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Carriere Teacher Leader Earns $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Work to Maximize Potential for All

Chayna Adams of Pearl River Central High School honored as one of America's top educators in surprise assembly 

Oprah Winfrey congratulates Milken Educators in heartwarming video message as 'light in this world'

April 22, 2022

Santa Monica, CA — In a surprise assembly today, Chayna Adams of Pearl River Central High School (PRCHS) in Carriere, Mississippi, received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award. A former math teacher at the school, Adams now serves as lead teacher, building on her acute ability to identify and reinforce teacher and student strengths while using data to drive growth. 

Milken Educator Awards Senior Director Greg Gallagher and Mississippi Department of Education Director of Educator Talent Acquisition and Effectiveness Dr. Courtney Van Cleve surprised Adams with the honor before cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials, and the media. Adams is the only educator in Mississippi and among more than 60 nationwide to be recognized with the Award during the 2021-2022 school year. She is the first educator to receive the Award in the Pearl River County School District. 

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Milken Educator Awards celebrate, elevate and activate the American teaching profession and inspire young, capable people to join it. 

"An important quality of an instructional leader is leveraging talents of the team to advance teaching and learning for all," said Gallagher. "Chayna Adams' experience in bringing out the best in others serves her well in her current role helping to drive instruction and improvement across Pearl River Central High School. We congratulate her and look forward to the value and insights she will bring to the national Milken Educator Network." 

The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award. 

"As a lead teacher, Ms. Adams serves as a model for her peers and works daily to elevate and strengthen the teaching profession," said Dr. Courtney Van Cleve. "She is a worthy recipient of this year’s Milken Award. I join her students, school and community in congratulating her for this accomplishment." 

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright added her congratulations: "Ms. Adams has done an extraordinary job challenging her students to meet and exceed high academic standards. She is a wonderful example of our dedicated Mississippi educators who work hard every day to help students learn and succeed." 

Oprah, a longtime education advocate, offered her congratulations to this year's winners in a video message shared earlier this year thanking "the most incredible educators around the country" and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the "tireless work" they do. 

More about Chayna Adams 

Teaching Goes Beyond Classroom: Adams' students and colleagues learn more than academics in her care—she teaches them pride, respect and commitment. After years teaching math and heading the math department at PRCHS, Adams is now the school’s lead teacher, responsible for academic tier, schoolwide data and coaching support for instructional staff. She coaches new teachers in instructional practices, organizational skills, student interventions and data analysis. Adams also coordinates school-level professional development based on school and state data. To support the school in ongoing improvement of academic and behavior goals, Adams plans and organizes schoolwide incentives for students who meet weekly and monthly targets.  

Focus on Data-Driven Education: Adams' data-driven classroom experience has served her well in her advancement into instructional leadership. As an algebra teacher, Adams used a wide variety of creative, hands-on strategies that support learning for students at all levels, including small group instruction, scaffolded partner activities, guided notes, whiteboard workouts, math "Jeopardy" and matching games. She tracked results on unit and district assessments on a "data wall" and adjusted her instruction to address learning gaps. Adams constantly reinforced positive behaviors in the classroom and communicated with parents about both concerns and successes. Her dedication to student outcomes delivered notable results: The algebra pass rate at PRCHS is 94%, and students in the bottom 25% consistently meet growth and proficiency targets on state assessments. 

Creative Classroom Connections: As math department chair, Adams led instructional rounds, conducted data analysis, coached new teachers and led the professional learning committee (PLC). During changes in the delivery of instruction during the pandemic, she used virtual meetings to check in with her department weekly and created video and interactive digital lessons for teachers to use with students. Consulting with the math coach at the Mississippi Department of Education, Adams led the redesign of all levels of the school's algebra curriculum to align with state standards, increase rigor and make content accessible to remote-learning students. She has written test items for Algebra I for state assessments and presented at state and national conferences. Colleagues often observed in Adams' classroom to learn from her skillful classroom management and instructional strategies. 

Leadership In and Out of School: Adams has taught seven graduating classes at PRCHS, and many former students attribute their successes to her, especially with their college and career choices. She taught the school's math ACT prep class, using individualized instruction plans to ready students for the important college entrance exams. Adams connects with all students regardless of their math abilities and often attends sports, family events and other activities outside the classroom. 

Education: Adams earned a bachelor's in mathematics from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2009 and a master's in educational leadership from Arkansas State University in 2014. 

More about the Milken Educator Awards: "The future belongs to the educated."

Along with the financial prize, Milken Educator Award recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.

  • In June, the honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education. In addition, they will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFFs) mentoring program, in which freshman Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice.
  • Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to serve in leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • "We find you. You don't find us!" Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards initiative has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. The most exceptional candidates are recommended for the award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation. 
  • The $25,000 cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. For instance, some have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children. 

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events or to watch the award events unfold, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook (@MilkenEducatorAwards), Twitter (@Milken), YouTube (/MilkenAward), Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn), and TikTok (@MilkenAward).

For more information, visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772. 

About the Milken Educator Awards
The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 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. The initiative was created by the Milken Family Foundation, which celebrates 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at

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Jana Rausch
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