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Florissant Educator Returns to Her Roots to Teach Next Generation, Wins $25,000 Milken Educator Award

First grade teacher Ashley Gerald, a graduate of the Hazelwood School District, honored as one of nation's top teachers 

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

U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona says Milken Educators "personify excellence in education"

April 29, 2022

Florissant, MO — In a surprise assembly today, Ashley Gerald, a first grade teacher at Lusher Elementary School, received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for her leadership within the school and around her community. Gerald, a graduate of the Hazelwood School District, founded the popular "Lusher Families" program, pairing teachers with students to develop social and emotional health and well-being. In addition to mentoring her students, she regularly mentors other teachers, encouraging them in their professional growth. 

Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop and Missouri Commissioner of Education Dr. Margie Vandeven surprised Gerald with the honor before cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials, and the media. Gerald is the first teacher at Lusher Elementary School and one of only two educators in Missouri to be recognized with the Award this year. She joins the ranks of more than 60 teachers nationwide to receive the distinction.

Earlier today, high school alternative education teacher Mark Garascia of Hancock Place High School in St. Louis was honored with the Award. 

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. 

"Ashley's commitment to this community started at a young age when she attended school in this district," said Bishop, who herself is a 2001 Milken Educator from Virginia. "Today, she uses her local roots to build deep connections with students, faculty and families, ensuring the next generation of Lusher Elementary Students will succeed. We are proud to welcome her into the Milken Educator family today." 

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. 

"Building relationships with students and fostering a healthy school climate is critical to ensuring students succeed, and passionate educators like Ashley clearly understand that," said Commissioner Vandeven. "Balancing classroom management strategies with fun, engaging activities can be hard, so we’re proud to spotlight Ashley as an outstanding example of a Missouri teacher who works tirelessly to help her students reach their full potential." 

Oprah, a longtime education advocate, shared 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. U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona said Milken Educators "personify excellence in education" and "inspire leadership and motivate students to excel." 

More about Ashley Gerald 

Founder of Popular "Lusher Families" Program: "When is it Family Day?" It's an often-heard refrain from students at Lusher Elementary School, where the Lusher Families program is a cornerstone of the school community. Gerald started the program, which pairs teachers and staff with 10-12 students for monthly activities that foster emotional growth and development. Every adult in the building has the opportunity to be a role model, and students know they have a school "mom" or "dad" who is always there for them. 

Challenges Students to Achieve: Gerald holds high expectations for her young students' academic and behavioral development. She uses research-based strategies that increase student engagement and achievement, including cooperative learning and differentiated grouping in math and reading. Gerald uses common formative assessments to guide her daily RTI (Response to Intervention) and is piloting a new English Language Arts (ELA) program for the district. Children know her expectations for classroom discussions and eagerly pair off for "turn and talk" sessions with their peers. Gerald's classroom is inviting, warm and motivating, and her methods deliver. By the end of the year, nearly all of her students are performing at or above targets. 

Mentors Fellow Educators: A mentor to other teachers at Lusher and in the district, Gerald has served on the school's leadership team and resolution, reading curriculum, and community committees. She also chairs Lusher's PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) Committee, which oversees a rewards program in which students earn points for meeting behavioral expectations, and coordinates family events, including a Black history program. Gerald participates in the district's academy for instructional coaches and is always willing to try out new teaching strategies. 

Community Leader Returns Home: Gerald, herself a product of Hazelwood schools, often invites her mother and members of her church into her classroom. She holds "Meet the Teacher" nights at local restaurants and is often observed imparting lessons on integrity and citizenship as students line up in the hallways. Gerald's classroom is a refuge for students of all ages, who are always welcome to join her for reflection, cool-down time, and one-on-one academic and emotional support. 

Education: Gerald earned a bachelor's in early childhood education in 2006 from Lindenwood University. 

More information about Morgan, plus links to photos and video from today’s assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at:

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