District's Go-To Math Guru Felicia Casto Earns National $25,000 Milken Educator Award
Advocate for Learning Encourages Students and Teachers to Speak "Math"
February 13, 2017
SANTA MONICA, Calif., — There's a common language at Rim Rock Elementary School in Fruita, Colorado, when it comes to learning mathematics because you'll hear the students say, "Ms. Casto taught us that." As the interventionist and math coach, Felicia Casto spends 30 minutes with each student per week talking about math and supplementing classroom instruction. Today the talk was all about Casto when Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken and Colorado Commissioner of Education Dr. Katy Anthes surprised her with the prestigious Milken Educator Award during a morning assembly. Teachers and students cheered Casto forward to accept the Award as Mesa County Valley School District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz and veteran Milken Educator Award recipients were also present to offer well-deserved congratulations.
Casto develops her students' thinking process through math workshops and games designed for different academic proficiencies, and invites parents to play along as well. Her instructional support extends to teachers, building trust and encouragement among colleagues through peer observations and professional development. Building a bridge between math instruction and math learning has paid dividends as math is gaining ground at Rim Rock.
Casto is among up to 35 honorees who will receive this national recognition and unrestricted $25,000 cash prize for 2016-17. She is the first recipient from the Mesa County Valley School District 51 to be awarded since 2002.
This season marks the 30th year of the Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching."
"Felicia Casto is a dedicated teacher and learner who constantly sharpens her own professional mindset through cutting-edge research and techniques," said Lowell Milken. "Her innovative ideas and knowledge sharing directly result in teacher effectiveness, student growth and parent involvement. Only a talented educator has the charisma to make Family Math Nights popular entertainment."
"Ms. Casto's work is not only making a difference for the students at Rim Rock Elementary but also for the teachers she coaches," said Commissioner Anthes. "Her dedication and leadership in making math fun while also involving parents is what helps elevate the profession."
"The Milken Award is a prestigious honor for an educator. As a dedicated and innovative teacher, Ms. Casto has inspired both students and her fellow teachers," said Superintendent Schultz. "She is a perfect candidate for this honor and a valuable member of our District 51 team."
Felicia Casto is schooling the students at Rim Rock Elementary in a new language: she's teaching them to "speak math." As the enrichment teacher at Rim Rock, a pre-K through fifth-grade school, Casto works with students in grades kindergarten through five weekly, either before school or during the day, and also coaches Rim Rock's teachers. Because of Casto, both students and teachers have embraced a growth mindset, taking on challenges and constantly looking for ways to improve outcomes. And improve they do: most students who work with Casto show a year's growth or more, and the school's reading and math scores rival state averages.
A teacher of teachers, Casto leads weekly professional development sessions at Rim Rock. She has helped create a trusting culture among the staff, encouraging educators to observe in each other's classrooms and videotape their lessons so Casto can provide feedback. With Casto's coaching, a number of other teachers at Rim Rock and throughout the district have implemented "Number Talks," short daily math-based conversations that help students improve computational fluency. Casto's colleagues credit her with improving their instructional mastery in math, which in turn, benefits their students.
At the district level, Casto is working on a new K-12 math rubric which will impact the district's more than 21,000 students. The district is moving to performance-based learning, and Casto is helping to define mastery, develop common assessments and create a unified curriculum. She immerses herself in the latest research and shares her knowledge freely, driving discussions with colleagues and administrators about the implications for students. Casto also provides guidance and leadership during Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings at Rim Rock, helping grade-level and vertical teams analyze data and develop assessments. She was one of 12 teachers selected as a K-2 Formative Task Reviewer for PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).
Casto gets parents involved in their children's education with schoolwide Family Math Nights, showing parents how to do Investigations, explaining how math is taught at Rim Rock, demonstrating problem-solving techniques and introducing math games families can play during the events and at home. Parents know to stop by Casto's desk in the library to pick up extra math activities, and credit her as integral to their students' success.
Casto earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Mesa State College (now known as Colorado Mesa University) in 2004 and a master's in curriculum and instruction from Lesley University in 2009.
More information about Casto, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at http://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/educators/view/felicia-casto.
Casto is the second and final Colorado Milken Educator awarded for the 2016-17 season. Jennie Schmaltz, a third-grade teacher at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora, received her Award in October 2016. Learn more about Schmaltz here: http://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/educators/view/jennie-schmaltz.
Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Casto's honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top principals, teachers and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.
In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2016-17 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum, March 23-25, 2017, in New Orleans. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about the importance of maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.
More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.
The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.
Past recipients have used their Awards to fund their children's education or their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.
To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at www.facebook.com/milkeneducatorawards, www.twitter.com/milken, www.youtube.com/milkenaward, and http://instagram.com/milkenfamilyfdn.
For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit www.MilkenEducatorAwards.org or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.