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California Special Education Teacher Surprised with Milken Educator Award and $25,000 Cash

The 2015 “Oscar of Teaching” Recipient Is the Final Recipient of the 2014-15 Season

April 8, 2015

SANTA MONICA, CA—Teachers and staff were told that the morning assembly at Canalino Elementary School would feature a talk about incorporating technology in education. What they weren’t told was that the real reason for the gathering was that K-5 special education teacher Brandon Sportel would be surprised with a Milken Educator Award and $25,000.

Sportel appeared to be in shock when he heard his name called and he walked up to accept the award. On hand to help deliver the good news and recognize the work of this educator as a model for the state and nation was California Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson and Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken, along with veteran Milken Educators and other dignitaries.

Milken said Sportel, who is the final Milken Educator Award recipient for the 2014-15 school year, is the consummate team player who is willing to lend assistance on behalf of any student or family at the elementary school.

“With a combination of warmth, expertise and structure, Brandon reaches out to students and allows them to find success in the face of often significant challenges,” said Lowell Milken. “His passion for continuous improvement, his commitment to all kids—not just those on his roster—and his team approach are what makes him stand out as an exceptional educator.”

“Every day, student by student, classroom by classroom, Brandon Sportel and teachers like him are building the future of California,” said Torlakson. “Events like this are important opportunities for us to recognize excellence – not just because teachers deserve it – but because they give us all something to strive for.”

As more and more students qualify for special education services in schools across the country, the need for exceptional teachers familiar with behavior management and modification techniques is critical to their future success. At Canalino, Sportel is impacting all students’ lives in a positive way.

Every student in Sportel’s classroom has a physical, mental and/or behavioral disability and an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which outlines a child's educational goals and needs. Sportel believes in every student’s ability to learn, regardless of their challenges, and, along with a dose of fun, he models optimism and a strong work ethic. He is credited with helping the majority of his students meet and exceed their goals and works with parents and staff to ensure that progress is being made to attain those goals.

Students benefit from his knowledge of technology and innovation. IPads, Google Docs and Web-based programs are used regularly in his class. He is known to go out at recess, play with students and help them resolve conflicts.

Sportel’s influence and leadership extend well beyond his special needs classroom and are felt across the entire school and district. Recognized for his expertise, he presents to staff and assists teachers on strategies for special and regular education students. He is often asked to consult on cases at other schools.

After Sportel collaborated with a fifth-grade teacher and psychology interns from UCSB on a behavior tracking program, it was expanded to four other classrooms.

He supervises student teachers, hosts emerging psychologists and behaviorists and is often asked to speak at universities and to new student teachers.

He created a schoolwide “Fun Fact Finale” involving students, teachers and parents to celebrate learning math facts with food and soccer tournaments. The program is credited with helping to raise the number of third graders with passing math CST scores from 30% to 70%. Sportel also drew on his specialty in behavior management to create a campus Safe Room where any student can go when they need to let off steam. The room gives students an alternative to misbehaving and encourages self-awareness.

It is this kind of full-circle, problem-solving approach that makes Sportel so respected by colleagues and parents.

Sportel is the only recipient this season to receive the Milken Educator Award in California, the inaugural state of the Milken Educator Awards. Sportel is the 143rd educator to receive the honor in the state. A total of 37 recipients have been given the award this year. The 2015-2016 award season will begin fall 2015.

Hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching” by Teacher Magazine, the Milken Award recognizes exemplary elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists who are furthering excellence in education. The award comes with an unrestricted financial prize of $25,000 and alternates yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Milken Award recipients are sourced through each participating state department of education, which appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to confidentially review candidates for recommendation to MFF.

Along with the recognition typically bestowed to recipients, Sportel now belongs to a network of more than 2,600 K–12 teachers, principals and specialists from around the country. Past recipients have used their Awards to finance 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 notifications, follow the #TeachForTheStars and #MilkenAward hashtags on Twitter and Instagram.

For information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4775.  Like the Awards at, follow us at, watch the reaction videos at and find us on

The Milken Educator Awards program, created by the Milken Family Foundation, was 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.

Ana Beatriz Cholo
Media Relations Manager
310-570-4773 (Office) 312-927-4845 (Cell)