Monday, February 4, 2013

The "Oscars of Teaching" & the Milken Foundation

Great things are happening in America's classrooms.

Despite a preponderance of criticism of public schools, educational success is on the rise in America, and some true education leaders are honoring it and spreading the word.  For nearly thirty years, the Milken Family Foundation has been committed to supporting and improving public education.  Through a myriad of philanthropic endeavors Lowell Milken has promoted effective educational practices, often spotlighting and honoring students and teachers who are making a difference.  One of the foundation's most well-known programs is its Milken Educator Awards.  The program was named the "Oscars of Teaching" by Teacher Magazine years ago.  It was founded in 1985 with the intention to "celebrate, elevate, and activate excellence in the teaching profession," and it has given away $63 million to educators who are making a difference.  That degree of support is extraordinary in the education world, and, like the educators it honors, it deserves some recognition.

As a Colorado teacher I was recently pleased to learn of the honoring of a Denver Public Schools teacher by the Milken Foundation.  Barth Quenzer, a devoted art teacher at the Brown International Academy was awarded an "Oscar of Teaching" last October, and the story of the Milken Foundation's presentation was covered in a great feature on 9News.  Quenzer was visibly surprised and overwhelmed by the ceremony where the school's entire student body and staff had assembled.  Colorado has been making great strides in education reform, and it is nice to know organizations like the Milken Foundation are recognizing it.  As foundation senior vice president Dr. Jane Foley said, "At the Milken Family Foundation, we don't think educators get enough recognition.  We just don't say thank you enough."  Barth Quenzer has just received one heck of a "thank you."  He is, by all accounts, an inspiring teacher who is a devoted member of their school community.  In the words of his principal Lynn Heintzman, Barth Quenzer simply "inspires our children to be artists."  That ability to inspire is at the heart of educational achievement, and it's great to see it honored.

The Milken Educator Awards are important simply for their acknowledgment of the difference an effective and inspiring teacher can make in the lives of young people.  As Lowell Milken has said, "Each of us can recall those teachers who had a profound impact on our lives."  For the most part, these actions go unheralded - they are just part of the job.  And teachers don't encourage and inspire with the goal of being rewarded.  The learning and success of the child is its own reward.  Thus, the Milken Foundation seeks to discover and honor them.  As noted in the news story, "no one is allowed to apply." Instead, the foundation uses a committee which seeks nominations from a state's department of education.   Recipients of the Milken Educator Award are then honored for their achievement with a public ceremony - often to the complete surprise of the winner - and a monetary award of $25,000 to be used in any way the teacher wants to use it.  

Check out the following video of the ceremony:

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