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Newark Teacher Surprised with Milken Educator Award and $25,000 in Cash

Allison Cuttler is the Second Teacher to Win the Prestigious Prize in New Jersey

December 03, 2015

SANTA MONICA, CA — Allison Cuttler, a confident, trailblazing math teacher who is not afraid to dive into a new initiative or method of teaching, was caught off-guard when, in front of an enthusiastic schoolwide assembly at North Star Academy College Preparatory High School, she was surprised with a Milken Educator Award and a $25,000 check this morning.

She is the second teacher in New Jersey this season to win the Award, and among up to only 40 educators nationally who will receive the prestigious honor during the Milken Family Foundation’s coast-to-coast tour. The foundation has been rewarding outstanding elementary and secondary educators with the Award since 1987.

In a school gym filled with cheering students, respected colleagues, distinguished officials and the media, Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and New Jersey Assistant Education Commissioner Evo Popoff presented Cuttler with the distinctive navy blue envelope during the event at the nationally recognized charter high school.

“I congratulate Allison on this recognition and for her commitment to STEM education,” said New Jersey Education Commissioner David C. Hespe. “Allison has demonstrated the innovation and creativity that inspires great teaching and learning in the Garden State. New Jersey students are fortunate to have educators like Allison who help to build a culture of learning and serve as an inspiration to those around her.”

North Star Academy Charter School serves over 4,000 students in Newark. About 94% of its students are African-American or Hispanic, and 87% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. It is part of Uncommon Schools, a network of 44 high-performing charter schools operating in three states: New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.

Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, chief schools officer for high school and K–12 content development at Uncommon Schools, says Cuttler is a reminder of what is possible with outstanding teaching. 

“She has taken on one of the biggest gaps in education: the participation and performance of African-American and Latino students in the STEM field,” Bambrick-Santoyo said. “By combining her excellent teaching practices with her belief in what her students can achieve—regardless of their socioeconomic status—she sets the bar for all of us to follow.”

“Allison has demonstrated extraordinary leadership abilities during her relatively short time as an educator, and her passion for math extends well beyond the classroom,” said Foley. “She has made valuable contributions to North Star Academy and provided much-needed insight to surrounding schools as a STEM educator. We are excited to have her join the Milken Educator family.”

Cuttler, an advocate for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and project-based learning, was nervous about starting an AP Computer Science course at the school. After all, it was a brand new class and none of the students had experience coding, but she was committed to building a culture of computer science at the school. She took the plunge—and it paid off.

In that first course, students achieved a 67% pass rate, tied with the national average. Cuttler’s students closed the achievement gap immediately with their performance on the AP Computer Science exam. In addition, they have averaged over 600 on the SAT math section, posting some of the highest results in the school’s history.

She founded an afterschool “Girls Who Code” club, which has become one of the school’s most popular organizations. The impact of the club and the new computer science curriculum has been invaluable at the high school. The percentage of graduates who have declared majors in the STEM fields has more than quadrupled in the past two years, and most of these students credit Cuttler as their inspiration.

Cuttler effectively uses a combination of questioning techniques that develop rigorous, high-order thinking skills for her students. Her instruction in class was so effective that her students were able to lead an “Hour of Code” for 200 9th and 10th graders.

As an instructional leader at North Star Academy, Cuttler is responsible for providing weekly lesson plan feedback, conducting weekly observation feedback meetings, co-analyzing student data, helping teachers design remediation plans, and co-planning and implementing monthly professional development workshops for the math department.

When the school wanted to roll out a new form of teaching, Cuttler charged right in and piloted the new lesson type, modeling it during professional development in a way that convinced other team members that the new initiative was worth trying. It caught on rapidly as a result. The charter high school will soon be offering engineering classes to students in all grade levels. Cuttler is expected to transition into overseeing the new department of engineering and computer science teachers.

She received a Bachelor of Science in mathematics with honors from Haverford College in 2006 and a master’s degree in applied mathematics from the University of California, San Diego, in 2008. 

Cuttler joins Kimberly Moreno, a teacher at Union City High School in Union City, as the two New Jersey recipients of the Milken Educator Award for the 2015-16 season.

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 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. Two photos with the most “likes” will be selected in February and April 2016. The first of the three winners was selected in November 2015.

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 www.MilkenEducatorAwards.org or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at https://instagram.com/milkenfamilyfdn; www.facebook.com/milkeneducatorawards; www.twitter.com/milken; and www.youtube.com/milkenaward.

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.


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