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Multiplying Math Success Earns a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Florida Hometown Hero Teacher Ashley Hernandez

The Riverview High School alum passes on a joy for learning, advancing math instruction at her alma mater

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

April 05, 2022

Santa Monica, Calif., — At Riverview High School in Sarasota, Florida, math teacher Ashley Hernandez's students know that she has their back. Every day as they step foot in her classroom, they are met with reminders from a bulletin board bearing motivational sticky notes. "You are enough." "You've got this." "You are brilliant." Her positive attitude fosters an environment where students challenge themselves to work hard, driving steadily rising AP Statistics pass rates that have surpassed the state. 

Today at a surprise assembly, Hernandez took the spotlight when she was named a national Milken Educator Award recipient in front of appreciative students and colleagues, education officials and media. Florida Senior Chancellor of Education Jacob Oliva joined Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop to present Hernandez with the prestigious honor, which includes an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. 

In addition to today's celebration, Hernandez will join the national Milken Educator Network of more than 2,800 exceptional educators and leaders across the country dedicated to strengthening K-12 education. 

"Teachers like Ashley Hernandez have a special gift for making students feel heard and valued," said Bishop, who is herself a 2001 Milken Educator from Virginia. "Her positive attitude and compassion for the transitions and challenges that high schoolers face create an environment where students can excel in their academic journey and beyond. By consistently elevating instruction at the classroom and school levels, Ashley is broadening her impact on students, peers and the community at large." 

"We are proud to have dedicated teachers like Ashley Hernandez as part of Florida's education system," said Senior Chancellor of Education Jacob Oliva. "Ms. Hernandez is an extraordinary mathematics teacher at Riverview High School who is able to make complex mathematics concepts relatable for all students. Ms. Hernandez is a hardworking educator who goes above and beyond for her students. Congratulations, Ashley." 

Hernandez is among more than 60 educators nationwide who will receive the Award during the 2021-22 school year. Hernandez is the first recipient from Sarasota County Schools since 2002. 

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 Awards are not designated for lifetime achievement. 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. 

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

More About Ashley Hernandez

Student Support: Students in Hernandez's geometry and AP Statistics classes collaborate on tasks that involve critical thinking and individual accountability, and Hernandez works hard to ensure that every student feels valued and included. Knowing that high school students are often stressed, she created an interactive bulletin board covered with sticky notes bearing motivational sayings: "You are enough." "You've got this." "You are brilliant." Hernandez invites students to "Take What You Need" and add their own inspirational messages to the collection. Her positive attitude encourages students to work hard, and they do. AP Statistics has grown from 45 to more than 100 students in the five years Hernandez has taught the class, and pass rates on the AP exam have risen steadily, surpassing the state. 

School Leadership: Hernandez serves on the instructional leadership team at RHS, heads the PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) data team, is a member of the district's leadership academy, and delivers professional learning on student engagement and instructional technology. For a schoolboard workshop, Hernandez discussed how she and her colleagues use data analysis to design and deliver instruction. During the pandemic, Hernandez worked tirelessly to help RHS staff master tools like Zoom, Blackboard, Gradebook and Microsoft Teams. 

Community Connections: Hernandez's commitment to her school goes beyond her classroom walls. As head of the Social Committee, Hernandez brings joy to RHS staff with visits from therapy dogs, snacks and COVID-safe staff meals. As a former cheerleader for her alma mater, Hernandez stepped in to support the cheer team during a leadership transition, rewriting the cheer contract and mentoring new coaches. 

Fostering Freshman Success: She helped design and implement the Freshmen Transition course, which integrates character education, resiliency and communication skills into the ninth grade curriculum. Hernandez oversees activities and student government representation as the advisor for the Freshman Board and led a schoolwide effort to create a monthly character-driven recognition program for students and teachers.

Education: Hernandez earned a bachelor's in secondary math education from the University of South Florida in 2008, and two master's degrees from American College of Education, in curriculum and instruction (2013) and educational leadership (2018).

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 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 MilkenEducatorAwards.org 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 MFF.org.

Press Contact:

Jana Rausch
Vice President, Communications
310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell


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