Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

The 2017 Milken Educator Awards Forum: Reactions

March 30, 2017

Lowell Milken helps Milken Educators choose panels MEA Forum 0324 1000w

Celebrate, elevate, activate: The theme of our 2017 Milken Educator Awards Forum in New Orleans rang true for this year's new Milken Educators. How will the connections made at the Forum help the class of 2016-17 find their voices, develop their platforms and impact the profession? Participants share their reactions to the time they spent together in New Orleans.

>> Click here for more photos from the 2017 MEA Forum


Stephanie Conklin (KS '16): "I'm up for the challenge"

Stephanie Conklin Katelyn Baker MEA Forum 0325 1000w

Last weekend I spent three days at the 2017 TAP Conference in New Orleans, participating in the Milken Educator Awards Forum. I admit I was somewhat reluctant to go. I don't travel much—certainly not by myself—and I felt a bit intimidated to be spending my days with 35 other Milken Educators from across the nation, as well as past winners who have made notable contributions to education. I ended up having an absolutely amazing time collaborating with and learning from these talented professionals. I was inspired by talking with and listening to Baruti Kafele (NJ '09), Yvonne Chan (CA '91), Hector Ibarra (IA '93), Lowell Milken, and many others. I left the conference feeling empowered, inspired and energized!

Throughout our time, we were strongly encouraged to maximize our voices and work to make a positive impact on educational practice and/or policy in areas we are passionate about. I've been reflecting on this charge greatly and am still not certain where my path will lead. But I do know one of the areas I am passionate about is early intervention and free full-day kindergarten for all students. Our state currently does not fund kindergarten students for full-day instruction, but they are actively working on a new bill for school finance. In it, they are considering phasing in funding for this. Today I reached out to the legislator chairing the committee and to a former business partner of our school to offer my perspective on the matter and voice my support for this positive change. Without my experience at the Milken Educators Forum, I'm not sure I would have had the confidence to reach out and let my voice be heard. Perhaps my voice will make a difference in helping shape the future of Kansas education for our littlest learners!

Thanks so much to everyone at the Milken Family Foundation for investing in me, for providing such a memorable and life-changing experience, and for challenging me to push myself harder. I'm up for the challenge.


Jayda Pugliese (PA '16): "Informative, insightful, inspiring"

Jayda Pugliese Lowell Milken portrait 0325 1000w

The MEA Forum was informative, insightful, but most of all, inspiring. Prior to this forum, I did not fully understand the level of prestige being a Milken Educator held. I was not aware of the extensive network of resources that was available to Milken Educators. But more than anything, I was also not aware that the goals I was setting for myself were too small.

At the MEA Forum, I was able to meet other current and veteran educators who shared their amazing experiences as forerunners in innovative educational practices and policy. I was so inspired that when I returned home, I contacted my state and submitted my candidacy for the Pennsylvania State Board of Education.

I know I am still pretty early in my career compared to others, but I am glad I was inspired to think bigger. Even if I do not get this opportunity with the state board, I am bolder than I ever was before...and to me, that makes all the difference.


Allison Ruhl (MS '16): "I am driven now"

Allison Ruhl Lowell Milken portrait 0325 1000w

It's only been three days, but it seems like last weekend was a world away. I returned to school on Monday, sporting my new Milken pin as a way to remind myself of the changes that occurred in me over the weekend. I have been happy as a classroom teacher, but I always wondered if there was something else, something more I needed to do. I thought of myself as "just a classroom teacher." After my notification, it's as if someone ripped off the ceiling to show me a world that extended beyond the confines of my classroom.

This weekend I began to see small pieces of that world, and it was a little intimidating. It was my first experience listening to national policy that directly affects me, my career, and my own children. I was exposed to accountability models such as TAP that veer from the traditional, bureaucratic education model I've always known. I learned about state and national positions that impact education in ways I never imagined. These positions were being filled by folks who were "just classroom teachers."

What are my takeaways? I began an internship on Tuesday to become an administrator. I initiated and facilitated my school's first PLC, focusing on reading comprehension. I'm reaching out to local leaders to come see my class in action while I'm teaching. Mississippi is, historically, at the bottom of the education food chain. We need the funding and support of these folks to strengthen what we are doing. I am driven now by the vision that every child should have effective teachers every year, and I'm taking small steps in my own way to make that a reality.

Someone said that maybe our dreams had been too small. I'm dreaming pretty big today.


Kara Davis (AR '16): "I have been dreaming too small"

Kara Davis Lowell Milken portrait 0325 1000w

What a weekend! I was not sure what to expect, but my expectations were far surpassed in every regard. Meeting the other Milken Educators from this year was an amazing experience. I know I have met lifelong friends. I loved to listen to them talk about what they are passionate about. You could see the passion in their eyes with every word.

One of my biggest surprises of the Forum was meeting and talking with past Milken Award recipients. I knew they would be happy for us, but their level of interest in our lives and our futures was unexpected. Many sat with me and talked with me about my plans and my feelings, and then challenged me to reach higher and dream bigger. When I got back to my hotel room, my husband asked what I was thinking. I told him, "I have been dreaming too small."

When I got the Milken Educator Award, I was incredibly honored and humbled to be chosen. I have since realized that this Award is an investment in human capital. The Milken Family Foundation believes that I have great potential to do great things. I want to show them I am worthy of this honor.

This weekend was a turning point. I have this family behind me now, pushing me to achieve what they know I am capable of and supporting me all along the way. The Milken Educator family is a family indeed!


Emily Caldarelli (RI '16): "I just didn't know how life-changing it would actually be"

Emily Caldarelli Lowell Milken portrait 0325 1000w

On my flight to New Orleans I was anticipating an amazing weekend, I just didn't know how life-changing it would actually be. From the presentations by veteran Milken Award recipients, to the discussions with educators from across the country, to the panels at the TAP conference, there was so much to soak in. I'm truly inspired and energized about being a teacher, and I feel grateful that I got to be a part of something so special.


Manuel Zaldivar (CT '16): "This was just the beginning"

Manuel Zaldivar Amanda Robertson MEA Forum 0323 1000w

I came to the forum thinking, I made it! Oh, was I wrong. This was just the beginning. The panelists challenged our thinking: What are you going to do with this moment? Do you know your key ingredient? Run your own Milken Race! How bad do you want it? Be 10 percent bolder.

We were reminded that finding our passion will take time. But I was inspired to find my passion, create a goal, develop an action plan—because a goal without a plan, after all, is just a dream. During the Forum I was celebrated, elevated, and strategically prepared to become activated. After all, if I'm not going to do it, who will?


Traci Druschke (IN '16): "I am driven to dream bigger"

Traci Druschke Lowell Milken portrait 0325 1000w

There are many pieces of advice that stand out about the MEA Forum now that I have returned home. First, find your "secret sauce," something you can share with others to help the education field. Second, figure out a plan to share your secret sauce with other incoming educators to help build and sustain highly effective teachers. The Forum focused on celebrating all that we as educators have given to the profession, but also how we can activate and serve more than the students in our walls. I am driven to dream bigger.


Lisa Richard (OR '16): "We really are a family"

Lisa Richard Lowell Milken portrait 0325 1000w

I think my greatest takeaway is the realization that we really are a family. I was made to feel included, welcomed, supported and motivated. It was so great to get to witness the smiles and the laughter. And the way used-to-be strangers came together to share a common experience. How wonderful to know that the others really did understand the feelings and emotions that took place not just in the big moment of our notifications, but in all the moments since.

I appreciate very much knowing that I've got people in my corner when I'm ready to make a move or to change my current course. I appreciate also knowing that the timeline is mine. I feel absolutely no pressure to do anything different than I am doing right now and that makes me feel happy and at peace. I know that when I'm ready, my Milken family will be there.


Jennie Schmaltz (CO '16): "I came out confident and ready to activate"

Jennie Schmaltz Lowell Milken portrait 0325 1000w

The Milken Educator Award was a complete surprise to me, and my notification assembly is a wonderful memory that I'll always cherish. However, in the months since winning the Award, I'd begun to feel uneasy, unsure, and overwhelmed with the amazing responsibility winning the Award presented. I had no idea how I was going to live up to it.

It was with this dissonance that I arrived at the Forum, only to be put at ease immediately. The MFF staff treated us like celebrities; they knew everything about us, commended our work with specificity, and spoke to us as dear friends. I began to get more and more excited as I listened to the members of the Milken Educator family, understanding how each of them once felt as I did, and how they found their "lane," as Principal Kafele put it.

The Forum became a sacred space of celebration, elevation and activation, for sure, but also reflection. I felt supported in developing my own voice and came out confident, sure, and ready to activate. I can't express enough thanks to each person I was able to meet and listen to this last weekend. I finally understand what they all meant when they said, at my notification ceremony, that my life would be changed forever.

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