BELMONT, N.C. -- A 12th grade language arts teacher at South Point High School received one of public education’s most prestigious honors.

The National Education Association (NEA) Foundation’s Salute to Excellence gave Bobbie Cavnar the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence plus $25,000.

“Many of our great artists and thinkers and inventors were born into poverty and were given the opportunity to let their genius show,” said Cavnar. “That’s how a public education equalizes life. Public education is the great equalizer."

The NEA Foundation celebrates the men and women who work in America’s public schools. The organization presented more than 40 awards to exceptional educators.

“Bobbie has been selected for this award by his peers, not only because he is an outstanding educator, but because he is a passionate advocate for his students, his fellow teachers, and for the value of public education,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “He represents the millions of teachers across the country who inspire a love of learning in their students.”

Cavnar has been teaching since the 1990s. He is the English department chair, the North Carolina Association of Educators Association representative and a trainer with the Gaston County Teacher Induction Program for Success.

Cavnar worked as the State Board of Education Teacher Advisor and was North Carolina Teacher of the Year for 2016-2017. He holds a Bachelor's of Science in English Education from Florida State University and a M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Cavnar was nominated for the award by his peers in the North Carolina Association of Educators and is one of 38 public school educators selected by their state education associations who were honored on stage by the NEA Foundation in front of more than 900 guests.

Cavnar was also one of five finalists for the top award. Each finalist received special recognition at the gala, the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence and $10,000.

The other four finalists included:

•Revathi Balakrishnan: a talented and gifted educator at Patsy Sommer Elementary School in Austin, TX, nominated by the Texas State Teachers Association

•Afreen Gootee: a 6th to 8th grade math and social studies educator at the Georgetown School in Mechanicsville, VA, nominated by the Virginia Education Association

•Crystal May: a 4th grade educator at Pray-Woodman Elementary School in Maize, KS, nominated by the Kansas National Education Association

•Tia Mills: an exceptional student services educator at Eden Park Academy of Ethics and Excellence in Baton Rouge, LA, nominated by the Louisiana Association of Educators

Cavnar said he won't have too much time to celebrate the big win; he'll be grading AP essays Monday evening.

Click here to learn more about the NEA Foundation.