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Yuma County Principal Omar Duron Surprised with Arizona's 2019-20 Milken Educator Award and $25,000 Cash Prize

Hometown hero gives back — by preparing community's students for bright futures

January 17, 2020

Santa Monica, Calif., — In Gadsden Elementary School District #32 located along the U.S.-Mexico border, Omar Duron has worked diligently as a teacher and principal to give his community's students the opportunity to live the American dream. Born and raised in Yuma County, Duron sees his mission as not only professional, but personal. Today, that dedication was rewarded with a $25,000 Milken Educator Award, which he can use however he wishes. 

Duron was surprised with the prestigious national recognition by Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken and Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman at an all-school assembly at Southwest Junior High, where Duron is serving his third year as principal. Previously Duron worked in the district as a classroom teacher, teacher leader, and a professional development coordinator in the central office. 

"Drawing on his own deep roots in the San Luis community, Omar Duron has made understanding students and their families a top priority," said Lowell Milken. "Talented, charismatic and reflective as a teacher leader, he leveraged his knowledge and skills by mentoring others. Now as principal, Omar firmly believes that leading is collaborative, hands-on, and supportive, resulting in a schoolwide determination to prepare all students for success." 

Duron is the only Arizona recipient of the Award for the 2019-20 school year and among up to 40 educators nationwide to receive the honor this season. 

Hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Milken Educator Awards celebrate, elevate and activate the American teaching profession and inspire young, capable people to join it. The Milken Educator Award is not designated for lifetime achievement. 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. 

"Strong school leadership is critical to student and teacher success," said Superintendent Hoffman. "When our educators know they have a leader that believes and invests in them, they are more likely to stay in the classroom. I am grateful for Omar Duron's commitment to building teacher leaders and student achievement at Southwest Junior High. He represents the best of Arizona's public education system."

More About Omar Duron 

Innovation: Building teacher leadership is important to Principal Duron. The district partners with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), and Duron embraced the rubric and collaborative practices of NIET's TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement. TAP's integrated system of support includes multiple career paths (teacher leadership), professional development, educator evaluation and feedback, and performance-based compensation. 

Results: Described as data-driven, methodical, organized and a strong role model for teachers and students, Duron strives to secure the resources his Southwest school community needs to succeed. He instills in his team that all students deserve an equitable opportunity to learn and grow academically. Virtually all Southwest students deal with poverty, and half are migrants and/or English language learners (ELL). Defying stereotypes, student achievement has risen steadily for the past five years. A Stanford University study showed that the district outpaced peers and ranked in the top 10% of the nation for growth. Before Duron took over as principal, the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) recognized Southwest as one of the top 10 schools in the world for supporting the development of academically advanced students. Duron has continued the CTY partnership, through which about 30 students each year engage in advanced academic programs. 

Leadership: Duron spends most of the instructional day visiting classrooms and knows every student by name. By being a product of Gadsden schools, Duron knows firsthand the challenges and obstacles that his students must overcome to live productive and fruitful lives. He builds relationships centered around student needs and is committed to advancing policies to support migrant and ELL students. 

Extra Credit: Duron brings unique learning opportunities to Southwest that help students flourish. They take ACT preparation classes during the summer and practice creative problem-solving through Odyssey of the Mind. 

Education: Duron earned a bachelor's in elementary education in 2004 and a master's in administration in 2016 from Northern Arizona University. He is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership. 

More information about Duron, plus links to photos and video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

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, created by Lowell Milken, 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 2019-2020 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 

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