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SEF’s Community Starfish Awardees embody the idea of the Starfish Story

SEF’s inaugural Starfish Awards provided us with the opportunity to recognize an amazing group of individuals, including our three Community Starfish Award recipients.

These women, each with their unique journey and contributions, embody the idea of the Starfish Story, inspiring us all with their dedication and impact.

Dr. Joylynn Pruitt Adams, the Superintendent of the Riverview Gardens School District and recipient of the Starfish Leadership Award, has been a beacon of educational leadership over her career. She began her teaching career in SSD schools and has demonstrated an unwavering dedication to fostering inclusive educational environments marked by strategic vision and collaborative alliances.

Her commitment to student empowerment and collaborative decision-making has resonated throughout her career, making her a deserving recipient of this esteemed award. She embodies the spirit of the Starfish parable in uplifting students to achieve their fullest potential.

Debbie Bentele received the Starfish Community Award. With over two decades of dedicated service supporting the Special Education Foundation, Debbie has significantly advanced SEF's mission, leaving an indelible mark on our collective efforts.

Her rich background in community service and strategic insights have paved the way for transformative initiatives, ensuring sustained support for the Foundation's endeavors. Debbie's unwavering dedication mirrors the Starfish Story ethos, where every effort, no matter how small, contributes to meaningful change.

The Spirit of SEF Award was presented to Diane Buhr Engelsmann, the founding Executive Director of the Special Education Foundation. Throughout her tenure, she tirelessly elevated SEF, spearheading initiatives like the Fred Saigh Leadership Academy and the Dana Brown Teacher Mini-Grants, now known as the Classroom Innovation Grants. Her strategic vision and unwavering dedication transformed SEF into a beacon of hope and support for students with disabilities.

This new SEF event provided us with an opportunity to celebrate some extraordinary individuals who are unsung heroes as part of our 40th-anniversary celebration. The proceeds from The Starfish Awards will support SEF’s Women Leaders and the funding they have been providing to Special School District schools through our Women Leaders Principal Grant program and other SEF programs.

The SEF Women Leaders have been raising funds for SEF and funding the SSD principal grants for well over a decade. This group of volunteers comes together with one purpose: a shared commitment to helping children and youth with disabilities.

The evening would not have been possible without the support of our sponsors and everyone who purchased tickets. A few of our sponsors are recognized below. If your company would like to be involved in the 2025 Starfish Awards, please contact us at

A special thank you goes out to all of our attendees, who are now part of the Starfish Story because your support of the Special Education Foundation makes a difference in the lives of students with disabilities.