Excellence in Education 2017: Best Practices from Nails Top Honorees

by Laurel Nelson | November 30, 2017
Evergreen Beauty College (Everett, WA) students at the weekend Nail Camp retreat.
Evergreen Beauty College (Everett, WA) students at the weekend Nail Camp retreat.

MODERN SALON Media annually collaborates with the American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS) for MODERN SALON’s Excellence in Education program. The purpose is to help the professional beauty school community gather, share and celebrate examples of great salon education experiences and beauty career development happening across the country. 2017 marks the seventh year of honoring schools through Excellence in Education.

Honorees are determined based on key criteria in each category and grouped according to school size or whether or not they entered as a multi-unit school or single location. Two top honorees are recognized in each category—one individual school location and a chain-school organization—and were announced at the AACS Annual Convention & Expo.

View all the 2017 Excellence in Education finalists here. 

To view top honorees in all eight categories, click here.

Individual location (tie):
Penrose Academy, Scottsdale, Arizona
Summit Salon Academy, Tampa, FL
Chain school (tie): 
Paul Mitchell Schools, Sandy, Utah
Evergreen Beauty College, Everett, WA

MODERN SALON was proud to add a new category to the Excellence in Education awards this year—Nails.
Nails recognizes schools committed to offering their students an important career option while diversifying and building their own business.

Entrants into the Nails category blew our judges away with comprehensive programs customized to their unique markets.

For schools with locations in different states, customization is key.

“Because each state has different requirements, and our schools are spread throughout the country, our nails program lets schools enhance our custom-designed curriculum with lessons and materials from the nail vendor they choose," says Winn Claybaugh, dean and co-founder of Paul Mitchell Schools. "That built-in flexibility has produced exciting and beautiful results!”

Paul Mitchell Schools, Sandy, UT
Paul Mitchell Schools, Sandy, UT

“We launched our nail program due to overwhelming demand by employers," says Jill Kohler, owner of Penrose Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona. "Often times, schools will add new programs based on demand from prospective students, but we did the opposite. A significant number of employers were asking us if we were considering starting a stand-alone nail program; they had open nail tech positions and were looking for qualified nail artists to hire. So we launched our program in 2016, and every start date so far has been sold out with a 100-percent completion rate. Our program will continue to grow and innovate with the addition of new schedules in 2018.”

Nail students can expect a curriculum just as rigorous as their fellow hair students when they enter cosmetology school.

Owners are incorporating business classes and focusing on their students’ career path as future nail technicians. In some schools, students receive a business tool kit, which helps them break down salary goals on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. They’re able to track their progress and even see what their earning potential is throughout their career.

Professional development classes for nail-tech students prep them for interviewing in the salon and spa environment, teach them how to create a resume and instruct them on building an online portfolio.

Students are also learning about social media and how to promote their work on various platforms to help build their business.

The technical part of the nail curriculum hits the basics as well as advanced techniques. Students can expect to cover manicures, pedicures, massage, nail art, nail enhancements, filing/shaping, using special tools, gel overlay, natural nail care, and new services like polygel.

Some customized curriculums also include learning special effects, advanced training in product knowledge, chemistry and advanced technical training.

Summit Salon Academy, Tampa, FL
Summit Salon Academy, Tampa, FL

Nail students can also expect some extras added to their curriculum as schools keep amping up their programs.
Some schools employ a nail specialist to research new techniques and keep the curriculum on the cutting edge. Other schools offer nail students the opportunity to participate in fashion shows.

Internship and externship programs are also common, giving students the opportunity to work in a real salon or spa while they’re still in school.

Schools also bring in special guest educators from major nail-care brands to teach advanced classes and inspire students with career advice.

“Partnering with the L’Oreal's elite nail company, Essie, has made all the difference for our students,” says Cathy Romeo, lead nail educator at Summit Salon Academy in Tampa, Florida. “As a Premier Essie School, we designed a wow factor on one third of our Academy around nail services, and we provide an Essie top nail artist twice a year to offer advanced education for our educators and students.”

At Evergreen Beauty College in Everett, Washington, nails students fund-raise to attend a weekend retreat called Nail Camp.

“They work alongside licensed nail professionals to learn and grow their skill sets,” says Frank Trieu, VP of business development and industry relations. “We organize a group to partake in the event and have been participating for the last five years. Students are able to participate in workshops, competitions, and mentorship opportunities with industry professionals. Many of our nail techs will return from this weekend to share how much prouder they are to be a part of such an incredible industry and charge what they are worth.”

For more info on Excellence in Education, visit

Our Nail Technician students have been busy with hands-on learning in our Student Nail Spa today!

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