Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Milken Educators Work Together to Make a Difference in West Virginia

August 22, 2022

West Virginia Milken Educators gathered at forum
West Virginia Milken Educators gather for the first Activating Milken Educators forum *

By Brian Allman (WV ’19)

During the pandemic, the Milken Educator Awards team targeted a new initiative: Activating Milken Educators, or AME. Our goal was to help each state’s Milken Educator Network find ways to work collectively to address challenges in the profession with solutions. Here, Principal Brian Allman (WV ’19) shares West Virginia’s efforts to tackle the state’s teacher shortage.

November 7, 2019: What started as a normal day teaching my sixth grade students quickly turned into a career-defining moment when I received a West Virginia Milken Educator Award. While the memory of that huge surprise will last a lifetime, I quickly realized that the most valuable part of being a Milken Educator is belonging to the Milken Educator Network. Our fellow recipients are more than colleagues—they become a family to lean on for personal and professional growth and inspiration.

Over the past 18 months, Milken Educators in West Virginia have come together to tackle one of the state’s most pressing educational issues: our teacher shortage. We were one of eight states selected to pilot Activating Milken Educators, or AME, working with Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley (IN ’94), Vice President Stephanie Bishop (VA ’01), and others at the Milken Family Foundation (MFF). Erika Klose (WV ’17), Jennifer Reaves (WV ’18) and I met with our MFF friends to devise a path forward. Our goal: to reconnect our state network and use our collective experience and energy to support education in West Virginia.

Bringing the family together

Erika, Jennifer and I were selected as the West Virginia AME captains. In true pandemic fashion, our first meetings were held on Zoom. It had been more than two decades since the West Virginia state network had come together for any event, virtual or in person. We wrote letters, made phone calls, sent messages and reached out on social media in our quest to reconnect our West Virginia family. It was challenging to engage our fellow Milken Educators, but we refused to get discouraged when the three of us were the only attendees at our earliest meetings. We scheduled regular meetings, sent out agendas in advance, and within a few months our attendance had grown. Our state network met (and continues to meet) via Zoom for an hour each month.

Once our group had been meeting regularly, we decided to host a statewide forum focused on addressing West Virginia’s teacher shortage, an issue districts are struggling with around the country. We divided into three subcommittees to focus on distinct parts of our two-day event in April 2022: a network dinner and two forum sessions (AM and PM). As trust and rapport grew within our network, our initiative grew wings. We trusted one another to complete assigned tasks and maximized the use of individual talents to achieve our goals. “Milken Educators Elevate WV: Solutions to the Teacher Shortage” was the result of nearly a year and a half of planning.

We made one prescient decision—asking the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) to partner with us in this effort. Then–State Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch and Dr. Carla Warren, WVDE’s director of educator development and support, advanced our work in meaningful ways. WVDE graciously paid for hotel accommodations for all Milken Educators participating in our forum, provided the location (the West Virginia Culture Center on the State Capitol Complex) at no cost, and helped with food. This, plus MFF’s contributions, allowed us to plan a fantastic event.

Three West Virginia Milken Educators standing together
West Virginia AME Captains Jennifer Reaves (WV ’18), Brian Allman (WV ’19) and Erika Klose (WV ’17)

Two days, unlimited inspiration

Our primary focus on the first day was celebrating and reconnecting our state network. That afternoon, during a State Board of Education meeting, 2021 recipient Heather Haught received her Milken Award obelisk. All the West Virginia Milken Educators gathered for our forum celebrated with Heather that evening at a local restaurant in Charleston. It was a night of inspiration, laughter and fun that had been 20 years in the making.

The next morning, we began with a series of distinguished guest speakers, including Superintendent Burch, WVDE’s Dr. Warren, West Virginia First Lady Cathy Justice, State Board of Education Member Miller L. Hall and Stephanie Bishop. We watched pre-recorded remarks from Governor Jim Justice. Our group included representatives from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, West Virginia Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, West Virginia Professional Educators and WVDE.

We split into smaller groups for brainstorming, then came together as a whole to share our ideas with stakeholders at the state level. In addition to areas of obvious concern—low pay, benefits, etc.—our group also identified other ways to address our teacher shortage, including marketing, “Grow Your Own” pathways, changes to licensure exams and requirements, mentoring programs, and more. It was a productive meeting that identified specific initiatives where Milken Educators, as a group and individually, would be able to contribute.

Turning ideas into action

Since our forum in April, West Virginia Milken Educators have continued to work on growing our state’s teaching ranks. We have traveled with WVDE to support teacher recruitment initiatives such as the “Grow Your Own” pathway. Dr. Ernie Adkins (WV ’14), Heather Haught and I traveled to several high schools around our state to discuss our “why,” our motivation for being educators. We’re speaking out more on social media and will be working with WVDE to provide interviews, quotes and videos for the state department website. We’re also exploring partnerships with colleges and universities and plan to work with WVDE to highlight the expertise of our retired teachers, who are a vital part of our West Virginia Milken Educator Network.

In June, I presented our state’s amazing work at the 2022 Milken Educator Forum in Los Angeles. It was one of the highlights of my summer. Our state network has already met to discuss our next forum with a plan to focus on teacher retention. Recruiting more teachers is only half the battle—we want to make sure they want to stay in the profession. Our partnerships with MFF and WVDE are stronger than ever, and we hope to include students in the West Virginia “Grow Your Own” pathway to our next gathering. Our work in West Virginia has only just begun.

Gold metal West Virginia Milken Educator pin
The Milken Educator Award logo adorns a special pin marking West Virginia’s first AME initiative

Your state should be next!

Here are the important steps to getting a state AME initiative off the ground:

  • Select two or three captains to lead the process.
  • Decide the purpose of your initiative.
  • Determine how you will achieve that purpose.
  • Work to reconnect the network by updating contact information.
  • Set manageable and achievable goals.
  • Meet once a month at a set time for intentional meetings guided by an agenda.
  • Trust your team and maximize the use of individual talents.
  • Partner with other stakeholders such as the state department of education.
  • Plan early and always have a backup plan.
  • Involve other educational leaders in your initiative.
  • Reach out to other states who have found success (West Virginia is happy to help!).

Want more information about Activating Milken Educators in your state? Email MEA Vice President Stephanie Bishop or Brian Allman (WV ’19).

* West Virginia Milken Educators who participated in “Solutions to the Teacher Shortage”: Cindy Woods (WV ’02), Brian Allman (WV ’19), Erika Klose (WV ’17), Tammy Wells (WV ’05), Barbara Black (WV ’08), Pamela Atha (WV ’94), Victoria Smith (WV ’96), Samuel Moore (WV ’01), Whitney Stead (WV ’12), Susan Barrett (WV ’98), Kelli Stanley (WV ’06), Dr. Ernie Adkins (WV ’14), Stephanie Bishop (VA ’01), Dr. Vaughn Rhudy (WV ’03), Beverly Hoffmaster (WV ’92), Heather Haught (WV ’21), Jennifer Reaves (WV ’18), and Dr. Kimberly Miller (WV ’02)

Dr. Jane Foley     

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