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Fifth-Grade Teacher at Friendly House Academia del Pueblo Elementary Charter in Phoenix, Arizona, Receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award

“Oscar of Teaching” Goes to Shalini Sharma for
Leading Significant Student Achievement Growth

March 26, 2015

SANTA MONICA, CAShalini Sharma, a fifth-grade teacher at Friendly House Academia del Pueblo in Phoenix, Arizona, was completely caught off-guard when she was presented with the prestigious Milken Educator Award—and a $25,000 cash prize—before a schoolwide assembly. 

Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken, joined by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, delivered the news of the award.

Sharma is one of up to 40 recipients across the country this school year who will be receiving the honor. She will join another Phoenix educator to be awarded this afternoon as the only two Arizona recipients for the 2014–15 season. The Milken Award recognizes exemplary elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists who are furthering excellence in education.

“We’ve been presenting these awards for almost 30 years because we believe—and the research proves it—that effective educators represent the most important school-based factor in improving student performance,” said Lowell Milken. “Student proficiency has soared under Shalini Sharma’s leadership.  Equally important, she brings out the best in her students, and continuously inspires and motivates them to reach higher.”

Along with the fanfare and recognition, Sharma now belongs to the Milken Educator Network of more than 2,600 K–12 teachers, principals and specialists from around the country.

“It is an honor to be able to recognize the outstanding work of a teacher like Shalini Sharma in such a meaningful way,” said Superintendent Douglas. “I am truly impressed by the positive impact she has had on so many students, parents and teachers in both her school and community. She will no doubt continue to change lives for years to come.”

Sharma taught in her native India before bringing her educational talents to America in 2007. At Friendly House Academia del Pueblo, Sharma provides the rigor and expectations that lead to student success. The results are exceptional.

Sharma volunteered to take over the fifth-grade class in her school when it struggled to see measurable academic gains. She believed that she could reverse the trend. With her guidance, AIMS Reading scores went from 55% in 2013 to 76% in 2014. AIMS Math scores increased from 26% in 2013 to 62% in 2014. Additionally, throughout the year, math benchmark scores soared in proficiency from 39% in the beginning of the year to 82% in the third quarter—a 43 percent increase. Reading benchmark scores went from 79% to 90% during that same timeframe. She moved two of her special education students up two grade levels.

Students know exactly what Sharma expects from them. Her own tenacity and belief in their abilities inspire them to work hard and expect the best from themselves. Students are pushed to think deeply and to exhibit a high level of maturity and conduct; substitute teachers and specialists routinely comment that Sharma’s students are the best behaved, and not a moment is wasted in her classroom. At science fairs and on math nights, the high-quality projects from Sharma’s class stand out from the crowd.

Sharma has a gift for leadership and is acknowledged by parents and colleagues to be a supportive presence. She is always willing to help, such as tutoring Spanish-speaking parents in English after school. As lead mentor teacher for the 4th/5th Grade Professional Learning Community team, she introduces best practices that support student achievement. Sharma’s team spirit, strong work ethic and unflagging belief in every child’s ability to learn and thrive give her students the motivation and confidence to achieve at high levels.

For photos and video of Sharma receiving her Milken Educator Award, visit 

The Milken Family Foundation first presented the Milken Educator Awards in 1987. Since that time, it has become the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program and was dubbed the “Oscars of Teaching” by Teacher magazine. More than $137 million in funding, including over $65 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers. 

In Arizona, 34 recipients have been presented with the Milken Educator Award since the program began there in 1998.

Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, the Awards are sourced through each participating state and recommendations are made to MFF. 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 and at and watch the reaction videos at

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.

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