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Plaquemine, Louisiana, Principal Gets Surprise of a Lifetime with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

October 28, 2015

SANTA MONICA, CA — Plaquemine High School Principal Chandler Smith had been planning a schoolwide assembly to promote college and career readiness. Little did he know that he was planning the celebration of his career.

Halfway through the assembly, Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken announced to the students, faculty and distinguished officials gathered that the real purpose of the assembly was to bestow a Milken Educator Award on Smith, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.

Smith is among up to only 40 educators who will be presented with the prestigious honor during the Milken Family Foundation’s (MFF) coast-to-coast tour across the country. MFF has been rewarding outstanding elementary and secondary educators with the Award since 1987.

Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken has been inspired by his visits to thousands of classrooms over the past three decades. Today was no different.

“Chandler Smith possess the qualities of a successful principal,” said Milken. “He is a data-driven leader, a valued mentor, a believer in high expectations, and has the drive and motivation to move the whole school forward. Chandler has made an incredible amount of progress in a short amount of time. The Milken Educator Award honors him for this progress, but even more so, for his potential to make even greater gains in the future.” 

“We’re very proud of Chandler Smith and what he has done to earn this extraordinary and well-deserved distinction,” said Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White. “Under his direction, Plaquemine High School has seen a steady improvement in performance. Chandler is a principal other educators can look up to and should emulate.”

In his three years as principal at Plaquemine High, Smith has been known for dissecting information by looking at a student’s needs, strengths and weaknesses. He has gained a reputation for inspiring those around him to excel. He treats each student, teacher and staffer as a special person and acts as a mentor to develop their potential.

When Smith became principal, the school had just completed its first year working with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) to increase educator effectiveness and improve student achievement growth. NIET specializes in initiatives that create systems for teacher leadership and support.

Smith and his leadership team quickly identified a goal: to raise the quality of instruction in the classroom. There needed to be a cultural shift to higher expectations, engagement and quality—all of which would be measured through accountability. In collaboration with the leadership team, Smith created six different pathways for students to choose from leading to an Industry-Based Certification (IBC) as well as a diploma. The pathways are manufacturing; health science; business; government (JROTC); information technology; and advanced studies (university).

Smith’s knowledge, disposition and actions have directly influenced the instructional practices and student performance at PHS. Posters were displayed at the entrance of the school listing the courses for each pathway. Smith wanted the students entering PHS to have the answer to the question, “What do I need to do and take to graduate?” This gave the students personal goals and a purpose for coming to school. There was a rise in the graduation rate (59% to 75%) and increased attendance.

Under his leadership, PHS was in the top 20% of schools in Louisiana with the most growth in overall student proficiency from 2011-12 and in the top 15% from 2012-13 to 2013-14. More students are taking the ACT and scores are improving. There is a “data wall” that tracks every student’s progress.

During his short tenure as principal, Smith has already accomplished much. He was a panelist for U.S. Department of Education regional state meetings on reading and one of 100 principals selected to the Louisiana Principal Fellowship, a 16-month program designed to give school leaders the critical knowledge and skills to be instructional leaders and improve student achievement.

Smith’s personal goal is to begin work on a Ph.D. in administration and supervision. He graduated from Leavell College with a Bachelor of Arts in Christian education in 2004 and received a master’s in educational leadership from Louisiana State University in 2007.

Smith is the third and final Louisiana recipient of the Milken Educator Award this year. Jessica Major, a master teacher at Port Allen Middle School in Port Allen, was surprised with the honor earlier today. John Lary, a history teacher at C.E. Byrd High School in Shreveport, accepted his Award yesterday. Read about Major and Lary in the Milken Educator Awards newsroom:

The Milken Educator Awards program 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 launched 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;;; and

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.

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