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Leading With Literacy: Aurora Third-Grade Teacher Jennie Schmaltz Receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Schmaltz from Elkhart Elementary receives Award during surprise all-school assembly

October 26, 2016

Santa Monica, Calif. — When Aurora's Elkhart Elementary School third-grade teacher and coach Jennie Schmaltz entered the packed school assembly this morning, she had no idea she would be walking out with a prestigious Milken Educator Award, recognizing her commitment to her students, their families, her co-workers and the community. Schmaltz is the newest recipient of the $25,000 cash Award, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching."

The honor was presented to Schmaltz by Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken, Colorado Department of Education Executive Director of educator preparation, licensing and educator effectiveness Colleen O’Neil, and Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn.

"Data-driven, deeply caring and committed to the community, Jennie Schmaltz personifies the qualities of an outstanding teacher," said Milken. "By embracing the diverse instructional needs of Elkhart Elementary School, Jennie helps improve the academic performance and engagement of her students while boosting the morale and development of her faculty."

"Mrs. Schmaltz's dedication to her students is an inspiration to us all," said Colorado Interim Education Commissioner Dr. Katy Anthes. "She clearly puts her heart and soul into her work, motivating not only her students but her fellow teachers as well."

"Mrs. Schmaltz is thoughtful and creative in her approach to helping every student shape a successful future," said Superintendent Munn. "She considers the individual needs and strengths of her students and colleagues. Mrs. Schmaltz challenges everyone at Elkhart Elementary to perform at the highest level. We are proud to celebrate her hard work and dedication to helping our students, staff and community."

When Elkhart Elementary needed a new instructional coach for literacy, Schmaltz stepped up to the challenge. A K-5 International Baccalaureate (IB) World School serving a high-poverty community, Elkhart needed to lift student achievement and its staff retention rate. Schmaltz won big on both counts. Most of the teachers she supports saw classroom growth average in the 65% or above range, despite multiple challenges in the student body which included parent deaths, learning disabilities and a high percentage of English Language Learners.

Schmaltz's students respect her in the classroom and put in maximum effort, prompting growth as readers, writers, mathematicians and human beings. As part and parcel of her holistic educational approach, she builds strong relationships with families—both parents and students know she will advocate for them without hesitation. For one student, whose medical condition rendered him nonverbal, Schmaltz secured a type-to-talk device that let him ask questions and add to classroom discussion for the first time.

While splitting her time between teaching third grade and serving as the school's Teacher Partner, Schmaltz is also credited with raising Elkhart's teacher retention rate, with 90 percent of staff saying they are pleased with the professional development and instructional coaching Schmaltz leads and feel it has a significant impact on their practice.

Schmaltz coaxes maximum growth from students and colleagues, serving on the school's instructional leadership team as well as heading literacy professional development for the district. She employs both video and side-by-side coaching, often recording her own lessons and soliciting critiques and suggestions from other teachers. A highly effective coach who bases her counsel on sound, current and thorough educational research, Schmaltz treats all teacher questions as valid and relevant, thereby earning respect and high marks from educators at all levels. This accelerates the progress of new teachers and refines the practices of those more experienced. During Schmaltz's tenure, Elkhart has moved from a low rating on the state's School Performance Framework to meeting or exceeding the top status level of statewide attainment.

Approaching new teaching methodologies and technologies in a hands-on, down-to-earth way, Schmaltz leads by example, with expertise and creative collaboration.

Schmaltz earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2003 and a Master of Arts in curriculum and instruction, with a focus on literacy, from the University of Denver in 2009.

To learn more about Schmaltz and to view photos and a video from today's award assembly, visit

The 2016-17 Award season marks the 30th year of the Milken Educator Awards. Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Schmaltz's honor includes membership in the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top principals, teachers and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Past recipients have used their Awards to fund their children's education or to further their own professional development. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

Regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events are shared on MFF social media profiles at,,, and using the #MilkenAward hashtag. Details are also available on the Awards homepage at or can be obtained by calling MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation, is in its 30th year. 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.

Lynne Russo
(818) 903-6079 cell;
Jana Rausch
Director of Media and Public Affairs
310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell