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Surprise! Jefferson Parish English Teacher Jennifer Williams Receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award

National honor recognizes noteworthy contributions to Adams Middle School

November 13, 2019

Santa Monica, Calif., — Jennifer Williams is a meticulous planner at Jefferson Parish's John Q. Adams Middle School, where she teaches sixth grade English. From rubric-guided class discussions and data-driven professional development to leading "Test Fest" — the school's biggest event of the year — Williams makes sure to cross her t's and dot her i's. Yet today Williams was thrown for a loop when a visit from State Superintendent John White turned into a celebration in her honor. 

Before a room filled with cheering colleagues, students, state and local officials, White joined Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken to present Williams with the prestigious Milken Educator Award, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize that she can use however she chooses. 

Williams is among up to only 40 honorees nationwide to receive the recognition during the 2019-20 season, and the second recipient from Louisiana. Steven Gamache, an eighth grade English teacher at Paul Habans Charter School in New Orleans, earned the Award earlier this morning. 

"Outstanding teachers like Jennifer Williams ignite a passion for learning in their students and create a nurturing environment for them to thrive," said Lowell Milken. "Jennifer's enthusiasm, attention to data and high expectations transfer to her work outside the classroom, where she helps drive the school's instructional program and guides and supports fellow teachers. Her leadership plays an important role in affording all students quality educational opportunities."

Hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching," the goal of the Milken Educator Awards is to celebrate, elevate and activate the American teaching profession and inspire young, capable people to join it. The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award.

"Teaching and building the foundations of reading ranks among the most essential of our missions," said State Superintendent John White. "Louisiana is proud to have an educator like Jennifer Williams who does this in a way that is not only creative but highly effective." 

Key examples: Williams' classroom features flexible work stations: exercise balls near the computer writing research center, a large carpet where students spread out their materials and work on assignments, and a corner with easy chairs and coffee tables where students collaborate and discuss books and writing projects. On "Flashlight Fridays," the class reads and works together by flashlight, enjoying the change in atmosphere. Schoolwide data shows writing as a target growth area, so Williams reverse-engineers quizzes and assessments to make sure each one has a writing component. Her classes engage in student-led conferences throughout the writing process, starting with conversation stems and a rubric to guide their discussions. Williams' students function at a high level and feel safe taking academic risks. 

"I've played a small role in recognizing several Milken Educators during my career," said Jefferson Parish Schools Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley. "Jennifer is another stellar example of excellence in teaching and deserves all accolades bestowed upon her."

More About Jennifer Williams 

Leadership: Knowledgeable, creative, strategic and driven, Williams serves as a resource for her colleagues. She is an active leader in weekly professional development cluster meetings, the first to volunteer to model something new and help others with planning, data analysis and preparation. Williams has served as sixth grade team leader and on the school improvement team. She sat on Jefferson Parish's Teacher Voice Advisory Council and has presented at the Teacher Leader Summit and Louisiana Middle School Association conference. Future educators, including some who now teach alongside her at Adams, appreciate her guidance as a mentor during their student teaching. 

Student Impact: Williams goes to great lengths to increase student engagement and build relationships with even the most challenging students. She teaches sixth grade honors, regular and inclusion ELA classes, but students flock to her as a trusted advisor throughout their middle school years. To keep students focused and striving as they prepare for LEAP (Louisiana Educational Assessment Program) exams, Williams leads "Test Fest," the school's biggest event of the year. The magical experience includes a DJ, photo and dunking booths, water balloons, face and nail painting, basketball tournaments, soccer, Frisbee, snacks, arts and crafts, and more. Students earn the right to attend with a positive attitude, commitment to excellence and exemplary behavior during testing. It’s an unforgettable celebration for the whole school. 

Education: Williams earned a bachelor's in elementary education in 2005 from the University of New Orleans. 

More information about Williams, plus links to photos and video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at https://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/educators/view/jennifer-williams. For more information about fellow Milken Educator Steven Gamache, visit https://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/educators/view/steven-gamache.     

More About the Milken Educator Awards: "The future belongs to the educated."

The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 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. 

Along with the $25,000 financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education. 

The 2019-20 honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis March 26-28, 2020, where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal leaders on the future of education. In addition, the Milken Educator Awards' "Why Not Us" program will pair each 2019 recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to explore and prepare for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy.

  • Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. 
  • The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators; this season honors secondary school teachers. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • 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 in each state. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation. 
  • The cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways; for instance, on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even on 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. Everyone is encouraged to watch the tour at www.facebook.com/milkeneducatorawardswww.twitter.com/milkenwww.youtube.com/milkenaward 
and www.instagram.com/milkenfamilyfdn

For more information, visit www.MilkenEducatorAwards.org or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

Jana Rausch
Communications Director
310-570-4774 Office
310-435-9259 Cell
jrausch@mff.org
Twitter: @janarausch