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Fourth-Grade Teacher Emily Caldarelli Named 2016-17 Milken Educator Award Recipient

Caldarelli receives $25,000 cash prize during surprise all-school assembly at Paul Cuffee Lower School

October 18, 2016

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Students and staff at Paul Cuffee Lower School in Providence, Rhode Island, gathered for what was planned as an assembly to hear Education Commissioner Ken Wagner speak on social and emotional learning. Little did they know that the purpose of the event was really to surprise fourth-grade teacher Emily Caldarelli with the prestigious $25,000 Milken Educator Award. Caldarelli is among up to only 35 educators who will be presented with the Award during the Milken Family Foundation's cross-country tour and she is the sole recipient in Rhode Island this year.

Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley, joined by Wagner and Rhode Island Board of Education Chair Barbara S. Cottam, presented the Award and highlighted the impact Caldarelli makes through project-based approach to learning, and her leadership in supporting high-quality professional development opportunities for her colleagues.

"Emily Caldarelli has earned the reputation of 'master facilitator' for her ability to collaborate with colleagues and empower students to become leaders of their own learning," said Foley. "Her practices—tied to the crucial skills needed to succeed in our society—engage, excite and inspire students to grow academically and become productive citizens."

"In Emily Caldarelli's fourth-grade classroom, every child is engaged, active, and eager to share ideas," said Cottam. "She knows that each of us is different, and she and her students celebrate our differences. She holds high expectations for her students while being flexible and creative enough to meet each student's needs. We're proud to have Emily Caldarelli as one of our great teachers."

"Emily Caldarelli represents what's best about the thousands of teachers in Rhode Island public schools," said Wagner. "She has led professional development at Paul Cuffee School on social and emotional learning, she has brought a science curriculum to the school that links Cuffee with educators at the University of Rhode Island, and she keeps in touch with Cuffee parents throughout the year through letters, postcards, phone calls and email. We are honored that she has received a Milken Educator Award."

To ensure that her students understand their learning objectives, Caldarelli asks that they verbalize the purpose of each activity. She models her thinking out loud, provides sufficient time for students to think and respond, marks student contributions on anchor charts, and encourages students to pursue independent learning opportunities.

Caldarelli prioritizes the Common Core State Standards and aligns her lesson design directly to them, including structured classroom talk, reading and writing in-depth about content, and learning how to ask questions that probe higher-order thinking. She integrates assessment into her instruction by asking students to monitor their own understanding through group-authored feedback sheets.

Caldarelli is the fourth-grade team leader and serves on the School Improvement Team, Climate and Culture Committee and Response to Intervention (RTI) team. She led the school's implementation of both the GEMS-Net science curriculum and EngageNY math curriculum aligned to the Common Core. Both initiatives have already shown anecdotal improvements in students' scientific writing, research and mathematical thinking.

A natural collaborator, Caldarelli is seen as the liaison between teachers and administrators, and takes on the important role of mentoring new teachers.

Caldarelli imparts her communication skills onto her students, teaching them to advocate for themselves and voice their opinions. For example, she created the Glasses Club, in which students who wear glasses lunch together and celebrate looking different. Her values extend beyond the school walls, too. She took initiative in the school's Empty Bowl fundraiser, a service learning committee project that gathers food for a local food bank.  

Caldarelli earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education and psychology from the University of Miami in 2004.

For more information about Emily Caldarelli, along with photos and a video from today's surprise award assembly, visit

The 2016-17 award season marks the 30th year of the Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching." Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Caldarelli's honor includes membership in the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top principals, teachers and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Past recipients have used their Awards to fund their children's education or to further their own professional development. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

Regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events are shared on MFF social media profiles at,,, and using the #MilkenAward hashtag. Details are also available on the Awards homepage at or can be obtained by calling MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation, is in its 30th year. 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.

Lynne Russo
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Jana Rausch
Director of Media and Public Affairs
310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell