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SEF News & Success Stories

Celebrating Three Exceptional Honorees at the Starfish Awards in June

Moneta Pitch Club at CITY PARK stadium

As June 13th approaches, the Special Education Foundation eagerly prepares to honor exemplary individuals who have made profound contributions to the special education community through their unwavering dedication and impactful leadership, through the Starfish Awards.

In addition to our previously announced Starfish Award winners, we will honor three extraordinary individuals for their work and dedication over the years not only to SEF, but to students with disabilities as we issue the Starfish Leadership Award, the Community Starfish Award, and the Spirit of SEF Award.

Dr. Joylynn Pruitt Adams


Riverview Gardens School District

Dr. Joylynn Pruitt Adams, a beacon of educational leadership, earns the prestigious Starfish Leadership Award from the Special Education Foundation. Her career showcases unwavering dedication to fostering inclusive educational environments, marked by strategic vision and collaborative alliances.

Dr. Adams's tenure as superintendent is distinguished by transformative initiatives, including the implementation of Racial Equity Policies and academic reforms benefiting LGBTQ+ and minority students. Her commitment to student empowerment and collaborative decision-making resonates throughout her career, making her a deserving recipient of this esteemed award, embodying the spirit of the Starfish parable in uplifting students to achieve their fullest potential.

Debbie Bentele

President Emerita

Special Education Foundation

Debbie Bentele's leadership at the Special Education Foundation embodies the essence of the Starfish parable, earning her the Community Starfish Award. With over two decades of dedicated service, she has left an indelible mark on SEF's mission.

From founding the Women Leaders initiative to her impactful role in organizing fundraisers, Debbie's proactive approach has ignited support for SEF's vital work. 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 parable's ethos, where every effort, no matter how small, contributes to meaningful change.

Diane Buhr Engelsmann

Founding Executive Director

Special Education Foundation

Diane Buhr Engelsmann is a dedicated advocate within the Special Education Foundation, embodying its ethos of service and compassion. With a career devoted to enhancing the lives of students with disabilities, she is a deserving recipient of the esteemed Spirit of SEF Award.

Diane's journey began as an audiologist and speech pathologist for the Special School District (SSD), where she later served as Director of Public Relations and Development during SEF's inception. Throughout her tenure, Diane 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. Diane's impact extends beyond program development, as she initiated crucial fundraising events like the Dan McLaughlin Charity Golf Tournament. Her legacy as a changemaker and advocate continues to inspire generations, making her a true embodiment of SEF's spirit of compassion and excellence.

We invite you to join us on Thursday, June 13th CITYPARK Stadium

as we come together to celebrate our winners’ achievements and uplift the spirit of inclusivity and support. Tickets are on sale now!

Contact SEF Events Manager Jill Salinas, (314) 394-7072 for more information or visit