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By raising the bar for students, kindergarten teacher Hailey Couch earns a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Teacher expects a lot from kindergarteners, and gets it, at Madison Elementary in Norman, Oklahoma

October 23, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Every parent thinks their kid is unique. It's a thought shared by kindergarten teacher Hailey Couch at Madison Elementary in Norman, Oklahoma. That's why Couch keeps individual student dossiers to track her students' progress and notes successful learning strategies for each. She helps students thrive by creating a controlled, calm and orderly classroom environment where great expectations are made and met.

The expectations were raised on Couch herself this morning at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Family Foundation Co-Founder Lowell Milken and Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. A joyous Couch was named a 2018-19 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Oklahoma this year and is among up to 40 honorees for 2018-19.

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching," has been opening minds and shaping futures for over 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America's next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe "The future belongs to the educated."

Couch is not only a strong advocate of individualized instruction for her students, she is also an active agent for structural improvements of the school bureaucracy and a creative purveyor of innovative instruction methods. She has served on the district kindergarten advisory board and helped revise its kindergarten report cards. A master of classroom management, Couch welcomes observers from around the district and is a facilitator for Great Expectations, a school culture improvement program. Always striving to improve her teaching skills and expand her horizons, Couch traveled to China on a teacher exchange program and mentored a Chinese teacher in her own classroom.

"Hailey Couch is a consummate professional characterized by her classroom management, engaging lessons, attention to data and differentiation," said Milken. "At the same time, her creativity and caring generate a love of learning in young students that paves the way for their future success."

"Hailey is an engaging teacher whose leadership and encouragement continually result in extraordinary academic growth for her students," said Hofmeister. "She celebrates the diversity of her classroom and teaches children to value tradition and embrace different cultures from an early age. Her exemplary talent and dedication demonstrate how young teachers in Oklahoma can make a lasting impact on the future of our state."

"We are incredibly fortunate to have educators like Ms. Couch in our district," said Dr. Nick Migliorino, district superintendent of Norman Public Schools. "Her passion for public education is palpable, and her enthusiasm for creative academic strategies is contagious. She demonstrates exceptional leadership in the field and displays unwavering support for all students. We are proud to have her - and so many others like her - in our classrooms every day."

About Milken Educator Hailey Couch
Hailey Couch's kindergarten classroom at Madison Elementary in Norman, Oklahoma, runs like clockwork. Couch's mastery of classroom management includes predictable routines, clear expectations, smooth transitions, effective lesson planning and engaging instruction with both small groups and the whole class. She expects a lot from all her students, including those with special needs, believing that the higher she sets the bar, the harder students will work to reach it. Couch keeps a binder with data on each student to help her differentiate instruction and track growth for every child. She seeks innovative and creative solutions when challenges arise, determined to create the best learning environment for each and every student.

Couch is a leader both at Madison and within Norman Public Schools. She has served on the kindergarten advisory board and early childhood advisory committee. Couch helped revise the kindergarten report cards, realigning the standards-based report with new state academic standards. She hosts observers from around the district as part of the Fast Track to Classroom Management professional development training, opening her classroom to both new and career teachers to share best practices. She participates on Madison's Climate Committee, focused on nurturing a positive school climate and creating enrichment activities for students, staff and families. Couch is a facilitator and trainer for Great Expectations, leading presentations and workshops over the summer to help educators develop approaches to improving school culture.

Several years ago, Couch traveled to China for a teacher exchange program with the University of Oklahoma's Confucius Classroom. When the program sent a teacher to Oklahoma as part of the exchange, Couch welcomed her into the classroom. Madison sits in a neighborhood popular with international students working and studying at the university, and the student body includes English learners with up to 13 different native languages. The intern taught the children Chinese language and culture, while Couch schooled the Chinese teacher in American pedagogy and classroom expectations—an exchange that provided vast benefits on both sides.

Couch earned a bachelor's degree in early childhood education from Oklahoma City University in 2013.

More information about Couch, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at http://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/educators/view/Hailey-Couch.

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, the honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2018-19 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans, Louisiana, March 21-24, 2019. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional learning opportunities throughout recipients' careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Past recipients have used their Awards to fund 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 the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at www.facebook.com/milkeneducatorawardswww.twitter.com/milkenwww.youtube.com/milkenaward, and http://instagram.com/milkenfamilyfdn.

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

About the Milken Educator Awards
The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 31 years ago 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.