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Kansas English Language Arts Teacher Surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

October 26, 2015

SANTA MONICA, CA — When Kansas English Language Arts teacher William Smithyman walked into a schoolwide assembly at Blue Valley Northwest High School this afternoon, he had no idea he would be walking out an hour later a Milken Educator Award recipient and $25,000 richer.

In front of his principal, colleagues, students, staff and distinguished community members, Smithyman was given the surprise of his life when he received the prestigious Milken Educator Award. He was presented with the distinct navy blue envelope by Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken.

For the next six months, in up to 40 schools around the U.S., outstanding middle and high school educators will receive the Milken Educator Award and an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000.

Milken said Smithyman, who attended Blue Valley Northwest High School himself, is considered one of the school’s most revered teachers.

“Bill Smithyman sets high expectations for his students and it shows,” said Milken. “His students consistently score higher than district, state and national averages. His students also realize he’s someone who truly cares about their lives, their education and their future success. He will be an integral addition to the Milken Educator family.”

Kansas Education Commissioner Dr. Randy Watson said Smithyman is a great example of Kansas’s outstanding teachers.

“It’s always an honor to recognize teachers like Bill,” Watson said. “He dedicates so much of his time to his students and serves as a mentor to them. The Milken Family Foundation understands how important these contributions are to our nation.”

For Smithyman’s students, getting a “B” is a badge of honor. But the students love him. They line up outside his door after class where there is a constant stream of students coming through to ask for his advice, help on assignments, proofread a college entrance letter or assist them with an essay.

Former students return to thank him for all he has done for them. They will routinely comment about how well-prepared they are for the next level of education, how comfortable they feel taking high-stakes tests, and remark that he is the reason they have been able to feel competent, competitive and confident in their college English classes and beyond.

According to his colleagues, Smithyman has a “rep” – he is known to be giving with his time, he is witty, smart and approachable. He is a lifelong learner and continually strives to become a better teacher. He uses his own unique blend of genuine interest, empathy, sarcasm and humor and is known to be “a genius” when it comes to human interaction and behavior. It is the life lessons that students come to receive because they know that Smithyman understands their lives, problems, and will give great advice.

Regardless of how many times this National Board Certified teacher is admired for his teaching expertise, he continues to learn from others, and he continues to adopt and adapt the methods of others to his own style in order to improve himself.

As an ELA teacher, Bill believes students should write on a daily basis. He has an ongoing classroom blogging project in which a daily prompt is posted and students must respond to the prompt while not repeating what a previous post has said. Students claim that the task is quite difficult, but the benefit is learning how to write analytically. Another project is the novel study of 1984  in which students must behave following specific guidelines such as not being “allowed” to use the main staircase, their personal electronic devices and having to address adults in a specific manner. It’s not the activity that is powerful, but rather the reflective writing the students complete.

Smithyman leads Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) at the school to prepare students for college and career. He is a mentor to many, including his co-workers. His mentoring pushes teachers to new levels of success. He serves on the building’s leadership team, oversees the school’s advisory program and, together with another colleague, he is currently developing a student leadership program. His professional learning community is among the strongest in the district.

Smithyman’s students produce strong results and consistently score higher than district, state and national averages. One indicator of this success is his sophomore students’ performance on the PSAT during the beginning of their junior year. The average composite score of his 10th grade ELA students is over 181, compared to the state (153), Midwest region (150) and nation (142). Other evidence is represented in last year’s AP Language scores, the highest in the school’s 22-year history—also beating national averages.

He has taught at Blue Valley Northwest High School for 15 years. He graduated from Drake University with a Bachelor of Science in education in 2000 and from Baker University with a Master of Science in education in 2004.

The Milken Educator Awards program, which was launched by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987, 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 is launching 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 or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at;;;

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.

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