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Chicago Teacher Recognized Nationally as Illinois' Sole $25,000 Milken Educator Award Recipient in 2023-24

Comfort Agboola's excellence in the classroom and community is making an impact in Chicago's South Side

February 02, 2024

Santa Monica, Calif. — There was much to celebrate as students, colleagues and dignitaries gathered in the gym at Edgar Allan Poe Classical Elementary School this morning: State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tony Sanders was visiting to see their great work and congratulate them on Poe's Exemplary School designation. However the audience quickly learned that there was yet another accolade in store: Comfort Agboola, a reading, English language arts (ELA) and math teacher would become the sole Illinois 2023-24 recipient of the prestigious national $25,000 Milken Educator Award.

Dr. Sanders joined Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley in presenting a very surprised Agboola with her oversized, unrestricted $25,000 check amid the thundering cheers and applause. State Board of Education Chair and Milken Educator (IL '97) Dr. Steven Isoye, Congresswoman Robin Kelly and Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez joined in the celebration for Agboola — the first recipient in the district since 2010.

"Comfort Agboola provides a welcoming, stimulating learning environment where every student feels seen, heard and valued," said Dr. Foley, who is also a 1994 Milken Educator from Indiana. "Her love and dedication to education serve as a guiding light for Poe students, colleagues and community members. Students in Comfort's classroom not only excel in academics, but also develop confidence, individuality and leadership driven by Comfort's support and encouragement. Congratulations, Comfort, and welcome to the Milken Educator family."

Along with the $25,000 cash prize, Agboola receives a lifetime membership to the Milken Educator network, a nationwide group of professionals working to "Celebrate, Elevate, and Activate" the American K-12 profession. Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Awards will honor up to 75 recipients across the country in 2023-24 as part of the Milken Family Foundation's Journey to the 3,000th Milken Educator.

"Comfort Agboola makes magic in the classroom," said Dr. Sanders. "From reading to math, she brings learning to life. She helps her students discover hidden talents and unlocks their capacity for excellence. Her classroom is a safe space where each and every student can discover the power of their own voice. Ms. Agboola leads by example. She mentors teachers new to the profession and strives for growth in her own practice. As a prestigious Milken Educator, I know she will inspire teachers across Illinois and the nation, just as she inspires her colleagues every day at Edgar Allan Poe Classical Elementary School."

Agboola was completely unaware of her candidacy for the Award. Recipients are sought out while early to mid-career for what they have achieved – and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities afforded by the Award. 2023-24 will reach $75 million in individual financial prizes spanning the length of the initiative and more than $144 million invested in the Milken Educator Award national network overall.

More About Comfort Agboola

Building Young Storytellers: While Chicago's South Side is an area buzzing with history and culture, there is one local gem hidden among the hustle and bustle: Comfort Agboola. At Edgar Allan Poe Classical Elementary School, Agboola serves as a 6-8 reading, English language arts (ELA) and math teacher. An avid writer herself, Agboola's passion bleeds into the classroom — providing project-based educational opportunities that ignite a love of learning among students. In her classroom, students explore their creativity in the living room, library, or publishing area; a space supplied with typewriters. While learning about typewriter mechanics, upkeep and history, students truly get "hands-on" when using the devices to practice spelling or respond to writing prompts. Agboola emphasizes the importance of storytelling by empowering students to explore personal narratives through written essays, presentations and "open mics." Providing relatable, interest-driven curriculum, Agboola teaches financial literacy using a classroom economy system, where students earn and manage their own "money" (tokens) by doing classroom jobs, filing taxes, balancing checkbooks and performing online banking. Agboola's work has contributed greatly to the success of her students, resulting in significant growth on NWEA and IAR assessments year after year.

Motivating the Masses: Serving on Poe's Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) and Leader in Me Lighthouse Team, Agboola's rich instructional knowledge allows her to provide walk-throughs and share feedback on teaching strategies. As the middle school lead teacher, she acts as both a leader and mentor – coaching new colleagues, leading student progress meetings and updating handbooks and discipline procedures. Agboola is committed to fostering professional development, often attending or presenting at conferences, then circling back to host virtual workshops for her Poe colleagues. She also shares her expertise at the district level as a teacher leader under Poe's Network 13. Agboola has partnerships with the Pulitzer Center and the Chicago Poetry Center, while participating in several professional organizations such as the Illinois Writing Project and National Council of Teachers of English. Additionally, Agboola offers coaching services, workshops and tutoring in the community.

Fostering Student Engagement: Students flourish under Agboola's guidance — some going on to submit writings for publication and participate in the citywide spelling bee. Agboola has helped to provide students with unique opportunities to extend learning outside of the classroom over the years: A "tech day" collaboration with Microsoft, a podcasting club to build students' speaking and writing skills, debate club, and Model UN.

Education: Agboola earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education from DePaul University in 2008 and a Master of Arts in psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2012.

More about the Milken Educator Award Journey: "The Future Belongs to the Educated"

  • The honorees attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles this June, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to broaden their impact on K-12 education.
  • Honorees receive powerful mentorship opportunities for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy. Milken Friends Forever (MFF) pairs a new recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor; the Expanding MFF Resource and Explorer Program fosters individual veteran Milken Educator partnerships around a specific topic area; and Activating Milken Educators (AME) promotes group collaboration in and across states to tackle pressing educational needs.
  • Veteran Milken Educators demonstrate a wide range of leadership roles at state, national and international levels.
  • The $25,000 cash Award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. Some recipients have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children. 

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Visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772 for more information.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. Created by Lowell Milken, 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 Milken Family Foundation celebrates more than 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at