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Arkansas Educator Emily Howard Is First in Drew County to Be Honored with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Drew Central Schools third grade teacher serves as a leader in and out of the classroom

February 23, 2023

Santa Monica, Calif., —  At Drew Central Elementary School in Monticello, Arkansas, third grade teacher Emily Howard always finds ways to take students to new heights. Yet today, Howard's own career skyrocketed to national recognition when she was surprised with a Milken Educator Award before dignitaries and the school community she proudly serves. 

National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joshua H. Barnett, representing the Milken Family Foundation, revealed Drew Central Elementary as a destination on the Milken Educator Awards 2022-23 coast-to-coast tour honoring outstanding educators with $25,000 individual financial prizes. Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Department of Education Secretary Jacob Oliva joined Dr. Barnett in celebrating Howard, who is among up to 40 Milken Award recipients this school year and the very first from Drew County Schools. She can use the financial prize for any purpose she wishes. 

"In just six years as an educator, Emily Howard has demonstrated outstanding dedication to honing her craft, increasing student achievement and uplifting her peers," said Dr. Barnett. "Emily understands the unique educational needs of a rural community and works daily to strengthen the collective role of students, educators, parents and community members in building a culture of growth. The Milken Educator Award honors her service as a role model for the state and nation, and for her potential to impact the profession for decades to come. Congratulations." 

In addition to today's celebration, Howard will receive lifelong benefits as a member of the national Milken Educator Network, a powerful group of more than 2,900 outstanding educators and leaders dedicated to strengthening K-12 education. 

"We are always excited to celebrate excellence in teaching, and today we celebrate Ms. Howard," Oliva said. "Ms. Howard exhibits all the wonderful characteristics and traits of exceptional teachers. From her inviting classroom and student and parental engagement to using student data to guide instruction and student growth in key academic subject areas, Ms. Howard reflects the epitome of great teaching. Congratulations to her on this well-deserved honor!" 

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues and communities. The specific states and schools on this year's winners' list remain a closely guarded secret until each Award is announced. 

Since 1987, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual Awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers.  

More About Emily Howard 

Vibrant Classroom Culture: Emily Howard creates a classroom community where students build confidence, are engaged and love learning. A third grade teacher at Drew Central Elementary in Monticello, Arkansas, Howard uses a variety of teaching strategies, including sensory tools and open-ended questioning, and is constantly researching new methods to help students learn and grow. Howard uses student data to tailor her instruction and set expectations. Her students show consistent growth in both literacy and mathematics, with the majority ending the year working on grade level. 

Supporting Schoolwide Advancement: Howard is known as a trusted resource for fellow educators, supporting and motivating her peers to succeed. She serves on the school's instructional leadership team, helping to plan and lead weekly professional learning communities. Howard had experience with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) at her previous building and brought the program to Drew Central Elementary, where it is now entrenched in the school culture. She also introduced the school to Class Dojo, a tool that facilitates parent communication and encourages model behavior. 

Modeling Excellence and Mentorship: When legislators wanted to see the state's R.I.S.E. (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence) program in action, they visited Howard's classroom to observe a literacy lesson. Howard is a trained teacher leader who receives additional mentoring and support through Drew Central's participation in the Arkansas Rural Educator Network, a partnership with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching and the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators. Howard mentors new teachers, researches and tests new instructional strategies, and served as a model for peers when the school recently adopted new curricula. 

Connecting Parents to the Classroom: As Drew Central Elementary's parental facilitator, Howard is a strong advocate for parental involvement in their children's education. During pandemic-related building closures, Howard went above and beyond to connect with students and families, providing additional support and communicating regularly. She often attends students' sporting events, piano recitals and dance performances. One measure of the meaningful relationships Howard builds with families: When it's time for parent-teacher conferences, it's not unusual for Howard to see 100% participation.

Education: Howard earned a bachelor's in early childhood education in 2015 from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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

Along with the financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 and growing of exemplary teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.

  • 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 (MFF) mentoring program, in which new 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.
  • "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. 
  • 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. 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 receive 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), and Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn).

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. 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