Meet the Best in Education Prize Panel

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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!

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James A. Barham, Ph.D. (Panel Chair)

President & General Editor of

James A. Barham, Ph.D.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.

Christopher O. Blum, Ph.D.

Professor of History and Philosophy, Academic Dean, Augustine Institute

Christopher Blum, Ph.D.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.

Lisa Kaplan, M.Ed.

Principal, Andrew Jackson School, Philadelphia, PA

lisa kaplanThe 2015 winner of'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 thirty 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 eighty percent of students are economically disadvantaged and represent twenty-four national heritages speaking fourteen different languages—from underperforming on standardized tests to scoring in the top twenty-five percent 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. is pleased to have Lisa Kaplan bring her skills and keen insights to our prize panel.

Jay Mathews

Washington Post Education Journalist and Author

Jay Mathews, bio imageJay Mathews is an education columnist for the Washington Post and His column appears once a week. He has been with the Post forty-six years and is the author of nine books, including Escalante: The Best Teacher in America, five about high schools, and a New York Times bestseller, Work Hard. Be Nice. about the birth and growth of the KIPP charter school network. His latest book, Question Everything, is about the nation's largest college prep program, AVID.

Mathews is the creator of the annual America's Most Challenging High Schools list, which has drawn as much as 21 million pageviews in a week. He was one of the school experts featured in the documentary film Waiting for "Superman". He has won several awards for education writing and was given the Upton Sinclair Award as “a beacon of light in the realm of education.” He won the Eugene Meyer Award for distinguished service to the Washington Post. He is married to journalist Linda Mathews and lives in Pasadena. They have three children and three grandsons.

John Wilson

Education & Culture Editor

John Wilson, bio imageJohn Wilson is the editor of Education & Culture: A Critical Review, published by, a digital-only publication that launched in May 2017. He has a BA from Westmont College in Santa Barbara and an MA from California State University–Los Angeles. In 1994, after thirteen years as an editor in reference publishing, he was hired by Christianity Today to start Books & Culture, a bimonthly review, which he edited from its first issue (Sept/Oct 1995) to its last (Nov/Dec 2016). His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Christianity Today, First Things, National Review, The Weekly Standard, and other publications.

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