The event was hosted at the esteemed Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.

It’s a modern Cinderella story: Representatives from 18 optimistic, hardworking school communities were honored with a fancy black tie party Sept. 20, with critics of public education blissfully absent for the night.

In today’s political climate, with policy makers and pundits quick to condemn educators, it might be hard to imagine that teachers, administrators, and school board members would be lavishly celebrated for their accomplishments.

But in an example of how business can make a real impact on education, Intel recently hosted its 2011 Schools of Distinction Awards (SODA), proving that respect for educators and their work hasn’t completely disappeared.

Hosted at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., the event featured men wearing tuxes, women in sparkling dresses, and a string quartet playing jaunty classical pieces next to a champagne bar.

“This is my first time coming to these awards,” said one of Intel’s math program staffers. “It’s so nice to see everyone so happy and excited, especially the way things are today for education.”

After the reception, it was time to follow the crowd—a mix of teachers, school board members, school administrators, corporate sponsors, and a few reporters—from one marbled floor to another, finally entering a dining room resplendent in green hues, crystal chandeliers, and enormous red rose table arrangements.

“I flew in from Ireland just last night,” said one of Intel’s communications directors. “I didn’t want to miss this.”

“Truly, every educator should experience the kind of appreciation Intel shows for schools,” said another teacher.

But these 18 schools, as Intel made sure to highlight in its post-dinner presentation, are special: Not only do they specialize in math and science curricula, but their students achieve high proficiency in STEM subjects—good for Intel’s future hiring, and good for the U.S. in general.