The Harold W. McGraw Jr. education award is known in school circles as the Nobel Prize of the educational community.
Past winners include former U.S. education secretaries, top Ivy League education policy thinkers and the creator of "Sesame Street."
This year, a Philadelphia principal is among three honorees.
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Chris Lehmann founded the hugely popular and successful Science Leadership Academy in 2006.
As a partnership of the Philadelphia School District and the Franklin Institute and under Lehmann's guidance, SLA has become a nationally recognized model of collaborative, project-based learning that instills technology into every aspect of the school curriculum.
Lehmann said his vision for SLA, a selective-admission district magnet school, has succeeded far beyond his expectations.
"This is something that the whole community is sharing," he said. "This happens because everyone at SLA believes so deeply in what we do, which has been wonderful."
The award, said schools Superintendent William Hite, indicates the immense talent in the Philadelphia district that is sometimes underappreciated.
He specifically praised Lehmann's ingenuity.
"Chris has been a beacon of innovation and a beacon of thinking differently about how we provide opportunities to children to problem solve, to think critically, to do project based learning," said Hite.
Despite the honor, like all principals across the city, Lehmann is primarily focused on the district's ongoing funding crisis.
"A moment like this is a great vindication where you feel really good about what you do," he said. But "the good work that we do across the city, at all of our schools, is right now under threat because of Harrisburg."