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She’s a Winner: Port Allen, Louisiana, Master Teacher Earns Milken Educator Award and $25,000


October 28, 2015

SANTA MONICA, CA — An ordinary day turned extraordinary for one lucky teacher at Port Allen Middle School in West Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. During a boisterous schoolwide assembly filled with cheering students, respected colleagues, distinguished officials and the media, master teacher Jessica Major was surprised with a Milken Educator Award and its accompanying financial prize of $25,000.

Major is among up to only 40 educators who will be presented with the prestigious honor during the Milken Family Foundation’s (MFF) coast-to-coast tour across the country. MFF has been rewarding outstanding elementary and secondary educators with the Award since 1987.

Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken has visited thousands of classrooms over the past three decades. He presented Major with the Award today alongside Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White.

“Jessica Major embodies her motto, ‘Be the change that you wish to see,’” said Milken. “The words are fitting for a master teacher—a critical role in a school’s leadership team to drive instruction and work to ensure that all students are moving forward. It is evident by Port Allen Middle’s significant progress that Jessica is a change agent. I look forward to following her journey of advancing the educational opportunities for students at her school, community, state and beyond.” 

“We’re very proud of Jessica Major and what she has done to earn this extraordinary and well-deserved distinction,” said White. “What she has done in her school to inspire her teachers and students is exemplary. Jessica is an educator other educators can look up to and should emulate.”

In 2009, two years before Jessica Major arrived at Port Allen Middle School, the school was on the Louisiana Department of Education’s Academic Watch list for low achievement. They had had four principals in four years, and 900 student disciplinary actions. The school had to take action.

In 2011, Port Allen Middle adopted TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement. An initiative of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), the TAP System creates an environment of increased teacher leadership, ongoing professional development, educator observation, sharing and feedback, and competitive compensation.

Major, who grew up in the community, joined the school as a TAP master teacher. In this role, she serves as an integral part of the leadership team with mentor teachers, other master teachers, and administrators to increase instructional improvement and student learning schoolwide. As a result of Major and her team’s work, by 2013, disciplinary actions were down to 200, while test scores had jumped by almost 22 points—the highest ever in the school’s history. Superintendent White took notice and sent 15 of his department members to observe and videotape her for the benefit of other teachers across the state.

Major’s responsibilities are focused on math and science, while providing support to other subjects. She is credited with meticulously planning strategic improvements during the school’s quickly changing curriculum upgrades, and during the state’s evolving assessments. With her inexhaustible work ethic, she analyzes data, performs research and leads collaborative TAP System professional development “cluster” meetings, while consistently modeling strategies to advance student learning growth. In 2013, Port Allen Middle School was named a Top Gains School by the Louisiana Department of Education, and received the TAP Ambassador Award from NIET in 2014.

As dean of students, Major is on several school committees (Leadership Committee, SAT team member and cheerleading sponsor), as well as district committees (4-H leadership board for youth development and West Baton Rouge Teacher Focus Group). She is also the school’s science fair coordinator and stays long hours after school and on weekends. Beyond the school, district and state, Major has become a strong representative for the TAP System, serving on national TAP panels from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Her training methods and implementation techniques are used as examples by NIET year-round.

Major holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education from Louisiana State University in 2006 and a Master of Education from Grand Canyon University in 2010.

Jessica Major is the second Louisiana recipient of the Milken Educator Award this year. John Lary, a history teacher at C.E. Byrd High School in Shreveport, was surprised with the honor yesterday. Read about Lary in the Milken Educator Awards newsroom: http://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/newsroom.

The Milken Educator Awards program has been described as “the Oscars of teaching” by Teacher magazine. Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, the Milken Awards are sourced through each participating state department of education, which appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to confidentially review candidates for recommendation to MFF.

This year, MFF launched a #MyTeacherRocks Instagram campaign that encourages students to take selfies with their favorite teacher and describe in the caption why their teacher is special. To enter the contest, entrants are asked to follow @MilkenFamilyFdn on Instagram, post their selfie to their individual account and use the #MyTeacherRocks and #MilkenAward hashtags. The three photos with the most “likes” will be selected in November 2015, and February and April 2016.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit www.MilkenEducatorAwards.org or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at https://instagram.com/milkenfamilyfdn; www.facebook.com/milkeneducatorawards; www.twitter.com/milken; and www.youtube.com/milkenaward.

The Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation, were launched in 1987. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.

Jana Rausch
Senior Manager of Media and Public Affairs
310-570-4774 310-435-9259