers studying field biology and working as a research assistant at biological field stations in Virginia and Montana. He was set to enter a career in fresh water ecology when a love of wisdom led him to Notre Dame to study for his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science. There, Blum encountered Aristotle as a biologist, and he has been reading, teaching, and writing about Aristotle ever since. His postdoctoral studies have focused on of the moral dispositions, practices, and institutional forms that bring about and teach wisdom. Dr. Blum completed his master’s and doctorate degrees in history and philosophy of science at the University of Notre Dame. His undergraduate degree in biology is from the University of Virginia. Dr. Blum and his wife and their two children live in Littleton, Colorado.
In addition to his duties as professor and academic dean, Dr. Blum has also combined his passions for philosophy and nature in developing secondary education curriculum including, most recently Nature’s Beautiful Order: An Introduction to the Study of Animals Taught by the Classical Naturalists.
Principal, Andrew Jackson School, Philadelphia, PA
The 2015 winner of TheBestSchools.org’s Escalante-Gradillas Prize for Best in Education, Lisa Kaplan calls on this experience to bring a nominee and winner’s perspective to the selection process. Having been on the other side of the judging, she knows what it takes to be the best.
Kaplan’s 30 years in education helped develop the champion spirit she brings to urban, K–8 Andrew Jackson School, part of the Philadelphia School District. Drawing from her studies at the Sorbonne in France and Philly’s own Temple University (M.Ed., Education and Ed Leadership) , Kaplan has worked in leadership positions within her district since 2001. Her work spans the education spectrum from supervising district special ed programs to education technology and curriculum design.
Most of all, Kaplan is a self-described “connector” who builds relationships that bring change and reform, garnering her a reputation as a school turnaround expert. In just her second year as principal, Kaplan took Andrew Jackson School—where 80% of students are economically disadvantaged and represent 24 national heritages speaking 14 different languages—from underperforming on standardized tests to scoring in the top 25% for all Philadelphia district schools. Her PAWS (“Positive Attitude Wins Success”) behavior encouragement program anticipated the district’s own prevention and intervention initiatives by three years.
Recognized for her excellence in education, Kaplan has also won the Lindbach Foundation Distinguished Principal Award, the Rocco Gigante Administrator Award, and the ING Unsung Heroes Award. TheBestSchools.org is pleased to have Lisa Kaplan bring her skills and keen insights to our prize panel this year.