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From Fly Fishing to Spuds in Space: Buffalo Teacher and STEM Booster Andrew Franz Receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Franz from Hamlin Park Claude & Ouida Clapp Academy receives Award during surprise all-school assembly

October 16, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif.,— Andrew Franz, a teacher at Hamlin Park Claude and Ouida Clapp Academy in Buffalo, shot straight to the moon with excitement when he was presented with a Milken Educator Award and $25,000. Franz, who helped his students perform a potato farming experiment on the International Space Station, received his award during a surprise all-school assembly. Franz is the second and final recipient from New York and is among up to 45 honorees who will receive this national recognition and the unrestricted $25,000 cash prize for 2017-18.

Franz received the Award from Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley, with Superintendent Buffalo Public Schools Dr. Kriner Cash and Associate Superintendent of School Leadership Buffalo Public Schools Peggy Boorady present for the celebration of education.

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching" has been opening minds and shaping futures for 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America's next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, "The future belongs to the educated."

Award winner Franz teaches in a special education 6:1:1 setting where he's literally helped his students shoot for the stars. As the lead educator on the Student Spaceflight Experiment Project, he fired up his 7th and 8th graders about growing potatoes in space, and enlisted biologists at the University of Buffalo and Cornell to serve as outside advisers; he also raised funds to get the students to a STEM Conference in Washington, D.C., and to Cape Canaveral in Florida to observe the Falcon 9 rocket launch that put their tubers into orbit.The experiment, which continued at the University of Buffalo even after the students moved on to high school, earned "the SpudLaunchers" widespread recognition and cemented Franz's reputation as an innovative educator dedicated to increasing interest in STEM education in his high-needs, largely minority school. Franz's dedication to his students continues in more down-to-earth ways as well, with field trips to a local nature preserve, a nearby fossil dig and regular visits to Buffalo museums.

Under Franz, students have learned about harvesting mushrooms and aquatic life in Cazenovia Park, attended the Western New York Science Fair and Tech Savvy, toured the University of Buffalo and participated in the Minecraft Build Challenge at the Microsoft Store. For Hamlin Park's Extended Learning Time Program, Franz teaches computer science, the Stock Market Game and basic fly-fishing techniques. He continues to advocate for Hamlin Park Education on the Fly, a fly-fishing program designed to meet students' social-emotional needs and teach life skills.

"The most direct and powerful way to reach the mind, imagination and character of the learner is through the mind, imagination and character of an outstanding teacher," said Lowell Milken, Milken Family Foundation chairman and co-founder, who created the Awards. "Andrew Franz is precisely that sort of beacon educator, one who lights the way for students in a challenged community with hands-on science, creative technology and thinking outside the box of cookie-cutter educational practices to truly connect with eager young minds."

"Andrew Franz is an advocate for STEM and a passionate educator," said New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. "He uses hands on, real world experiences across content areas to engage his students and is dedicated to making sure that they continue to use that knowledge even after they leave his classroom. Mr. Franz is a tremendous positive force in the lives of his students and a deserving recipient of this recognition."

"Andrew Franz is an educator committed to ensuring high academic achievement for all students," said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. "He realizes that learning doesn't begin and end in the classroom and that to help students succeed in school and life, we must educate the whole child. I congratulate Andrew Franz on his recognition as an educator of excellence."

About Milken Educator Andrew Franz
Franz covers all core subject areas in his classroom: Students dissect live hydra, observe animals, care for class pets (a beta fish and an African walking frog), produce documentaries about animals, augment history concepts through online gaming, read graphic novels to supplement classic texts and illustrate math concepts with creative drawings. Franz serves on Hamlin Park's school leadership team, Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) team, math team and extracurricular committee. He facilitated weekly meetings for the school's 7th and 8th graders, led the expansion of the science lab and works with parents and students during Saturday School. Franz, who regularly attends and presents at Western New York STEM Hub meetings, gave a presentation about the SpudLaunchers project to the 5,000 people who attended the Falcon 9 launch and spoke at the mayor's private showing for Buffalo Public Schools of the movie "Hidden Figures," which focused on African-American female mathematicians critical to NASA's first manned launch.

Franz earned a Bachelor's degree in English education in 2006 and a Master's in secondary special education in 2010 from Buffalo State College.

More information about Andrew Franz, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

Aja Brown, a science teacher at Metropolitan Soundview High School in the Bronx, received her Milken Educator Award this morning. More info about Brown can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

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, Franz's honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2017-18 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., March 20-23, 2018. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional learning 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 Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are 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 their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at,,, and

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

About the Milken Educator Awards
The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 30 years ago 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.