Mary Kay Downes Receives CSPA O’Malley Award for Excellence in Teaching

News Release
February 21, 2020

Mary Kay DownesMary Kay Downes, journalism teacher and adviser to the Odyssey yearbook at Chantilly High School, has been selected to receive the Charles R. O’Malley Award for Excellence in Teaching by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA).  Downes will be honored for over 40 years of advising and teaching journalism. 

Downes has an impact on many teachers and students she mentors. Erinn Harris, journalism teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and the 2020 National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year explains, “Mary Kay Downes is a true force of nature. You will never find a more fierce advocate for scholastic journalism, and despite the fact that she is the yearbook queen, she is a lifelong learner who takes advantage of every opportunity she can to better her students' experience in the classroom and beyond. In addition to championing her students, she champions advisers—new and experienced—and because of that support, they believe in themselves beyond what they thought possible.”

Further praise for Downes’ service came from Chris Waugaman, adviser at Prince George High School in Prince George, Va., who says, “Mary Kay Downes has inspired me beyond words and in turn influenced every student who I’ve ever had walk through my doors. Her impact is exponentially larger than she will probably ever know, and for that I am sure everyone who has known her would sincerely thank her. She is connected so intrinsically with everything in education as it has evolved over her career. Her willingness to stand by her beliefs with complete resolve, while still being open to reinvent any teaching strategies that have grown less effective over time, is a lesson for educators across this country. Mary Kay is truly the queen of yearbook.”

The O’Malley Award for Excellence in Teaching was first given in 1999 to Robert Greenman of Brooklyn, N.Y., a retired journalism teacher and newspaper adviser in the New York City public schools.  Named for Charles R. O’Malley, retired director of the CSPA, this award recognizes “a sustained record of outstanding teaching" in support of student journalism or student publishing. It is intended to be the CSPA’s highest accolade in support of the core function of teaching as related to student-practiced journalism.

Downes will be honored at an awards luncheon in March at Columbia University. The event is part of the CSPA’s 96th Annual Scholastic Convention where over 2,500 student editors and journalism teachers are expected to attend from all parts of the United States. 

For more information, contact Mary Kay Downes at