Friday morning, Nov. 30, a large crowd of television and other news media, state dignitaries, parents, students and teachers gathered in the Kingsland Elementary School auditorium to witness the presentation of a national education award to teacher Tasha Wilson.
The proceedings began promptly at 9 a.m. with Arkansas State Board of Education Commissioner Johnny Key introducing himself and the several distinguished figures joining him on the dais. Among those in attendance were U.S. Senator John Boozman and Arkansas State Representative Mike Holcomb.
Commissioner Key addressed the audience, saying, “Do you know how many schools there are in the U.S.? I don’t, but there are bunches. But right here in your small town, you are showing the rest of the nation how to be your best as an education institute.”
Following a brief welcome, Key introduced Santa Monica, California-based Milken Family Foundation Senior Vice President Jane Foley.
“Hello, Kingsland!” Foley exclaimed. “It’s a pleasure to travel from California to share this occasion with you. You may not know much about us at the Milken Foundation, but we know all about Kingsland Elementary. I’m proud to have come 2,000 miles to be a part of this exciting day to honor your school and one very special teacher. People are watching Kingsland in Washington, D.C., California and all over the world to see what you’re doing right here.”
Foley asked for a young volunteer from the audience and welcomed an eager second grader to join her up front. Asked what she thought the word “excellence” means, the child answered, “Outstanding, great and awesome!”
“That’s right,” Foley replied enthusiastically, “and that’s what we’re here for, to award excellence in your school. Along with your family, your teachers and principals are some of the most important people in your lives. They help you learn what you need to know to succeed in life. I’d like to take a moment to recognize the school staff with a round of applause.”
Continuing, Foley said, “As important as they are, educators never seem to receive the kind of celebration that writers, athletes, politicians and high profile business leaders do. We’re here to change that. The Milken Educator Award was coined the ‘Oscars of Teaching’ by Teacher magazine. One of the best teachers in the entire country is here in your school. This morning, she’ll receive the only individual teaching award to be given by us in your state for 2018. You can’t apply for this award, and we don’t accept nominations. We find you.
“We are gathering a group of 40 national elite educators from across the country to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to New Orleans in March to meet with the rest of this all-star team.”
The idea behind the New Orleans trip is for outstanding teachers to share some of their secrets to carry back to everyone’s home schools in an effort to enhance education on a local level even more.
Pausing for effect, Foley shared one of the most exciting points to the program.
“The teacher we recognize here today will also receive a financial award in the amount of $25,000 to spend as she pleases. Without further ado, the Arkansas Milken Family Foundation award winner for 2018 is Tasha Wilson!”
Apparently completely surprised at the recognition, second-grade teacher Wilson was initially shaking and speechless with understandable excitement as she came forward.
Senator Boozman took the podium following the presentation of the $25,000 check, saying, “Two of the things I enjoy most about my job are recognizing veterans and educators. People often come up and say, ‘John, it was a teacher who made a real difference in my life.’ I’ve never had anyone tell me it was a senator.”
Kingsland School Principal Danny Drury spoke briefly, saying, “Two things came out of the blue this year. First was the Blue Ribbon recognition for scholastic improvement and now this teacher award. For a little school, I’d say we’re not doing too bad.”
Closing out the assembly by directly addressing the students in the room, Cleveland County School Superintendent Craig Dupuy said, “Y’all are the reason we are here. I hope tonight you students will go home and talk to your parents about what went on here today and ask them who was the teacher who made a difference in their life? Congratulations Kingsland!”
Once having had an opportunity to overcome some of the initial surprise at receiving such a prestigious and profitable award, Wilson told reporters, “I couldn’t do any of it without my colleagues. Mr. Drury is the only principal I’ve ever worked for. We are all like one big happy family here.”
In a handout distributed by the Arkansas Department of Education Director of Communications Kimberly Friedman, details of the teacher award were further revealed.
“Good learning habits have become second nature in Tasha Wilson’s second-grade class…because she motivates her students to tackle tasks that might seem well beyond the grasp of such young students,” the handout read. “Tasha understands that educators must teach and reach the whole child in order to get the best from them. By creating a safe, compassionate haven where students can take risks, Wilson is building the skills they need to become productive and caring citizens.”
Kingsland School’s Blue Ribbon Award was one of only three given to schools in Arkansas and part of 349 total nationwide to be recognized by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The award was for progress in closing an achievement gap among student sub-groups.