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A Meridian Middle School Math Teacher Surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

January 20, 2016

SANTA MONICA, CA When Magnolia Middle School math teacher Rhonda Burrage walked into a schoolwide assembly this morning, she had no idea she would be walking out as a Milken Educator and $25,000 richer. Burrage was given the surprise of her life in front of her principal, colleagues, students, staff and distinguished community members, when she received the prestigious Milken Educator Award and a $25,000 check.

She was presented with the distinct navy blue envelope by Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards and an award recipient herself, and Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education.

Burrage is the state’s 70th Milken Award winner. She is the only Mississippi recipient in 2015-16 and one of up to 40 recipients across the country this school year.

“Middle school math can be a challenging subject both to teach and learn, but Rhonda is an exceptional instructor and students are known to thrive in her classroom,” Foley said. “Her students are engaged through her innovative teaching strategies and use of technology. I’m confident she will continue growing as an exemplary Milken Educator and leading in the field of education for many years to come.”

Wright said Burrage’s commitment to excellence and dedication to her students is worthy of recognition. “She represents the best and brightest educators in our state, and I congratulate her on this outstanding achievement.”

As the math department chair, Burrage has the reputation of being able to reach even the toughest students and get them to succeed in a school that has some significant challenges. This outstanding teacher has not missed a day of teaching in four years.

During her computer-based 8th grade algebra classes, Burrage regularly immerses her kids in educational websites, and brings them together into small groups or one-on-one clusters so that they can better grasp concepts. Former students often place in advanced math classes upon reaching the high school level and three even participated in a community college math competition, for which they finished second place.

Overall, Burrage’s algebra students received an A rating on the state test in 2013-2014 and she leads the district for Algebra I scores. According to state test score results, 78 percent of her students were deemed proficient versus 63 percent of students statewide.

Burrage fills various leadership roles at the school and the district. She’s a teacher mentor for first-year teachers, is on the school leadership team, and chairs the BETA club, where she coordinates community service projects. She spends her “free” time tutoring students enrolled in the city and county schools.

She lives as if her motto is “Whatever I know, I’ll share it with you.”

In her district, she has also developed lesson plans, modeled instructional implementations for other teachers, and has also taught school and district colleagues how to use Chromebook. Burrage provides regular input regarding disciplinary policies for the Meridian Public School District and sits on the superintendent’s council.

Above all, what inspires Burrage to do more is her dedication to her students, whose lives she positively molds. She is an exceptional educator who exudes passion, love and dedication to educating students. Student behavior has improved because of the standards and expectations she has set and requires.

She received both a Bachelor of Science in math education in 2003 and a master’s degree in secondary math in 2010 from Mississippi State University.

The Milken Educator Awards program, which was launched by the Milken Family Foundation (MFF) in 1987, 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 Milken 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.

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.