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Chesapeake, Virginia, Principal Amber Dortch Shocked with Milken Educator Award and $25,000 Cash Prize

December 11, 2015

SANTA MONICA, CA — Principal Amber Dortch’s birthday week ended on a particularly sweet note when, unbeknownst to her and her entire team at Hugo A. Owens Middle School in Chesapeake, she was surprised with a Milken Educator Award and its accompanying $25,000 prize at an all-school assembly.

Dortch had been planning for a visit from State and local leaders, but didn’t realize she had been organizing her own party until her name was announced as a recipient of the Milken Award before cheering students, respected colleagues, distinguished officials and the media.

Dortch is among up to only 40 educators who will receive the prestigious national honor during the Milken Family Foundation’s (MFF) coast-to-coast tour across the country. MFF has been rewarding outstanding elementary and secondary educators with the Award since 1987.

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Steven Staples and Education Secretary Anne Holton joined Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley in making the special announcement.

“Amber Dortch epitomizes the 21st-century instructional leader who inspires her teachers and equips them with the tools, strategies and data they need to improve outcomes for students,” Staples said. “She is a constant presence—in the halls and in the classrooms—always encouraging students to believe in themselves and to make every moment count.”

“As important as the test results is the school climate that Dortch has fostered in which all students are valued and challenged to succeed,” added Holton.

“Amber Dortch is a leader and a doer, working together with faculty and students to help the whole school thrive,” said Foley, who won the Milken Educator Award in 1994 when she was a principal in Indiana. “We look forward to following her journey in strengthening educational opportunities in her school, community and beyond.”

Amber Dortch hones her skills as a former classroom teacher, assistant principal and district administrator in her role as principal of Hugo A. Owens Middle School. She was asked to take the helm at the school just two years ago, when it was in jeopardy of losing full accreditation. Dortch gained teachers’ trust by involving them in a system of collaborative leadership to effectively tie instruction to standards and student needs. They began using new research-based strategies, analyzing student data to drive decision-making and developed a schoolwide lesson plan template.

Dortch is a hands-on leader, providing opportunities for staff development and collegiality as well as motivating students and increasing overall school morale. It is not uncommon to see her co-teaching a lesson in the classroom, organizing spirited assemblies before assessments or offering a pep talk one-on-one.

Her creativity, positivity and ability to rally her team around common goals of strengthened instruction and student achievement have been drivers for the school’s progress. Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) scores have improved in all four core areas (English, math, history and science) and the school is in good accreditation standing.

Dortch’s leadership and enthusiasm extend beyond the classroom as well. At the district level, she is often asked to serve as a professional development trainer for aspiring administrators. She is also vice president of the Chesapeake Association of Public School Administrators, a guest speaker in the educational leadership programs at Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University, and a certified National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Breaking Ranks trainer. She served for seven years as the Virginia High School League forensics director for the Southeastern district and Eastern region.

Dortch received her Bachelor of Arts from Longwood College in modern languages with a concentration in Spanish in 2000, and her master’s in educational policy, planning and leadership from the College of William and Mary in 2005. She is currently pursuing her Doctor of Education at Virginia Tech.

More information about Dortch, plus photos and a video from today’s assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

The Milken Educator Awards program 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.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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

The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at;;; and

The Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation, were launched 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.