Congratulations 2024 KMEA Award Winners!

KMEA color logo with Kentucky Music Educators Association text

Please join us in congratulating the 2024 KMEA Award winners! Awards include Teacher of the Year, Administrator of the Year, Citation for Service, and Friend of Music.

Elementary Teacher of the Year

Woman with brown hair holding a cup

Ms. Alyssa Vanderpool is currently in her 24th year of teaching music. Having taught all grade levels at Beechwood Independent Schools for 16 years, she presently enjoys teaching K-5 music and elementary choir at Johnson Elementary School. She is an active member of KMEA and KHSSL, and has happily carried out many leadership roles in KMEA District 6, including High School Choir Chair, Festival Commision Chair, and Elementary Chair. Within these roles she has organized and managed Northern Kentucky 5th grade Honor Choir, All-State Auditions, as well as Solo and Ensemble Contests. In the 2009-2010 and 2023-2024 school years, Ms. Vanderpool received the KMEA District 6 Elementary Teacher of the Year. At the state level, she recently was selected and is now actively serving on the Advisory Panel Committee to complete the revisions and make recommendations for improvement to the current Kentucky Academic Standards of the Visual and Performing Arts.

Within Johnson Elementary, Ms. Vanderpool currently leads school-wide arts integration initiatives, empowers students with project-based learning experiences, as well as helping to develop and implement student goal-setting and leadership opportunities. In addition to teaching music, she is the middle and high school Forensics (competitive speech, drama, and debate) Coach. In addition, she has received the Middle School Forensics Northern Kentucky Coach of the year for the past 3 years. Outside of school, she regularly uses her musical talents on stage performing with community theaters, local bands, and private events. A couple of her favorite performance experiences include being named Cincinnati’s Broadway Idol and singing the National Anthem during a Cincinnati Reds game. She earned her Bachelors of Music Education from Eastern Kentucky University and Masters of Arts in Education from Northern Kentucky University as well as her Masters of Instructional Leadership. She is a native of Taylor Mill, Kentucky and attended Scott High School. She is a proud mother of 3 and presently resides in Fort Mitchell, KY with her youngest daughter Andrea, a student at the Aveda Institute. CJ, her oldest, is a successful Electrical Engineer while Jack proudly serves as an Aviation Mechanic for the United States Navy.

Middle School Teacher of the Year

Adam Bullock standing in front of a blue background holding a baton

Adam Bullock is a dedicated and accomplished music educator. With an illustrious career spanning over a decade at Carrithers Middle School where he serves as the Director of Bands, guiding and inspiring young musicians on their musical journeys. Mr. Bullock’s educational foundation is rooted in a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Morehead State University. His passion for teaching and music has made a significant impact on the students he’s had the privilege to instruct.

Under Bullock’s guidance, the band program at Carrithers Middle School consistently earns distinguished ratings at the Kentucky Music Educators Association (KMEA) State Performance Assessment. This achievement reflects his unwavering commitment to excellence and his ability to foster talent in the next generation of musicians.
Mr. Bullock’s contributions extend beyond the classroom, as he is actively involved in the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), the Kentucky Music Educators Association (KMEA), National Band Directors Association (NBA), and the American School Band Directors Association (ASBDA). He is also a performing member of the Louisville Winds Community Band where he plays the French Horn. These affiliations demonstrate his dedication to ongoing professional development and advocacy for music education at state and national levels.
In recognition of his exceptional dedication and commitment to music education, Mr. Bullock has received numerous accolades, including being named the District 12 KMEA Middle School Teacher of the Year in 2020 and 2023 and the KMEA State Middle School Teacher of the Year in 2023. This recognition underscores his outstanding contributions to the music education community and his ability to inspire students and colleagues alike.
Highlights of Mr. Bullock’s career was his ensemble’s performance at the 2023 KMEA Professional In-Service Conference. The Carrithers Middle School Band was also invited to attend and perform in the Phi Beta Mu Concert Band Festival in March 2024.
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Mr. Bullock serves as the Music Department Chair at Carrithers Middle School and the District Band Chair for Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS). His leadership ensures that the school’s music program continues to thrive, offering students the opportunity to explore and excel in their musical pursuits.

High School Teacher of the Year

Darrin Abren in front of a Louisville cardinals background

Darrin Abren, Director of Bands at Mayfield High School, is in his twenty-seventh year as band director, where he began his teaching career.
The band has won numerous local and state awards in the pageantry arts, including six state marching band final appearances and one 1A West Regional Championship. Since Abren’s tenure, the Cardinal Band has consistently received Distinguished Ratings at Spring Concert Assessment events. Also, the band has had multiple students selected for Governor’s School for the Arts, FDKMEA All-District bands, KMEA All-State ensembles, and many students continuing to play in collegiate ensembles. One of Abren’s greatest joys is watching alumni succeed and continue in the music education field.


Abren has served KMEA in many roles including: district band chair, performance assessment manager, and assisting the first district as an honor band coordinator. In 2023, Abren was awarded the KMEA 1st District High School Teacher of the Year. Abren is a proud member of the prestigious Phi Beta Mu Bandmasters Fraternity, KMEA, NAFME, and has been named a “Kentucky Colonel.” In addition, he is an alumni of Phi Mu Alpha (Iota Mu).
Abren has a Bachelor’s of Music Education Degree from Western Kentucky University (1997) and a Master’s of Music Education and a Master’s of Arts (School Administration Endorsement) from Murray State (2004 & 2013).
Abren is proud to be married to his wife, Terri, and have the title, “Grumps,” to three grandchildren.

College/University Teacher of the Year

Matthew MCCurry in a black suit holding a baton

Dr. Matthew McCurry currently serves as a Pedagogical Assistant Professor of Music as well as the Associate Director of Bands and Director of Athletic Bands at Western Kentucky University. His responsibilities include teaching courses in music education, conducting the Spring Symphonic Band and overseeing the athletic band program, including the Big Red Marching Band – The Pride of the Hilltoppers and the Spirit Pep Bands. Under his direction, the WKU Athletic Bands continue to make appearances on the national, and soon, international stage as the featured marching band in the 2025 London New Year’s Day Parade. Dr. McCurry is the founding director of the Hilltopper Summer Music Camp after working and administrating Summer Music Camps in Tennessee for over 20 years, as well as appearing as a guest clinician for local and regional honor bands and summer clinics.

Dr. McCurry was most recently Assistant Director of Bands at West Virginia University, where he spent four years working with the concert and athletic bands. Before moving to WVU in 2016, he was a music educator in the public schools of East Tennessee for fifteen years, where he enjoyed twelve years as the Director of Bands at Knoxville’s Carter High School. During his time there, the band grew to become the largest comprehensive band program in the county with over 200 students in two marching bands, three concert ensembles, and competitive jazz and indoor programs. The concert bands earned consistent Superior ratings in Concert Assessment Performances while the marching band was named a Top 10 Finalist Band in the State Marching Band Championships on a regular basis. Dr. McCurry also served for eleven years on the Board of Directors for the East Tennessee Band and Orchestra Association as Band Chair, Clinic Coordinator, and Audition Chair. He was named the Knoxville Rotary Club’s Teacher-of-the-Year in 2013 as well as the Holston Middle School Teacher-of-the-Year (2003) and Carter High School Teacher-of-the-Year (2009/2013).

Dr. McCurry’s professional affiliations include the National Band Association, the College Band Directors National Association, NAfME: The National Association for Music Education, the American Schools Band Directors Association, the East Tennessee School Band and Orchestra Association, and the Tennessee Bandmasters Association. He also holds honorary membership in Phi Mu Alpha (Epsilon Sigma) and Kappa Kappa Psi (Omicron) as well as having been initiated as a Patron of Delta Omicron and a Sigma Alpha Iota Friend of the Arts. Dr. McCurry holds a Bachelor’s degree in Instrumental and Vocal Music Education from Carson-Newman University, where he also earned a Master’s degree in Education. He received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Conducting from West Virginia University. In his spare time, Dr. McCurry enjoys serving as organist and collaborative pianist at First Christian Church in Bowling Green.

Administrator of the Year

Lester Diaz

Lester Diaz is a passionate leader with over 22 years of experience in education, he is dedicated to fostering meaningful learning experiences for all students. With 9 years as a classroom teacher in science, 3 years as an assistant principal, and 13 years as head principal at both middle school and high school levels and overseeing curriculum development, fostering a safe and positive learning environment, and driving academic success, Diaz is driven by a desire to facilitate positive change and impact lives through education.


Mr. Diaz believes music plays a vital role in well-rounded development, fostering creativity, discipline, and collaboration and is passionate about supporting music educators and advocating for the importance of music programs in schools. As a member of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators and serving on the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra Board, he is able to foster his collaborative spirit. Lester values teamwork and believes in building strong relationships with colleagues, parents, and community members.

“I am beyond honored to receive this award. Music education in high school isn’t just about hitting notes – it’s about boosting brains, building confidence, and fostering cultural understanding. From improving math scores to managing stress, music unlocks a treasure trove of benefits that equip students for academic success, emotional well-being, and a lifelong love of the arts.”

Citation for Service

James Gregory

James O. Gregory is currently in his twenty-fifth year of teaching, ninth year as Director of Bands at Paducah Tilghman High School. His primary educational responsibilities include teaching arts & humanities, jazz band, marching band, concert band, pep band, and percussion ensemble. Before coming to Paducah Tilghman, he was Director of Bands at Christian County High School (2010-2015); Director of Bands at Apollo High School (2006-2010); Director of Bands at Hopkinsville High School (2003-2006); and Director of Bands at Hopkinsville Middle School (1999-2003).

Gregory’s bands have received distinguish ratings both on the concert stage and marching field. In 2006, the Hopkinsville High School Band participated in the National Adjudicators Invitational (NAI) sponsored by Dixie Classic Music Festival in Atlanta, Ga. and received a superior rating amongst eleven other bands. In 2019, the Paducah Tilghman High School Marching Band received its highest placement in the KMEA State Marching Band Championships. Students under Gregory’s baton have received distinguish ratings in solo & ensemble festivals, qualifying and seating extremely high in various honor band clinics, and participating with All-State Bands. He is an active adjudicator for solo & ensemble, and marching band events throughout the state of Kentucky and Missouri.


Gregory holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree (1996) and a Rank II certification in education (2009) from Western Kentucky University. While at Western Kentucky University, he participated in numerous ensembles including, the Wind Ensemble, the Symphonic Band, the Concert Band, and the Tuba & Euphonium ensembles. In 2006, Gregory was awarded the Outstanding Young Band Director Award presented by Phi Beta Mu Honorary Bandmaster Fraternity. Gregory has been featured in “Who’s Who Amongst America’s Teachers (2004-2005, 2007)” and “National Honor Roll Outstanding American Teachers (2006),” First District KMEA Citation for Service Award (2023).

Gregory’s professional affiliations include Kentucky Music Educators Association, National Association for Music Educators, Phi Mu Alpha Professional Music Fraternity, Phi Beta Mu Honorary Bandmasters Fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Kentucky Educators Association, National Educators Association. He currently holds the position of KMEA Instrumental Performance Assessment Manager for District 1, as well as the band chair for the First District Band Director’s Association.
Mr. Gregory currently resides in Paducah, KY with his wife Angela and their dog Topper.

Friend of Music

Fayette County Public Schools crest

Serving more than 42,000 students in the Lexington metro area, Fayette County Public Schools offers a rigorous, world-class education intentionally designed to address the needs of the whole child from preschool through high school graduation. Under the leadership of the Fayette County Board of Education and superintendent, our 70 schools and special programs embrace the unique strengths and talents of each student and provide them with the experiences and support to reach their unlimited potential. Challenging core curricular classes supported by cutting-edge instructional materials and one-to-one technology are augmented by a variety of fine arts programming in the areas of music, visual art, theater, dance, literary arts, and humanities. In FCPS, students are inspired to learn, supported to succeed, and challenged to discover their path to success.

Tori Bowman
About the author

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