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Two Educators Get $25,000 Surprise

 MEDIA CONTACT : Matt Cardoza, GaDOE Communications Office, (404) 651-7358,  - Follow us on Twitter and Facebook    November 1, 2010  -- A pair of Georgia teachers each got a $25,000 surprise today.   Rachel Willis, a teacher at Morningside Elementary in Atlanta Public Schools, and Kelly Stopp, from Meadowcreek Elementary School in Gwinnett County, were named Georgia's 2010 National Milken Educators of the Year.   The prestigious national recognition from the Milken Family Foundation comes with a no-strings-attached cash prize of $25,000. Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken and State School Superintendent Brad Bryant were among the leaders who participated in the surprise celebrations.   Dubbed “the Oscars of teaching” by Teacher Magazine, the Milken Educator Awards program was conceived by Lowell Milken to recognize the importance of outstanding educators and encourage talented young people to enter the teaching profession. Unlike most teaching awards, the Milken Educator Awards have no formal nomination or application process. Each year exceptional teachers, principals and specialists—recommended without their knowledge by a blue-ribbon panel appointed by each state’s department of education—are surprised with the news of their awards.   “Our society’s most important profession is teaching as it informs all others,” said Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation. “We created the Milken Educator Awards to proclaim in a very public way that greatness in education must be recognized and rewarded. Kelly Stopp and Rachel Willis both embody this message intended for entire communities, policymakers, students who may be inspired to enter the profession, and for our nation’s K-12 educators themselves.”   "Rachel Willis and Kelly Stopp are the kind of teachers that make Georgia proud," said Superintendent Bryant. "They combine high expectations, innovation and loving support to help their students achieve at the highest level possible. Congratulations to Rachel and Kelly!"   Superintendent Bryant thanked the Milken Family Foundation for being a great friend to education. "The Milken Foundation has been showing people around the nation that teaching is one of the most important professions in the world," Superintendent Bryant said. "I am so grateful that they have made this commitment of time, energy and resources to recognize our great teachers!"    ABOUT THE WINNERS     Rachel Willis   Rachel Willis has overseen first-rate improvements in student achievement and education reform. A product of Atlanta Public Schools, her return to implement positive change in education has come full circle as she inspires the next generation of students to be proactive about the issues and passions they hold dear. After finishing college, Willis spent time exploring a career in government, but ultimately chose the teaching profession after participating in Teach for America, in which recent college graduates and professionals teach for two years in low-income communities throughout the U.S.   Willis’s teaching is both inventive and regimented. She uses differentiated instruction and creates elaborate virtual field trips, such as decorating her classroom to look like the Forum for a unit on democracy in Ancient Greece. She was the first teacher at Morningside to apply for a Promethean interactive whiteboard, and successfully lobbied for its inclusion in all second- through fifth-grade classrooms.   Willis is committed to her students on personal levels as well. She stays late after classes to tutor them and watch their after-school activities. When one student had pneumonia, she visited him in the hospital to make sure he didn’t miss any assignments and set aside time for all of her students to write get-well cards. This generous dedication has resulted in remarkable gains in student achievement. In 2008, 80 percent of her students met or exceeded grade-level standards for reading, English/Language Arts and math on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT). In 2009, the percentage increased to 100 percent. Many students who enter third-grade reading at a first-grade level are reading at a third-grade level by the end of the year.   A lifelong student, Willis is enrolled at Columbia University Teachers College, through which she will receive a master’s degree in educational leadership. She has trained more than 70 Atlanta Public Schools staff on the Classroom Analysis of State Standards (CLASS Keys), the new Georgia teacher evaluation system, and serves on the Morningside school design team and PTA advisory committee.    Kelly Stopp   Working toward her Ph.D. in reading, Kelly Stopp goes to great lengths to help her students gain literacy skills. Stopp even lived with a native family in Costa Rica for six weeks to learn Spanish so she could communicate with her predominately Hispanic students and families. Stopp’s signature classroom practices include Guided Reading, Reader’s Theater and Readers and Writers Workshop. She creates poetry and songbooks, and uses grammar lesson mini-books to preview skills. Eager to experiment with new instructional methods, she crafted a program that merges poetry with grammar and social studies.   More than 90 percent of her students—68 percent of whom are English as a Second Language (ESL) speakers—passed the second-grade reading portion of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT). For the past three years, more than 80 percent of her second graders posted reading scores that were at or above grade level.   As a second-grade reading specialist, Stopp extends her impact by sharing her professional development in literacy techniques. She created a grammar lesson booklet which is now used countywide, and organized a team to transform two reading rooms.    ABOUT THE AWARD   Since first presented in 1987 to a dozen California teachers, the Milken Educator Awards has grown to become the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program having honored more than 2,500 teachers, principals and specialists with over $62 million in individual, unrestricted $25,000 awards. In addition to the cash awards, new recipients have the opportunity to join the Milken Educator Network, a group of distinguished educators whose expertise serves as a valuable resource to fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others shaping the future of education. They also receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles in the spring to participate in the Milken Educator Forum. The Forum brings together Award-winning educators from across the nation to address innovative strategies for advancing teacher effectiveness. The Awards alternate each year between elementary and secondary educators.  Candidates for the Milken Educator Awards are selected on the basis of the following criteria:   · Exceptional educational talent as evidenced by effective instructional practices and student learning results in the classroom and school;  · Exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide models of excellence for the profession;  · Individuals whose contributions to education are largely unheralded yet worthy of the spotlight;  · Early- to mid-career educators who offer strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership; and  · Engaging and inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues and the community.   View and download the 2010 Milken Educator Awards Kick-Off YouTube Video: .    -  Learn about the Milken Family Foundation  - See a  list of past Milken Educator Award winners from Georgia -